Running fast is the dream and aspiration of most runners. This means different things to different people, but it is safe to say that there aren’t that many runners out there that sleep happily when they dream about running slowly. Yet running slowly can be used as a tool to help us run faster when it counts.
Fast running is a very costly exercise. As we fly forward at an amazing pace everything that we use to propel us is carried with us. We carry all of these resources in finite quantities. We can only afford to run fast for a limited period of time before something starts to run out. Out of these resources the most important three are fuel, physiology and psychology.
As we run fast we use the fuel stored and transformed in our muscles. This energy system is heavily taxed by fast running in much the same way that fast driving burns fuel more rapidly in your cars engine. Fast running isn’t efficient in that sense. We would be better off jogging if we wanted to conserve running fuel. For increasing speeds we get less distance per kilojoule. Fast running is costly running in a fuel sense.
As we run fast we use our muscles, strong and supple, to launch us into the air for amazing distances, even longer than our own height, around 180 times each minute. This costs a packet as you would expect. The wear and tear on our muscles and ligaments is immense and directly related to the distance we spring (the speed we are running). Also the bits which enable the muscles to do their work, such as the bones and joints take a hiding as they are forced to resist the power of our muscles and also have the weight of our bodies pushing down on them and the corresponding force of the ground pushing up. Fast running is costly running in a physiological sense.
As we run fast we use our mental capacity to reach and maintain the fast pace. We have to over ride our natural instincts to slow down when it hurts. We have to talk ourselves into enduring discomfort, some degree of pain and even sometimes oxygen, water and fuel debt. Our body says “slow down” but our mind is made up and forces us to keep on keeping on. We can’t do this indefinitely. There is a limit to our mental strength. At some point our bodies overcome our minds and we slow down but until that happens we are in a battle. Fast running is costly running in a psychological sense.
If we want to truly run fast we will experience significant cost and in preparation we must make sure that we can afford it. In some ways it is like a banking arrangement. With a bank account if we spend more than we have deposited we will get a letter from the bank and our gear will be repossessed. With our running, the letter from the bank may take the form of an injury of some kind and the repossession may be losing our ability to run as we would like. Surely this makes us wonder, “How can we prevent this from happening?” How can we make sure that we have resources in store to enable us to run fast when we want to?
One of the secrets to making sure we can run fast is to run slow.
“Running slow can help you to run fast? I thought they were opposites” I heard you say. But here is the truth. It isn’t fashionable or cool. It isn’t sexy or marketable but if we want to run fast then slow running definitely has a place in our training.
Let me explain…
Slow running has been given a bad rap by the running community for some time now. People are often defined as either runners or joggers (with the runners being enlightened and the joggers being the ones who haven’t become runners yet). However in reality every runner should have a slow running, or jogging component to their training.
Running slowly has a long list of benefits that can be experienced without the costs associated with fast running. It is well known that running at slower speeds is more productive in terms of body weight loss and maintenance than faster running. Slow running is very good at developing the blood supply capillary system which will get fresh blood to your muscles more efficiently when you do run fast. Slow running helps us lay down glycogen more efficiently for latter use. Slow running exposes us to the stress of gentle continuous running which strengthens our bones, joints, and ligaments preparing them for the rip tear bust world of fast running. Slow running exercises our psychological fortitude, preparing us for the fast running ahead. And it goes on and on. Slow running has a stack of benefits without the costs of fast running. Your bank manager would love to hear that…he would call it savings
If we only ever run slowly, then we will only ever be able to run slowly, but if we use our slow runs as a stepping stone to prepare us for the rest of our racier training then we can expect that they will help us a great deal.
When to run slow?
The three times that are most critical for slow running are as follows:
1) When we are building a base for our training. When we start a new program or season, or when we have recovered from an injury, we must gently build up a base of slow gradual running. This is equivalent to building a foundation for a house or an outline for an essay. If we build the base right we can hope for an excellent result. If not, we can look forward to an injury or other setback. Slow running should be the bread and butter of any base phase of a training program. I am currently coming back to full running after an injury and I will have finished my slow running base after over 500 kilometres of genuinely slow running. This period is a little boring and frustrating but it is the best I can do to increase the chance of staying injury free. I believe in the benefits of slow running so I do it.
2) In your weekly program throughout the season, you should ensure that there is plenty of slow running. In this case your slow running will continue the benefits your base has achieved, complement your more focused workouts and work as an active recovery session which prepares you for more fast running. Often the bulk of my training distance is done at a pace that I would describe as slow. This enables me to really benefit from my faster sessions and adapt by becoming faster.
3) After an event or during injury recovery slow running is essential to getting back to normal running as soon as possible. Slow running is a form of gentle active remedy to all sorts of wear and tear. It is the perfect remedy because it increases the blood flow to your running muscles without contributing to the load or damage significantly. If you have a choice between lying on the couch or slow running, take slow running because it will work better. It helps to heal your aching body and it also keeps your mind on an even keel.
Slow running bores me, frustrates me, embarrasses me and sometimes it gets me down but I do it because it helps me run fast and as far as I can work out it is worth it for that alone.
Slow running…it’s not sexy but it works