WHY SHOULD WE RUN SLOWER LONG RUNS TO RUN FASTER?

WHY SHOULD WE RUN SLOWER LONG RUNS TO RUN FASTER?
Photo by Matthew Henry via Burst
Gulsum Ozturk Rustemoglu
March 9, 2021

It’s often the dream of every runner to eventually feel that they’re running faster. With that in mind, the title of today’s blog, and previous statement seems to be two dichotomous objects. How would running slower in longer runs help you become faster? There are so many articles written on this topic yet we still hear runners are struggling to do it.

Nevertheless, there’s an explanation behind it. Running slower helps lower your risk of getting injured. Thus, enabling you to run more miles, in turn, helping your body become more accustomed to the regimen. Furthermore, with a closer inspection of the principle behind “running slower to become faster”, you’ll realize that this helps you develop your body’s aerobic energy system.

Before we move on, let’s review the body’s different energy systems, particularly the aerobic energy system. This energy system primarily utilizes oxygen to convert fat, protein, and glycogen into energy. As a runner, this is the energy system you want to develop. Hence whether you’re just aiming to circle the whole block or finish a whole 5K race, you can easily breeze through them. The trick is to run at a pace where your muscles can get plenty of oxygen.

When you’re sprinting or running fast, your proverbial oxygen tank gets depleted quickly, prompting your body to switch to a different energy system, the anaerobic system (no oxygen), to go on. The problem with the anaerobic system is that your body doesn’t convert your stored energy as efficiently. This means you tire easily, your muscles become fatigued faster eventually compelling you to slow down or stop. So, based on the points above, for one to run faster later on, you must build up a larger oxygen tank to continue working, increasing your aerobic threshold.

It is an established fact that our bodies are unique. Thus, different body types result in a different kind of “slow.” How slowly you need to run to maximize your oxygen tank or to efficiently spend the stored oxygen in your body depends on your body type. This involves a bit of math so bear with us for a moment. We’ll start by getting your maximum heart rate: 208 - (your age times 0.70).

For a run to be considered slow, you should aim to hit only around 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. Let’s say you’re a 30-year-old runner. That means that your maximum heart rate is pegged at around 187 beats per minute. You know you’re just running the right kind of slow if your heart rate is around 112 to 131, that’s the 60-70% range of 187.

Note however that this formula is applicable only when you’re out in an ideal, cool condition. If you’re out in summer when it’s hot and humid, you’re still putting your body in the same level of stress if you’re running at 60-70% of your maximum heart rate; so, to compensate for this, you have to aim lower.

Ok. Perhaps that was too complicated for you… I always prefer to look at  the REAL EXAMPLES, REAL RUNNERS. I will share three specific examples:

  1. Let’s take a look at the Recommended Long Run Pace Chart from Advanced Marathoning 3rd edition, 2019 book. The book was prefaced by 2018 New York Marathon Women’s Champion Shalane Flanagan. The chart shows both per KM and per mile recommendations.

        <img src="https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0504/7022/4046/files/chart1_240x240.jpg?v=1615335141" alt="Recommended long run pace chart per KM" />

 

        

2. Let’s now look at Kipchoge, the world’s only Sub-2 Marathoner. What is his easy pace? According to an article on the Runninger, relative to his marathon pace Kipchoge’s easy pace is 27% slower  than his marathon pace. The site also makes suggestions based on that theory. While Kipchoge runs 2:55 min/km marathon, he does his long runs at a 4min/km pace. Based on that here are some suggested long run times per min/km:

  • 2 hour 30 min marathon 3:33 min/km 4:30 min/km
  • 3 hour marathon 4:16 min/km 5:25 min/km
  • 3 hour 30 min marathon 4:59 min/km 6:19 min/km
  • 4 hour marathon 5:41 min/km 7:13 min/km
  • 4 hour 30 marathon 6:24 min/km 8:17 min/km

3. If you are still not convinced that you have to run slower long runs to get faster, take a look at this recent case on Feb 28th, 2021 Marathoner Yusuke Ogura, from Otsu, Japan, who ran the fastest marathon time recorded in STRAVA. By reviewing his long runs, you can see the same theory works really well. While his marathon pace was 4:48 per min/mile; his long runs ranges from 6:23 – 6:31 min/mile meaning almost 1 min 30 seconds slower long runs than his fastest marathon time. Endurance expert and author Matthew Fitzgerald's famous book 80/20 Running dives into the science of this theory in more detail.

 

By reviewing these elite marathoners' long run paces in comparison to their top marathon performances, we can safely assume that there is something working in that long run training method. Yes, while running slow might not be the flashiest thing to do as a runner, but once you change this perspective and think about the long-term benefits, you will surprise when performing your best in your next race.

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