Slow and Steady: The Benefits of Running Slow (To Become Faster)
Despite what you might think, being a slower runner may have its benefits in the long run and can help you become a better runner overall.
In fact, many runners have found that taking it down a couple of gears can actually make you a faster runner!
But ‘how does that work?’, we hear you ask. Well, fear not, readers, for we’re here to tell you exactly how it all works below.
Train, train, and train again
It’s all about training when it comes to slower running. Running at a slower speed when completing a fairly routine run can have a number of benefits to your performance. These include:
- Teaching your body to develop a positive and efficient running form
- Build, bulk and strengthen your arm, torso and (of course) leg muscles and help your ligaments, bones and joints get used to the stress of running
- Train your body to handle cardiovascular activity, helping to raise your respiratory, cardio and muscular systems to be more efficient and store in stamina to keep you running better for longer
- Improve your ability to handle physical discomfort experienced when running that, in turn, can teach you to become a more patient and disciplined runner
If you’re running slower, you’ll typically have better control of your body and movement than a runner that is going harder and faster in their workout. As a result, the slower runners will have better control to manage the stress placed on their body, and in turn, can be more cautious in order to stave off any potential injuries.
Think of it like this; if two runners are running, one at a faster pace and one at a slower pace, and both over the same distance, they’ll always reach that target mileage but just at different times — that’s obvious.
But, if this was repeated over the course of a week, then the runner going at a faster pace will likely experience more stress on their body than the slower runner simply because they’re putting in more effort and energy into covering the same distance, just at a consistently faster pace.
While intense training like the faster runner demonstrates can help to prepare for races, over the long run, consistently hitting the highest gear possible will put bodies at more risk than a runner who follows the same distance at a less intense pace over the same amount of time.
In this way, taking a slightly slower approach saves your body not only the energy you could use in bigger and more gruelling runs but also helps ensure you’re not overworking your body and placing too much stress on your joints and muscles that could put you out of action.
Similarly, you don’t want to suffer from fatigue or burnout, and running at slower speeds regularly will take the weight off your workload in that way too, keeping you fresher and stronger.
It’s not all about speed and distance
As the last point notes, it really isn’t all just about how quick you can run a particular distance (although of course, this is a major part of running!). Instead, it’s better to focus on the amount of time you spend running.
Taking it slower, as mentioned, will not only decrease the stress you place on your body, but will also give you the tools to become a more consistent and adaptive runner than one who just pelts through at higher speeds.
Your body can’t tell a distance, nor a time for that matter, but it’ll sure as hell will let you know just how hard it’s having to work – so be sure to listen to it!
Training at a slower pace allows you to concentrate on what works for your muscles, allowing you to develop and better your how much effort is placed on the body.
You shouldn't be running to totally dictate your speed, because how fit your body is and how much you can physically do will already provide you with that information — and that’s the blueprint for how you can improve.
Training isn’t all about going gung-ho — it’s about learning to manage your energy output and reaching your targets through gradual improvements and adaptations.
Training shouldn’t always be about the big miles and fast times – it can also be fun!
Adding a ‘joy-run’ into your schedule every once in a while not only makes your running more enjoyable but will also help you to practice slower, more reserved running that can better help you improve your form and technique for future races. What was the old adage? Run your easy days easy, and your hard days hard.
Aerobic vs Anaerobic
Part of the easy-hard dynamic comes from understanding the differences in aerobic and anaerobic exercise and what it means for your running more specifically.
Aerobic can be categorised as any cardiovascular conditioning in which your breathing and heart rate are increased over a sustained period of time.
Anaerobic, on the other hand, are more relevant to the forms of exercises completed in short bursts – like sprinting.
Both have their benefits, but for the purpose of aiming to build up stamina, mileage and energy, running at a slower pace (aerobic) can prove better in the long run than by completing difficult to sustain faster speed (anaerobic). Think of it as a scale, starting with easier training and working up to the maximum you can physically do.
Here’s a table to make it a little bit clearer:
Essentially, when you run slower and keep your rate lower, your level of training is decreased, meaning you can keep going for longer at a steadier, slower pace.
Take, for example, a 5K run. Experts consider a be 90% aerobic exercise and 10% anaerobic, which suggests that the focus of the runner is to manage their pace, breathing and stamina to last the full distance at a steady speed.
If you were to aim to complete the distance as an anaerobic exercise, you’d reach the distance faster, but will be overworking your body and producing a far higher heart rate.
As such, one way to hit your aerobic running targets is to keep your heart rate at no higher than 80% of its maximum while you run, which can be done using a heart rate monitor (or your smartwatch). Try this for your next 5K, and see how you feel afterwards. Chances are, you’ll have produced a steady and productive run that hasn’t resulted in you overworking your body for extended periods of time.
Think of the bigger picture
There’s often a misconception that slow is worse, that it’s not giving it your all and is a trait to be avoided. Well, as you can probably guess from reading this piece thus far, we think that’s highly untrue.
Learning to run slower is as much of a mental hurdle to overcome as it is a physical one. That’s because most runners have a competitive edge to their game that will tell them to hit a higher gear, run faster, run more miles, keep going, and so on.
While it’s great to have that strong and determined mindset, allowing your body to take the slow train every now and then is not only good for your body, but it can help you balance your training and make you a faster runner in the long run.