Run slow to race fast

One of my running friends IRL, Zorana, has started blogging and has recounted her whole experience with a burnout, and how she adopted Maffetone running to counter the slowdown:

If you enjoy running long distances and want to improve as a runner, as I do, you have to invest into your aerobic system, simple as that.

For the past year, Zorana, my wife Alison, and I have all kind of fed off each other a little bit in terms of adopting heart rate running to make our easy runs appropriately slow…to actually make us race fast.

This anaerobic burnout that Zorana talks about, feels like hitting the wall of a marathon. Or a half marathon, or a 1500 race (if you’re like me and have also hit the wall in those distances). Once you hit that wall in a race, the only thing that’ll get you through it is going slower. Anaerobic burnout is exactly the same. Exactly.

Maffetone, for anyone unfamiliar, is from a runner and sports scientist who’s been in the game for a while, Phil Maffetone. He’s mentioned in Matt Fitzgerald’s 80/20 Running, along with Steven Siegler. Fitzgerald, Maffetone, and Siegler have all fed off each other to champion the same kind of running philosophy to make us faster — running all of your easy runs in the aerobic heart rate zone.

It really doesn’t matter if you can run your easy runs at 4 minute k’s, or 7 minute miles. If you can’t back this up in a race at a much faster pace, it’s meaningless. All that matters in easy runs should be the miles — that is the main metric in these runs. Since adopting 80/20 running, I’ve mentioned this kind of thing a few times now.

But a big cause of why 95% of people don’t train slow enough, is because they attach way too much pride to runs that simply don’t even matter.

We want to get the kudos and likes for every run. FitFrame is probably even a contributor to that with visible paces, my bad. We all need our egos stroked — it’s embarrassing to admit but let’s not pretend that’s the reason why every single one of us runs, no matter how minor or major.

So my long term preference for a while has been to save that ego stroking for race day. Let it build and let it matter only once every few weeks (or however often you choose to race). Not in every single run.

If the pace group or run crew that you run with can’t understand this when you explain it to them, it’s a strong sign that they’re training for amateur hour. If you’re goal orientated, don’t let amateur hour get in the way. If you’re more of a social runner, then there’s no big deal I guess.

Whether I’m running by myself, or with a group, or with my wife, my easy pace varies anywhere between 1–2 minutes per mile. Here’s the cool bit: whether I’m running on the slower or faster end of this doesn’t even matter, because I’m still working out the aerobic part of my system. I still get the fitness gains!

Running with my wife.

When a run gets too close to the top of my easy range, that’s when I start to worry. Because creeping into my anaerobic zone is going to sacrifice work in the aerobic zone — and the aerobic zone running is the exact thing that builds endurance, the thing that makes you faster over long distances.

If you’re training for events under 800m, by all means stay in that anaerobic zone. But if you’re training to race 800m and up, you’re going to benefit from keeping your easy runs relaxed, non-competitive, and ridiculously slow, so you can expand on that aerobic system.

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