Running is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle for many people. If you’re a running enthusiast that’s looking for tips to help you improve your running speed, slow running is the answer for you. To become a fast runner, you might think you have to run every day at maximum speed every single run, which is far from the truth. That’ll only subject you to injury and hinder your improvement.
While the idea of “run slow to run fast” seems unreasonable, science disagrees. Slow running has many health benefits. It trains your body to maintain its energy during physical exercise, improve your endurance, adapt your joints to stress, and even helps runners recover from injuries. It also allows you to focus on form, which leads to better performance overall.
Whether your goal is to decrease your running time, run longer distances, or run without pain, slow runs will help you get those results. It might sound odd, but it’ll work if you’re dedicated to your goal. In this article, we’ll be discussing how running slowly can make you faster and tell you all the information you need to start adding slow runs to your routine.
Adding slow running to your exercise routine will help you pick up speed by increasing your lactate threshold and making your body use the aerobic energy system. This allows you to run for long periods, push your muscles beyond their limits, and enhance your ability to do intense physical activity for an extended period.
During exercise, your body relies on two energy systems, aerobic and anaerobic. You don’t get enough oxygen supply when you run fast (beyond your lactate threshold), and your body uses the anaerobic system. The anaerobic system doesn’t burn fat (high energy source) and break down glycogen into lactate (low energy source), supplying less energy to fuel the muscles, so you become rapidly exhausted and stop running.
When you run slow, your body gets enough oxygen and uses the aerobic system. This is how long-distance running works. The aerobic system burns fat and converts glycogen into glucose, fueling your muscles with sufficient energy during running. Your goal is to run near your lactate threshold, so your body relies on the aerobic energy system. That’ll increase your body’s ability to sustain energy, muscle endurance, and running speed.
If you’ve just started your running journey, you should run with a heart rate not exceeding 80% of your maximum heart rate on your smartwatch. An easier method would be talking to someone while running, and if you can sustain talking without getting exhausted quickly, that’s your pace.
If you’re a professional runner, you’ll want to run 90 seconds less than your goal per mile.
Now that you’re on board with slow running, the next question that pops into your mind is how many miles you should run a week to stay healthy. Many factors play into the perfect mileage per week to maintain your health, like age and weight. As a rule of thumb, 15 to 30 miles per week is considered safe, but you can go longer depending on your goal.
If you have a physically active job, you should decrease the number of miles to leave some room for recovery. In contrast, if you lead a sedentary lifestyle, you should start adding more miles to your daily runs. It all comes down to the amount of effort you can put into exercise without seeing a diminishing return on your ability to recover. If your recovery is too hard, it will affect your next performance. Find that balance and you’ll be good.
Tip: Another rule of thumb: try not to increase weekly mileage by more than 10% from week to week.
Yes, long slow runs have many health benefits like increasing cardiovascular endurance, strengthening your muscles, and improving your mental health. It’s a great exercise to focus more on form and adapt your joints to stress, making you less prone to injuries. They are also easier to recover from.
Since they take less time to recover from, you’ll be able to incorporate more workouts into your week. This may even mean running up to twice per day if it’s a style that fits you.
Consistency is key, but even if you haven’t missed a single run, you may struggle to complete your long, slow runs and ask yourself why am I suddenly struggling to run? You’re likely not having enough sleep or not eating enough to fuel your body. Make sure to maintain blood glucose levels by eating low GI pre-workout food to avoid hitting the wall while running.
Still not seeing improvements? That’s a sign you’re overdoing it and not allowing your body to recover. It’s not about working out with all guns blazing for one week or even a month, then stopping the next time training gets tough. Instead, you should start running small distances and work your way up towards larger miles.
Yes, running slow helps you run fast. Many coaches incorporate long slow runs in their professional athletes’ regime to build speed and run faster on race day. They use the 80/20 rule, which means you complete 80% of your running distance at a slow pace, and for the rest 20%, you run full speed.
That’ll train your body to run faster while maintaining energy.
Slow running enhances your body’s ability to produce more mitochondria: a cell organelle responsible for generating the energy needed by our bodies. Although mitochondrial production occurs with fast runs, it happens at a lower rate than in slow runs. So, the next time you go for a sprint, your body will make sufficient energy because of the new numbers of energy motors in your body.
It also increases the number of blood capillaries. Our bodies adapt to the increased number of energy motors by making blood capillaries so they can transport energy as well as oxygen to your muscles. Oxygen supports the muscles to continuously break down high energy sources like fat, giving you more energy during running, and increasing your running speed.
Regardless of your method to increase your running speed, the run slow to run fast approach is going to help you run fast when it’s time to give it your all. Running slow-paced will help you: strengthen your muscles, increase your cardio, improve your mental health, adapt your joints to running movements, and concentrate on your running form, making you less likely to be injured.
Whether you’ve just started running or you’ve been running for years, you should always focus on starting at a slower pace and gradually increase it, allowing the body time to adapt and grow stronger.