I am not a doctor and I am not certified to coach, the below is simply a recount of my training experience/opinion on training slower and racing faster.
When I first started running longer distances, I didn’t put much thought into it. I would go out and run my mileage with the timer on my wrist watch and find out my overall pace at the end. This worked fine for me and I’m sure it works well for others too. As I started getting more serious about my training and improving my race pace, I began doing a lot of reading and also began training with a group. If you’ve been running for a while, you’ve probably heard or read about the idea of running your training runs (30-60 seconds) slower than race pace and incorporating speed work into your weekly training to get in the faster pace runs. Some follow the 80/20 rule and some use their heart rate to determine the correct aerobic zones. Slowing down workouts is supposed to help prevent injury and general burn out. It can also help prevent post-run fatigue since the body isn’t overworked.
This style of training is tough to get comfortable doing. It seems like it wouldn’t make sense that doing the majority of workouts slow and doing speed work only once a week would prepare a runner for a goal race pace. With the added pressure of virtual training logs, I think it can also make runners feel intimidated about having runs that seem “slow” posted for all to see, especially if that runner already perceives themselves as a slow. I think the other challenge is that, as a runner gets into better shape, it’s exciting to see the quicker paces after a run which makes it tough to slow down or know what is fast or slow. Using a heart rate monitor and knowing your VO2 Max can help with this. I don’t use a heart rate monitor, but over the past year I have grown to know my body better and have a stronger understanding of when I’m pushing too hard and need to back off. Switching to a GPS watch that shows my pace also helped me to make sure I wasn’t over doing it.
I struggled with slowing down on my runs. I was used to doing a quicker pace and I felt like I was dragging when I ran slower. The hidden blessing of getting injured this past spring was that when I was ready to return to running, I was out of shape and able to take advantage of it by getting used to taking my runs slower. Before that, I had been running on Saturday long runs in a group at a 9:15 pace, but was having a hard time keeping myself in check during my solo runs. When I started running again it was summertime and the humidity made it easier to slow down. I did all of my weekday runs between a 9:15-9:30 pace, usually hitting around a 9:20 pace. As the weather cooled off, I continued at the slower pace, but welcomed the ease brought on by the lower temperatures.
When I started training again this past summer, I choose to keep my speed work to a minimum, but knowing my goal was the run my half marathon under 2 hours (an easily-achievable goal as long as I stayed injury-free), I focused on doing my “speed work” at pace under a 9 minute mile.
The above shows my last long training run followed by my taper. I finished my half marathon last weekend with an overall average pace of 8:21 min/mile (1:49:16). After this training cycle, I am a true believe in training slower to race faster. I exceeded my expectations for my last race of the season and definitely noticed a difference in my energy level during the training cycle, especially being an early-morning runner. I got comfortable with the idea of taking it slow and enjoyed my runs more. I remember a runner I follow on Twitter once Tweeting something along the lines of, “If you’re PRing on our long runs, you’re doing it wrong.” It really resonated with me and now I really understand her point. This style of training is absolutely something that I will continue in my off season and into the 2015 racing season.
Do you train slow and race fast? If so, how have you benefitted from this style of training? If not, what is it about this training style that makes you hesitant to try it?