by Coach Sandi Nypaver
(First published in 2014)
Run Easy, Benefit Big!
Easy days aren’t given enough credit with how important they are. They’re just as important as the hard days because they allow your body to absorb more intense efforts. Yet, with busy schedules, people often rush through their easy runs. If you’re running your recovery days too fast, your body can’t fully benefit from the harder runs. So even though it may seem beneficial to consistently run at a faster speed, in reality, you’re slowing down your progress and causing too much stress in the body- some athletes even experience adrenal fatigue from going too hard for too long. It’s also worth mentioning that almost every time a runner (we’d say elite American runner’s but there’s been great documentaries and books on “running with the Kenyans” from people all over the world) goes to train in Kenya they always mention how surprised they are at how slow the Kenyans easy runs actually are. There is also a lot of risk for skeletal-muscular injuries (i.e. tendinitis and stress fractures) when you push your easy/recovery days at too fast of a pace.
Let’s not forget that easy miles are doing a load of good in changing how the inside of your body is working at the cellular level. At an easy pace, your body is still increasing the number and size of mitochondria, the powerhouse of a cell. Mitochondria takes nutrients and turns them into energy, and who wouldn’t want more energy for runs? In addition, easy running builds more capillaries which means there will be better blood flow (read: oxygen flow) to your muscles. If that’s not enough for you, easy runs will strengthen your heart muscle very effectively still (even though you won’t seem to be working very hard!). Lastly, easy runs may help your body become more efficient at storing glycogen and using fat for energy.
So on your next easy run, be sure not to rush through it, notice your surroundings, stop to smell the flowers (or maybe challenge yourself to find some beauty in the snow!), and enjoy the moment! The key is to learn to “run relaxed” with a smooth, fluid form. This is easier to do when you aren’t straining to hit a certain pace most days!