The Joys of Running Super Slow

Right now, I’m in a cycling build.  But that means that I still run easily just about every day.  Perhaps “easy” is an overstatement– these runs are positively lackadaisical.  I think my pace topped out at about 12:00 or 13:00 a mile (which is almost half my running pace in a 10K race).  All of this is fine by me because I’ve learned how to run slow to great effect.

When I was younger and up through my thirties, there was no such thing as a slow run.  Everytime I went running, I’d hit it hard straight from the beginning.  Mind you, I didn’t run it as hard as a tough race, but even the easiest runs were done somewhere between half-marathon and marathon pace.  If I needed more recovery than that, I just didn’t run.

A few years back, my coach Tom Roseberry recognized my jackass tendencies and put me on a restricted speed diet.  For six weeks, I wasn’t allowed to run anything faster than an 8 minute mile– and slower (or much slower) was encouraged.  Ten minute miles were applauded and twelve minute miles were openly celebrated.  Mind you, this was like cold turkey for the worst of crack addicts.  By the end of a week, I was about to implode.  This was made worse by the fact that I live on the Burke-Gilman bike trail right up from the University of Washington– and there’s always some young buck running on the trail that just looks like he’s begging for a schooling from an old buck like me.  It was agony.  After a month, I was finally settling into my predicament but I was convinced that all of my speed was lost and that my running career was over.  But Coach Tom assured me that my speed was still there.  Without a lick of speed training in six weeks, I entered a 5-K and ran faster than I had in years.  I also got a minor injury, but that’s another story– the point is that I hadn’t lost any of my speed.

Since then, I have come to appreciate much more how rejuvenating slow running can be.  I’ve also learned a few tricks that I thought I would share.

  1. Easy Runs Made Easier, Jeff Galloway Style.  Most runners are familiar with Jeff Galloway’s marathon training program.  Basically, the idea is to walk one minute at fixed intervals (e.g. every five minutes) during a run.  When I’m trashed from a workout the day before, I use this same strategy on my recovery runs.  I have to say that a tiny one-minute walk can work miracles with a sore and aging body.
  2. Learn Something New.  Long, super-slow runs are not the most exciting thing in the world.  It really helps to have a distraction.  Plus, a distraction that keeps me mentally engaged can help me ignore the speedsters whom I might otherwise want to chase down. For years, my solution has been to run while listening to downloaded lectures from The Teaching Company.  Right now, I’m listening to lectures on Plato’s Dialogues— something I never appreciated during my freshman philosophy course.
  3. Strava is Evil.  Most triathletes have either a distinctly Type A personality (not so much me), are nonetheless highly competitive in sports (definitely me), or both.  On a super-slow recovery run, these tendencies work against me.  Strava is like an evil devil reminding me how much slower I am on different segments than other runners– particularly the aforementioned young bucks needing a schooling.  Consequently, I’m on a Strava moratorium.
  4. Wear a Pair of Cushy Shoes.  Recovery runs can be used to either work on form/strength or to really relax.  I like the second option.  So even though my recovery run is probably the safest place I can wear my Vivo Barefoots or Vibram FiveFingers in my running training, I just leave them at home.  Instead, I wear a pair of mega-cushioned shoes like Hoka One One’s.

If you really keep it super-slow, you’ll be amazed that you can actually recover and run at the same time.  It was a highly difficult lesson for me to learn, but I’m sure that 99.9% of you will have an easier time with this lesson than I did.  I’m sure glad I took the time to learn it.


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