I have posted on this a few times over the last 18 months but it is always worth a revisit. Slow and steady really does make you , long term, faster. It’s benefits are three fold, I believe you will enjoy your training more (with all that ‘smell the roses’ pace), it’s an injury prevention method of training (less impact associated with adding pace) and finally the benefits will spur on more success. Let’s face it running is all about achieving goals and the more goals we achieve the more addicted we all become to the runners high.
I have attached two articles on the subject below. The first one of mine from Janaury 2017 which highlighted my experience with slowing down over a period of time and seeing the rewards when I raced. I was able to show , with the help of Strava (in Strava we trust… http://www.strava.com ; feel free to follow me on Strava, there is a link at the bottom of the home page) how over time I has slowed on my ‘old faithful’ run but my racing times had got better. This was over a long period of time and over 200 runs so a pretty good baseline, very ‘scientific’ if I say so myself.
The second article is from Runners Connect and is advocating a similar approach, moderate workouts being the ideal way to train long term.
In 2013 I ran quick all the time, by quick I mean sub 4min/k average every time I put on my trainers. Be it a 10k, 21k or 30k, my goal was to finish with a sub 4min/k average. To compound this issue I also stopped running long runs after reading an article in Runners World magazine about a training program where you would run at your marathon pace all the time. The logic was if your marathon pace became your normal pace when you were tired during the marathon you would revert to your normal ‘training pace’, which of course would be your marathon pace. The training program also recommend not running too many long runs but more runs around the 20-25k distance.
This training program yielded some good results but I sacrificed my top end speed as I wasn’t running any tempo or threshold runs, just lots of sub 4min/k’s. Raf from the Running Centre (http://therunningcentre.com.au ) picked me up on this on Strava ( http://www.strava.com ) and recommended I try a 10k threshold at least once a week, just to break the monotony of running the same pace for every run. I was surprised when I tried to add pace as I struggled and my 10k times weren’t that quicker than my ‘normal’ pace. Something was amiss and I was found out at the Bunbury Marathon in 2014 when I blew up after leading the race for the first 10k. I admit there was also some mental problems as I was defending my marathon title after winning (my only marathon victory) in 2013. I had gone out at my 10k pace truth be told and at 15k my race was finished. I met Raf afterwards, in the hotel spa of all places, and he could sense my disappointment of finishing 4th in a time of 2hrs54mins, when I aiming for a sub 2hr40min finish truth be told.
For the rest of 2014 I struggled on (Bunbury was in April) and although I managed 2hrs 46mins at the Perth Marathon I never managed to reach the heights I had reached in 2013. Something needed to change and in January 2015 I was taken under Raf’s wings and given a program for the Perth marathon, my first training program at the ripe old age of 48. The first 3-4 months were harder than I expected as I really struggled with the top end pace work. The steady and long runs were do able but my top end pace just wasn’t there. Over time I did improve of course thanks to Raf’s coaching skills but all the good work was undone by a slight stress fracture just before the Perth marathon. (Picked up on the last steady run , a week out ! Always the way ?) I ran a 2hrs49mins, 9th place finish, but Raf had me in better condition than that but the injury played on my mind.
After Perth Raf gave me another training plan for the City to Surf marathon in August and I stuck to this one and ran a good time for a 4th place but more importantly a strong race and strong finish. My first good marathon for over a year. Although I enjoyed working with Raf I was time constrained by my family, work, life etc, the runners quandary. I decided for 2016 to take what Raf had taught me and adapt my training accordingly.
I think the most important thing Raf taught me was there is no such thing as ‘junk miles‘, every kilometre you run is doing you some good, at whatever pace. This to me was a ‘lightning bolt’ moment as I was so use to running every run as a tempo and finishing with nothing left in the tank. I just didn’t run slow, ever ! The first few runs I ran at a slow pace I was questioned on Stava by my running friends as to whether I was injured, such was the disbelieve that I could run anything bar sub 4min/k’s. I must admit the first few times it felt alien and I had to really work hard to run slow. Raf introduced me to the Maffetone training method ( https://philmaffetone.com , I have mentioned this a few times on the blog.) and I was off building my foundation for the success which was to come in 2016.
Fast forward to the Perth marathon of 2016 and I just about ran a negative split and was 2 minutes quicker than the previous year. (You can read the post regarding Perth 2016 on my new website http://www.fitfastfifty.com ; http://fitfastfifty.com/index.php/2017/01/25/perth-marathon-2016/ ) After Perth I added the double days and the PB’s came tumbling down and my confidence returned in spades. I managed to drop my 5k, 10k, 16k,21k and 50k PB times and by quite a chunk each time. So how did I do it ? Basically I slowed down, ran more and raced more. It really was (is) that simple. Taking what Raf taught me, reading Matt Fitzgerald’s books and a sprinkling of Maffetone added to the mix and hey presto.
Thanks to Strava (in Strava we trust) you can see how this slowing down is trending on my 10k go-to run of choice. (see below) Over time you can clearly see my running average pace for the 10k is slowing but in the same period I have ran probably 10 PB’s, so there is a correlation of slowing down to speeding up when you put a bib on your chest. Of course I have added distance and more time on my feet into the equation, combined with racing more but the slowing down is a factor.
It really is a case of slowing down to speed up.
Why Running Harder Won’t Help You Get FasterIn the vocabulary of a runner, patience is a dirty word. Runners always want to run faster, run more miles, and crush their personal bests and they want it now. To be more accurate, they wanted it yesterday.
I know I felt this way before I donned my coaching cap. I wasn’t satisfied with a workout unless I needed to be carried off the track and was forced to spend the rest of the day passed out on the couch. That was dedication. Surely, this is what it took to be the best runner I could be.
Unfortunately, this mindset couldn’t be more wrong.
Not only did this way of thinking impact my short-term goals, thanks to all-to-frequent injuries and bouts of overtraining, but as you’ll learn in this article, it likely affected my long-term progress as well.
As I’ve matured as a runner and changed my perspective on training as a coach, I’ve come to fully appreciate and value the art of patience. This shift in mindset wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight. Hopefully, with the help of some hard, scientific data and a sprinkling of anecdotal evidence, this article can accelerate your maturation as a runner and help you achieve your goals.
Finish a workout feeling like you could have done more
This is a phrase you’ll hear from any running coach worth his or her salt. As elite coach Jay Johnson espouses to his athletes, “you should be able to say after every one of your workouts that you could have done one more repeat, one more segment or one more mile.”
Coach Jay doesn’t just pay this rule lip service. He’s known for cutting workouts short when an athlete looks like they’re over that edge. It’s one of the reasons his athletes continue to perform and improve consistently, year after year.
Now, thanks to recent research published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, we have the scientific data to prove what good coaches have known for so many years. Patience pays off. (side note – thank you to Alex Hutchinson for first alerting me to this study through his blog)
In this study, one group of athletes performed a series of workouts at near maximum intensity for twelve weeks. The researchers then had another group perform the same type of workouts (same repeat distance and same amount of rest) yet at a much more moderate intensity.
The results. The high intensity group improved rapidly, recording an increase in VO2 max 30 percent higher than the moderate group after three weeks.
Well, that doesn’t seem to support our theory that patience pays off, does it?
Luckily, the researchers went a step further and recorded changes to VO2 max for six, nine and twelve weeks under the same training methodology. This is where the results get truly interesting.
After nine weeks, the high intensity group’s improvements in VO2 max were only 10 percent greater than the moderate group. More importantly, after 9 weeks, the high intensity group stopped improving and after 12 weeks showed the same level of improvement to VO2 max as the moderate group.
Clearly, this research shows that while you’ll see rapid improvements from running workouts as hard as you can in the first few weeks, this improvement curve will level off and running at moderate intensity levels will produce equal, if not better, long-term results.
Of course, like all studies, this research has it’s flaws. Mainly, both groups performed the same workouts for twelve weeks, which means the same stimulus was being applied with each session. However, I’d also point out that when training for 5k or marathon for 12 weeks, the workouts won’t vary much. Sure, the workouts will look different, 12 x 400 meters at 3k pace versus 6 x 800 meters at 5k pace, but you’re still training the same energy system.
Regardless, the data supports what good coaches have known for years.
Consistent, moderate workouts will trump a few weeks of hard, gut-busting workouts every time.
But I want to improve faster
Of course, looking at that data, most runners would still choose the high intensity approach. If the end result after 12 weeks is the same, why not make the fitness gains faster the first three to six week?
Not covered in this particular research study was the impact of injuries and overtraining on potential improvement curve and long-term progress.
It’s not surprising, and it’s been supported by numerous research studies and anecdotal examples, that increased intensity is correlated with higher injury risk. Meaning, the harder (faster) you train, the more likely it is you’ll get injured.
The problem I encounter with many runners who try to workout too hard is the injury cycle, which inhibits long-term progress because for every two steps forward, you take one step back.
Using a similar graph to the one provided in the research study, let’s examine the long-term consequences of always pushing your workouts as hard as you can versus running moderate and always feeling like you could have done more.
While the actual improvement data in the image is fictional, it is based off the data from the actual study representing improvement curve. The difference is that I’ve extended the training period to ten months and factored in injuries and potential overtraining. This graph accurately represents my experience with trying to run every workout as hard as I could and the vast data I’ve collected working as a coach for the past eight years.
As you can see, the high intensity runner speeds out of the gait and is far ahead of the moderate intensity runner after a few weeks. However, it doesn’t take long before the high intensity runner suffers his or her first injury and is setback a week or two. No worries, with just a few weeks of high intensity training, they are back ahead of the slow plodding moderate intensity runner. However, this cycle continues to repeat itself until the high intensity runners is far behind the consentient, steady performer.
More importantly, after 42 weeks, the high intensity runner is at a point that they can no longer make up the difference in fitness simply by training hard for a few weeks.
They will continue to struggle to reach their potential until they finally learn to run their workouts at a moderate level and train to their current level of fitness.
Don’t be the high intensity runner. Learn from the mistakes of countless runners before you, the research and scientific data, and the wisdom of coaches who know their stuff.
Baseline, document and evaluate everything. If it isn’t on www.strava.com it didn…