Slow is the word

you thought Grease was the word but it’s not. SLOW is the word!

i’ve been working on training plans for the Nashville Half Marathon and i’m sensing some panic. the nicely written emails i get explaining why that pace just seems too slow are rapidly filling my inbox. i knew when i sent these emails that i was going to get some backlash. that’s ok. now it’s just time to really try to explain the why behind these paces.

i’m not sure who remembers this but last year i really stressed the importance of running the long runs about 2 minutes slower than you felt like you should be. the only difference this time is that we’re going to do this for all runs during our base building period, not just the long runs. this is not a new concept guys! i’m just extending it into our weekly runs too. remember our theme from the last blog, “honor the purpose of the workout.”

why run slow? to increase your VO2 max, to increase glycogen storage, to increase endurance, to improve recovery and to simulate race duration….just to name a few reasons. ok, more specifically, on a slow run you are keeping your body in the aerobic zone which will increase the amount of oxygen you take in, transport, and utilize (VO2 max). you are literally increasing the size of your heart as you would any other muscle, therefore, it’s going to work better for you. muscle glycogen is your body’s primary source of fuel during exercise. with low muscle glycogen stores your body will quickly need to turn to fat, which is a less efficient fuel, and will therefore slow down. (because fat is 15% less efficient than carbohydrate as an energy source, when you have to burn more fat you slow down). this is especially true for marathoners who wish to avoid hitting the wall. Long runs teach your muscles to store more glycogen. you’re increasing endurance and simulating race duration by spending more time on your feet. you’re quicker to recover when running at a slower pace because your body is not suffering so much trauma and you’re allowing your bones and connective tissues time to adapt. once you’ve done all of this it’s time to move on to some speed work and increased paces. blah, blah, blah, right?

we haven’t always trained this way in the past (we typically add speed and tempo runs in quicker) so why are we doing it this way? the nashville half marathon is not the st. jude half marathon. they are on different courses and have different issues. nashville is a hilly race and is a course we won’t get to practice on so we’re going to do our best to be strong before we go. in a hilly half marathon, would you rather be fast or strong? well, if you’re not strong, you certainly won’t be fast. we’ll work hard to build a good, solid base and then we’ll go from there. we will do some work at some different paces but not for the first several weeks. we are going to rapidly increase our distance (long run distance, not overall weekly distance) and these longs run will be hard. if they’re not done slow enough, you won’t be able to do them. if you’re worn out from going too fast all week, you won’t be able to do them. so, see, slow is the word. you may get bored and anxious but, i promise you, you’ll also be getting stronger.

now, with that being said, it’s hard for me to really pick training paces for my groups because rarely are we going out and putting an all-out effort into a race or a run. maybe we’re running with a friend or dealing with an injury that has completely thrown us off track. these paces chosen are your absolute slowest paces based on a specific race. more than likely, had you gone out and really raced that run, your finish time would be different and, therefore, your training paces would be different. although, probably not as different as you’re wanting.

as a general rule of thumb, you should be able to comfortably carry on a conversation while running “slow.” if you start feeling like you’re tired and needing to walk, you’re going too fast. simply take a second to roll your shoulders down your back, take a deep breath, shake out your arms and slow down.

i knooooow i’m making it sound like it’s easy to do and you’re thinking it’s not. i agree with both of us (me and you). it really is a matter of using less force on your push-off and just slowing down but, yes, it’s going to take some practice to get used to this without feeling like you may as well just be walking. i really stressed the importance of this with my marathon group and tried to follow it myself. i slowed down a good bit and i know i still went too fast. i’m a work in progress. i know it’s frustrating going slower than you feel like you should but try to take advantage of it- look around, enjoy the scenery, get to know someone else in the running group.

i’ve told a few people this story already, but, just so you know, i’ve got your backs. in my RRCA class, our teacher was going on and on about the importance of going slow and all i could think was “oh shit, the group is going to hate that i came to this class!” i, being someone who never asks questions in class, raised my hand and said (in a very serious tone), “you’re just saying go slow and i think that’s easier said than done. how are you supposed to just ‘go slow’?” the whole class died laughing. i was so not trying to be the class clown! i have your back but we all have to honor the purpose of the workout and we have to understand that there is science behind this. we will all benefit if we just try. i’m not a stickler for paces but when you come to me and tell me how fast (and not slow) you did your run, i’m probably just going to ask you if you honored the purpose of the workout? annoying, i know 🙂

oh, by the way, i know it can be done. i’m pretty sure i was running about a 15 minute mile in the picture above!!

3 thoughts on “Slow is the word

  1. unless one can argue the points in your blog, which i am not smart enough to do, i want to give it a shot. The majority of the long course triahlon plans work off of this same philosophy (as you already know).  But it makes logical sense, how can you ride a bike fast for 100 miles until you are comfortable actually riding for 100 miles.  I also think the glycogen vs fat information is fascinating.  This is inarguable science and thanks for learning this FOR me!!I have seen the plans and the speed/tempo is coming everyone so enjoy this while you have it.

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