SKINS Head Running Coach discusses 'Easy Runs'.
'Easy Runs' form around 80% of our overall training volume, and on the face of it, they seem…well, easy. However, an easy run is not just about plodding along the streets or getting your run over and done as quickly as possible. Like every session in the training plan, easy runs have clear aims and outcomes and require discipline to execute correctly to achieve the desired physiological benefits.
Heading out the door for an easy run is like heading to the gym to 'get big'; however, runners don't tend to see their 'gains' visually. When someone does weights to gain mass, generally, they lift lighter weights and do more repetitions. It's similar to easy running; you need to do lots of it and at a low intensity. The aim is to create a hypertrophic process within your body to improve your efficiency and enhance your aerobic and muscular capabilities. This way, you can make structural changes to your muscles, making them more efficient at respiring aerobically. You can reduce the distance in which oxygen has to travel from the lungs and blood to be oxygenated. You increase the stroke volume of the heart to increase your aerobic capacity. Finally, you improve your ability to transport oxygen to the muscles. All of which makes you a better runner!
The reason for doing this at a lower intensity is to complete runs frequently. By running harder, your body needs longer between exercise bouts to recover. In the short term, doing runs a little faster isn't an issue, but long term, if you keep pushing your body like that, it will lead to excessive fatigue and increased susceptibility to illness or injury. In the long term, the best thing to do is to keep your easy days easy and hard days hard. Stay patient; remembering the session tomorrow and the days after are just as important as the session you are currently doing. One key thing to do when you are training is to ask, 'am I able to keep this going for the next 8-10 weeks?' If you feel that the intensity is too high, there is no shame in dropping the pace back a touch. It doesn't mean you are out of shape; it just means you are training hard in your sessions, and your body needs a bit of easy time!
STAYING IN THE 'EASY' ZONE
To make sure you stay in your 'easy' zone, you should be aware of a few things. On a scale of 1-10, 1 being no effort at all and 10 being maximum effort on an easy run, you don't want to be exceeding 5 for the majority of the run. An easy way to ensure this is to run with a friend and make sure you can hold a conversation the whole way. Heart Rate wise, you want to ensure you are in zone 1-2 for most of the run and roughly 90-120secs per mile (60-75secs per km ish) slower than your 5km pace. Don't get too hung up on pace zones; these are just a general guide, and the best way to track intensity is how it feels.
Another good way of keeping you in an easy zone is by putting too many clothes on and not taking anything off. If you need to cool down, you are running too quickly, so it's an obvious sign to slow down and keep things relaxed!
The main thing on your easy runs is to go out there and just enjoy running. Try new routes, trails and get on the hills if you can; just save your energy for the faster runs coming up in the rest of the training cycle!