“Slow and steady wins the race” is an expression for a reason.
When it comes to race training, the entire training season is a part of that race, not just the race itself. As such, slow and steady is an approach that runners must take throughout the training season.
Yes, to race fast you have to train fast. But, you can’t train fast every day.
If you save your energy for the most important workouts — speed work, hills, long runs — you’ll be putting your energy where it counts. If you ignore the adage above, running what are supposed to be easy or junk miles at your race pace, you won’t see good results.
Why is that?
You will burn out. It may not be today, tomorrow or even a month from now, but — trust me — at some point you will.
That burnout will come in a variety of forms. Exhaustion that you just can’t beat, plateauing at a certain mileage time, an overuse injury, a sudden stress fracture. Then all of those training days will go to waste. Take it from someone who knows. I didn’t run easy while training for my first marathon and ended up in a walking boot weeks before the race. Gone were all those days of ignoring the plan and running hard — all of it was gone.
You may think junk miles are a waste, but they’re not. They keep your body in running mode and keep working the right muscles. They teach your body how to recover on a run. Most importantly, they keep you doing what you love to do, even when you need an easier workout. If you want a scientifically backed explanation for why your easy miles should be slow, click here.
Personally, I treasure my easy days. I can slow down and enjoy being outside and being active without worrying about my pace or effort. I can finally run with my husband, too; I can hold a conversation with a friend.
My guess is that you’ve followed a race plan, and some of the days had “EZ” or “slow” written next to the mileage. Maybe you ignored it and went fast anyways. Maybe you still made great time on your race, setting a new PR or earning an age group award. Regardless of your success, try to follow the plan more specifically next time. You will see the results. You’ll find that throughout the week, you have more energy; that energy will then be spent on your fast and hard runs. You’ll find that those fast and hard runs feel good, not like a terrible slog. You’ll look forward to your hard days, and you’ll look forward to your easy days — the monotony of a forever-fast pace will be broken. Best of all, you’ll learn how to better listen to your body and feel it’s need for rest — goodbye injuries! You’ll become a better runner.
There is no shame in running a 10-minute + mile on an easy day. There is no shame taking walk breaks on an easy day. As long as you cross that finish line feeling healthy, strong and energetic, there is no shame.