How should I run an easy run? It seems so basic, it almost seems ridiculous to ask. Maybe that’s why people don’t ask. Even when they should.
Yes, the easy run is basic in principle but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask the question. Because people seem to be afraid to ask, I’m going to ask and answer myself. So here it goes…
To start, let’s cover the basics that everyone thinks they get but many don’t. An easy run is meant to be easy, of course. What does easy mean? Well, it can mean different things on different days or in different phases of training.
I always like to use as a starting point what old timers and the runners I coach will know as conversational pace. This is essentially the pace at which you can hold a conversation with a running partner. If you’re running with someone, great. Hold a conversation. This doesn’t have to mean you’re reciting poetry but you should be able to complete a whole (possibly relatively short) sentence without gasping for air. If you do that, you’re not overextending yourself aerobically. If you can’t say more than a few words without losing your breath, you’re running too hard.
Next, pay attention to how your body feels, especially your legs. Are you feeling fatigue or soreness? If so, make sure you’re backing off more. Feeling particularly good? Don’t go crazy but you can allow the pace to pick up a little as long as your breathing remains under control.
Finally, think about what you need out of the day. If you’re in base training and calling everything except your long run an easy run, then you don’t have to be as worried about recovery as if you’re later in your training cycle so you can “cheat” a little. If you’re in peak training and have some key workouts coming up, you have to make sure you’re ready for them and may need to back off a bit more than normal.
Is this all there is to an easy run? For less experienced runners, yes. However, for experienced runners, I believe you would be well served by doing some strides 2-3 times a week on your easy runs.
What do strides in an easy run look like? Well, there are many ways you can work strides into your easy run. Since most of us are fitting running into our limited free time, I prefer the following time efficient method.
During the normal course of your easy run, when you have about 15 minutes to go, pick up the pace. Accelerate smoothly to a quick but controlled effort. Depending on how you are feeling and what you are training for, the pace may vary. Something around 5K effort works well for most people in most cases. However, if it feels too challenging, there’s nothing wrong with going slower. If your primary race focus is 5K or shorter, you may be well served to sometimes go faster than 5K effort. The acceleration would ideally take about 5-10 seconds, then you can hold pace for another 5-10 seconds for a total of around 15 seconds.
After you’ve done your first stride, fall back into your easy pace for 1-2 minutes to recover, then repeat. Aim for a total of about 4 strides of about 15 seconds each.
If you are doing strides, remember that this is still an easy run first and foremost. It can be tempting to do more, do them longer, or do them faster but this isn’t a hard workout. Just a few strides at a quick but controlled effort for a short duration can go a long way without turning your easy day into a hard workout.