“Well that wasn’t exactly easy”
“A not-so-easy run”
“Meant to be easy, but got a bit carried away”
These are all phrases I’ve seen time and time again on my Twitter and Strava feeds; easy runs that turned out to be a lot harder than intended. It’s a common occurrence. Whether it be chasing some segment, trying to beat a friend, or just a lack of discipline. Sure, it’s not the end of the world. If it happens every now and then it really won’t make much of a difference to your training. But some of us are serial offenders. Runners who hit ‘easy’ runs at a pace that’s a lot closer to their half marathon pace than a pace that’s going to aid their recovery.
I think the biggest problem is a lack of understanding – we’ve been engrained with this ‘more is better’ approach and are bombarded with quotes telling us that ‘hard work’ will get you anything you want in life. So, it isn’t in line with this way of thinking to deliberately put in less effort when we’re trying to get better at something.
Yet the entire purpose of training is to go through the stress and adaptation cycle, which basically means that we provide the body with a certain stress (e.g. a hard workout) and then allow adaptation to occur through recovery. The biggest lack of understanding here is that we don’t improve by working hard, but rather it is during the recovery stage that our bodies adapt and thus improve. Without sufficient recovery, your body can’t adapt and no amount of hard work is going to lead to improvement.
The purpose of these easy runs therefore, is to provide a light stimulus to the body to achieve some minor adaptations, but more importantly to be easy enough that the body can recover from the harder days.
There is actually some benefit to easy days that are more moderate in pace, but for most runners it’s more important to first focus on keeping the easy days easy. Moderate runs and other variations of easy runs can be introduced at a more advanced level, once the body has a quicker recovery turnaround.