One time a runner said to me, “Everything you tell me contradicts what other coaches have told me”. Another runner in an unrelated conversation said, “It isn’t that we haven’t been told before, it hasn’t been presented the way you convey it”. Either perspective, the listener will do what they want for logical or emotional reasons. Typically, emotions trump logic in most areas of life. Remember that crappy relationship you once had or your junk food binge or maybe your ego sabotaged your long-term goal?
One of the training components I try to stress to the runners that work with me is the benefit of running “easy”. Many runners run too fast, too often or too fast, too soon in training and it leads to overtraining, overreaching, burnout, and injury.
This past weekend on Instagram, Aliphine Tuliamuk, the winner of the Women’s US Olympic Marathon Trials shared her 20-mile long run from her Garmin Connect. One of my runners shared it on social media, pointing out her pace of 6:51 min/mi at a 123-heart rate (HR). This brought me joy because my runners notice heart rate! My runners know I do not heart rate train but am heart rate aware because it is a measure of fitness, aerobic status, and overtraining. The latter, shattering your potential.
Looking at the shared social media post, I knew I had to make this into a teaching moment for those that do want to become the best they can be. Tuliamuk’s 123-HR is estimated to be 66% of her maximal HR, given her age of 31. According to legendary coach, researcher, and professor, Dr. Jack Daniels, all easy runs should be run at 65-78% maximal HR. I have yet to see any of my runners run 65% and many run all easy runs above 78%.
It is true that heart rate can vary depending on multiple factors including stress, sleep, hydration status, and medications to name a few. I chose to mention all these factors because it is what I deal with in my demographic. The over stressed, under slept, poorly hydrated, and medicated. The latter sounds bad, but know the average age of my demographic is 55, not to mention I have several folks that can thank their heredity for high blood pressure.
For those of you that say that you go by perceived effort (subjective) and you feel fine, even though objective data (HR) says you are running at over 80%, let’s return to Tuliamuk’s 20-mile long run at 6:51 min/mi pace this weekend and compare it to her Olympic marathon trials win, where she ran 2:27:23. This my friends, is a 5:39 min/mi pace, 1:12 min/mi FASTER than her long run training pace. By the way, that 5:39 min/mi is not even her marathon PR pace.
How slow do you run your easy runs? Are all your runs at or faster than race pace? The entire point of running easy in the aerobic zone is to accumulate more mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell), increase capillaries that allow for more delivery of oxygen to the working muscles and mitochondria. More mitochondria also mean more enzymes to aid in chemical reactions that break down carbohydrates and fat for fuel. Not to mention, easy intensity running switches the fuel of choice to endogenous fat and spares glycogen (carbohydrates). These are the benefits to easy aerobic running that should be the heart (no pun intended) and soul of any endurance running program. Running slow sometimes means leaving your ego at home when you leave to pound the pavement.
Was that last paragraph too much science? Here is the translation = slow down to run faster on race day! I had been wondering how I would finish this blog post until I was halfway done and received this text, “Coach! Check out my heart rate today!!!!! This is what 8-hours sleep does for me, I guess”. Yes, yes, yes, they do eventually “get it”. A couple years ago I had to tell this runner, “I want you to do a critical appraisal of your lifestyle and if it promotes your goals”. Quickly I got the “What is that supposed to mean”? My reply, “I do not want to wake up in the morning and see that you had been commenting on social media at midnight”. This runner ran today at 76% her maximal HR for the first time ever! I used to hound her for always running near or sub race pace and her HR being too high for years! Glad to see she is seeing all the benefits of my nagging or coaching, depending on your perspective.
Coach Gina (The nag)