Learning to Take it Easy

When I first started running, there was no such thing as easy runs. I started training with the cross country team in the middle of the summer before starting high school, and being one of the slower kids, I was pretty much red-lining it every day in order to keep up with the pack. Luckily as a teenager I was so elastic that I never got injured no matter how hard I pushed myself. It wasn't until college when we would run 4 miles to a park, do massively intense intervals, and 4 miles back for a total of 12-15 miles, that I learned to appreciate and take advantage of recovery days. After days like that, it was a brand new luxury that I could have two days in a row of running where we could actually hold a conversation.

While easy days really are necessary for optimal training for people of all ages and ability levels, many find out the hard way as they age, that they simply can't maintain high intensity day after day. Without slow, easy days, the body simply does not get a chance to rebuild and breaks down in injury and sickness. And once you pass 30, the older you get, the more recovery you need. It's okay, everyone does, and nearly every coach in the world understands the importance of easy recovery days.

So what is an easy pace? About 2:00 to 3:30 slower than your 10K race pace. Some people can embrace this pace with no problem. Others may need to get used to it, as they may feel that going slow is a waste of time, or letting other people pass them by on the path feels as natural as a dog letting a squirrel strut past its nose without giving chase. Sometimes those competitive urges never go away. I'll soon be 45 and I still have to put effort in not speeding up when runners pass me by. Just a couple days ago I was dealling with sore knees and forced myself to go in the grass and slow to a 10:40 plod for the rest of my run. I was rewarded the next day by being able to run my 800 repeats at just over 6:00 pace.

I like to take the opportunity to use easy days for doing errands, or running to the beach and wade in the lake for a bit in the summer. How about you?

Tony has been a runner for over three decades, competing in cross country and track in high school and college, and road races for various clubs. He's served as team captain for several Corporate Challenge teams at YMCA of the USA, and has informally coached many friends over the years.

Tags: This Week in Runners, Y, YMCA, Running, easy runs, recovery, slow running

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