Image Credit: http://cdn.running.competitor.com/files/2013/07/22.jpg
Riddle us this: Who needs to be trained to run slowly to win a speed race? Long distance runners, that's who. Yes, we think that's extremely counterintuitive too until we learn that long, slow run helps to adjust our biological mechanisms and develop muscular strength as well as endurance which are all vital for the race day.
But the slow pace that we're talking about isn't a stroll in a park, rather, it's still-making-the-cut-off-point-and-outpacing-many-other-runners kind of slow. So, how do we know if we run too slowly?
When Your Body Doesn't Evolve
Don't hold your breath for sticky web or claws coming out of your knuckles, though. The biological changes are far subtler, but just as potent, if you ask us. Training your body with slow, long run will increase the number of myoglobin and glycogen storage in your system.
Myoglobin is a protein that's responsible for releasing oxygen into the muscle. The more myoglobin you have, the more oxygen there is for you in times of need - times when you feel like you've left one of your lungs behind at the 20-km mark.
Glycogen stores carbohydrates (a.k.a. running fuel) in the muscles. The point of a slow, long run is to deplete the stored glycogen and stimulate your body to produce more.
The catch is you need to know how slow can you go to stimulate your body. Studies revealed that the magic number you're looking for is 55 - 75 percent of your 5k pace. Run slower than that and your body may not get to the state that you want by race day despite the miles you've clocked in.
If your running philosophy all this time is "just run untill you can't" and you have no idea what your pace is, now will be a great time to find your optimal 5k pace.
“Slow running can make you slow if it's all you do. Lowering your pace when you want to adjust your feet and your body too longer distance running or when you're recovering is indeed beneficial. But, the slow pace cannot be your default pace.”
When the Math Doesn't Add Up
Or rather, it adds up too much. Some of us may not be a stranger to the marathon pace (MP) plus one minute per mile or MP plus 20 percent method to determine our slow pace. It sounds like a reasonable method, well, that is if you're a pro runner who can complete a marathon in 2 hours 11 minutes.
It's not that most of us can't keep up with the pace. The problem is that we can, a tad too easily.
Seasoned marathon coach, David Chalfen, breaks down the numbers. For elite runners running at 5 minutes per mile, MP plus one will give them a steady pace of 6 minutes per mile. But, for most of us who finish a marathon within 3 hours 45 minutes or so - 8 minutes, 35 seconds per mile - running at MP plus one will give us 9 minutes 35 seconds per mile.
With MP plus 20 percent pace, we would move at 10 minutes 20 seconds per mile. At this rate, Pokemon "trainers" walking to hatch their eggs can probably outpace us. We need to change our gear, pronto!
The safest way to ensure that we're not getting too far behind is to run at a pace that is slightly below our MP. If we're aiming for 7 minutes per mile, we should train at 7 minutes 25 seconds or 7 minutes 30 seconds per mile. The better runner you are, the closer your average pace should be to your MP.
When It's All You Do
Slow running can make you slow if it's all you do. Lowering your pace when you want to adjust your body to longer distance running or when you're recovering is indeed beneficial. But, the slow pace cannot be your default pace. Alternating your training is important.
Take it easy in the first few miles, run on a marathon pace on the next few and dash as fast as you can manage - also known as the "run till you puke" pace- for the last few miles. Slow run that extends beyond 3 hours is also not advisable as it can heighten the risk of running injuries.
Running slowly should not be counterproductive to your pace goals, but it can be. So, balance is key.
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