A Devoted Year Day 4

Welcome to Day 4 of our Devoted New Year series! Today we are talking about easy days! These posts are brought to you by Meridith creator of Devoted Training; a 52 week faith-based training journal, and myself. We hope you enjoy!

Training methodologies come and go just like any other trend. The late 1940s and 50s brought an era of hammering intervals for training under the influence of men like Emil Zatopek and Paavo Nurmi. This type of training did in fact produce some Olympic level athletes, but only for select individuals. It was Arthur Lydiard who later made running a more enjoyable experience by emphasizing the value of slow easy runs. “Arthur’s boys” were known to sweep the medals whenever they competed, and their high volume, low intensity approach got some attention. Lydiard is even credited for being a big influence on our own (and Nike’s) Bill Bowerman back in the day.

More recently, Stephen Seiler has produced convincing research showing that easy runs are in fact the ticket to faster running. Some speed is necessary to get faster, but easy running is the ice cream to the sundae. In fact, Seiler found that elite athletes in all endurance sports perform their training at approximately 80% low intensity and the other 20% at higher intensity. You may be wondering if this applies to the non-elite runner, and in fact, research cited in Matt Fitzgerald’s book 80/20 Running gives case after case of different cohorts, from the elite to the non-elite, who performed better at an 80/20 distribution than runners who ran at higher intensity distribution.

So what are the benefits of easy running? Easy runs:

  • Cause a release of a cell signaling compound called interleukin-6 to be released. Exposure to this compound over time helps endurance athletes become more fatigue resistant.
  • Help build the aerobic system to utilize glycogen for energy more efficiently
  • Make high intensity runs more effective because of the stress involved in higher intensity runs
  • Allow the body to adapt and repair from hard runs while building stronger bones and tendons for the distances up to the marathon and beyond
  • Give the mind and body a break from high impact and makes for better runs with friends J
  • Increase the number of capillaries surrounding muscles to transport oxygen more easily
  • Increase myoglobin and mitochondria, which help provide more oxygen and energy

Now that you are hopefully convinced to slow down your easy runs, just how slow do you need to go? Some elites report running up to 2 minutes slower than moderate pace for easy running. This doesn’t have to be so ambiguous though. One easy way to determine a guideline for easy running is to follow heart rate training. This is an effective way to understand your body and take things like stress into account when running easy.

The standard way to test for heart rate zones is to run a 30 minute time trial and take the average heart rate of the last 10 minutes as the lactate threshold heart rate. Running as hard as you can for 30 minutes can be a little daunting, so an alternative is to monitor perceived effort. On a scale of 1-10, 6 would be your lactate threshold. A perceived effort of 6 is also the point where a runner can comfortably carry on a conversation. Once talking becomes uncomfortable, note the heart rate just previous to the increased exertion.

Heart Rate Zones:

  • Very Light: 50-60%; good for recovery
  • Light: 60-70%; improves general endurance, easy runs
  • Moderate: 70-80%, threshold running improves efficiency of blood circulation
  • Hard: 80-90%, improves speed endurance for vo2
  • Maximum: 90-100%, works on speed

As with anything in running, these values are ranges, and every body responds a little differently depending on training history and genetics. Runners with more slow-twitch than fast-twitch muscle fibers can also handle dipping into the moderate zones better as well, per Steve Magness in The Science of Running. So treat this as a guideline and enjoy the process of chatting it up during easy days.


Are easy days easy for you, or do you find yourself wanting to push the pace?

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