It’s the worst mistake a runner can make.
Runners do it all the time.
You guessed it – it’s running our easy runs too hard.
Going even a teensy bit too hard on planned easy days keeps the body from fully recovering. The damage comes later, on the runs that count most – the planned hard or long runs.
Because we aren’t fully recovered, we end up doing those runs with less intensity than we otherwise could. As a result, we improve more slowly, if at all.
The body can never quite catch up, because we fail to give it the rest it needs to repair the damage and improve.
Much worse, our running is less enjoyable, because we’re half-tired all the time, and enjoyment takes energy.
Running easy on the off-days has a tremendous upside. The reward is that we go into the hard runs fully recovered, so we see real improvement and we enjoy our running more, including the easy runs.
Why do so many runners fail to understand this? Why do they plod on, unaware of the damage they’re doing to their progress and enjoyment?
Partly, I think it’s because we’re addicted to a mental image of ourselves. “Hey, if I can run hard, I should. It’s irresponsible, unworthy, cowardly, and unmanly not to.” And we’re greedy and unrealistic. “Every run should be a thrill.”
Partly, also, I think we’re simply unaware of what’s happening. We don’t have a grip, mentally and emotionally, on what’s going on. We’re dully half-aware that something isn’t right. “But tomorrow it will be better.”
Success begins when we work with the way things are. That’s why it’s good to read books on training and nutrition. Wading through 400 pages of solid information helps drive the lessons into our bones.
Today’s lesson is short and simple. If you’re tempted to run your easy runs a bit too hard, I urge you to read Matt Fitzgerald’s outstanding article, Train at the Right Intensity – Elites spend 80 percent of their miles going easy. Why you should, too.
It’s the best advice for runners I’ve read in a very long time – an instant classic. Every runner should read it. If they’re wise, they’ll hustle over to Amazon and order Matt’s book, 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower.
Matt does a thorough job of reviewing the science of recovery. His conclusions are fully in line with the advice of the legendary running coaches, including Alberto Salazar, Arthur Lydiard, and Bill Bowerman. If a Bowerman runner ran the easy runs too hard, or if he trained more than appropriate, Bowerman would suspend him from the team.
I’ll post a follow-up with some thoughts on balanced training, and a remarkable fuel that I’ve discovered for hard training days.