Runners often get too obsessed with breaking their personal records. But contrary to the widespread belief, the best way to improve your time are not the constant tempo runs . Instead, adding a bit of speed variety to your weekly schedule (and doing it right) is the key. And this is where long steady runs come to play. If you want to run faster and set your new best personal time, you simply have to work on your endurance and stamina. Here is everything you need to know about running long slow distances and why they are so important for all runners out there.
What does 'slow' means?
You have probably followed a professionally made training plan at least once in your life, so you already know that it includes long runs at a moderate pace at least a couple of times a week. You can find them in both 5K and full marathon programs. Even though these runs are low intensity, they will eventually help you reach your goals and make you a better athlete. And you will avoid overtraining which is very harmful to both your body and your mind.
If you are a beginner and you want to get faster, there are two ways to determine the right slow pace that will work for you. It will be quite easy if you have a heart rate monitor which tells you the exact stats of your body and the performance. Maintaining your heart rate somewhere around 135 beats per minute is ideal but you can drop it a bit lower as well. Make sure you don't go over 145 beats per minute.
However, if you don't own a heart rate monitor, you can still estimate your pace by measuring your effort. For instance, on a scale from one to ten, tempo runs should be at a nine or a ten in terms of difficulty. The perfect number for long slow runs is six or seven. This means that the run should not be super easy and it will be difficult to talk while running, but you will not be pushing yourself to the very limit. After all, you need to cover more mileage than you are used to and it should feel a bit challenging, right?
The benefits of slow pace
If you have just completed your first 5K race and you feel like signing up for a 10K or a half-marathon, you should start thinking bigger. Long distances will become a part of your weekly training and you have to learn how to combine them with tempo runs in order to perform really well on your race day. Let's take a look at the benefits of the slow long runs:
- You will burn more fat
Running at a slow pace will help you reach your best form by tapping into your fat reserves. So instead of using glycogen, your body will burn fat. Our bodies do not store a lot of glycogen (we get it from carbs) and you will run out of it pretty quickly, leaving you tired and a bit sleepy. On the other hand, running at a slower pace will teach your body to use fat as well which means you will have more fuel on your race day and be able to finish really long distances without feeling drowsy or spent in the process.
- Stronger muscles
Treating your muscles right is the key for completing long distances in the future. You can view your long slow runs as a form of recovery because you will not exert yourself and the chances are you will have more energy afterward. Your capillaries will grow which means that your body will be able to use more oxygen, making you more focused. So yes, long slow runs will improve your mental state which sometimes can be crucial for finishing the actual race.
- They are perfect for building stamina
If you are training for an endurance race, your stamina has to be at the highest level. You also need to get used to the constant motion. Training at a slower pace at least a couple of times each week will generally improve your cardiovascular system, prepare your body for really demanding conditions, and show you what to expect on your actual race day. Make sure you don't start with really ambitious distances, especially if you are a beginner. Gradually increase the intensity in your tempo runs as well. Make a slow progress and you will see a huge difference when you actually need to be fast.
The dangers of overtraining
New runners have to understand that the progress doesn’t happen overnight. You simply cannot get fast in just a couple of weeks by running at a very high speed all the time. It is quite opposite really because you’ll exhaust your body, probably damage the muscles, and eventually lose interest in running.
Long slow runs are the perfect way to recover and give your muscles some love. They will also make you feel relaxed and stress-free because you don’t have to worry about maintaining the high tempo every day. Instead, take an occasional look at your heart rate monitor (if you have one) just to make sure you are in the zone and simply run.
Always keep in mind that you shouldn’t do more than two high-intensity tempo runs in a single week and don’t do them back-to-back. Your body is not a machine and exhaust will very likely slow down your progress. Create a good running schedule that will provide you with enough recovery time, and your time will improve.
Running at a slower pace is the foundation for breaking your personal records. It is the best way to adapt your muscles to running, especially if you are a novice and your body is not used to the regular activity. So don’t hesitate or feel pressured to always run fast – having stamina and endurance will eventually pay off and you will see the actual improvement after two or three weeks. Plus, your tempo runs will not feel as difficult as before. So get out there, conquer those long miles, and ignore your clock. Trust us, it will make you a better runner.
If you have any questions about this topic, leave us a comment below.
Bio: Jessica Natalie is a health and fitness lifestyle blogger who is passionate about running and wants to spread the love on her blog Cause I Love Running.