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How Running Slower Can Make You Faster

BY: The Running Channel
28 April 2023

If you’re a runner aiming to improve your speed, you might be surprised by a seemingly paradoxical strategy: running slower. Yes, it’s true, running slower can actually make you faster. Now, don’t click away just yet; let us walk you through how adopting a more leisurely pace can help you.

Slow runs, often dubbed ‘recovery runs’, are designed to help your muscles and joints recover effectively and safely, without increasing your risk of injury. Regular slower runs can actually reduce the impact and intensity of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) by enhancing blood circulation and flushing out lactate from your system.

Variety: The Spice of Running Life

A common issue among runners is the trap of routine, with many continuously performing the same workouts and runs in a quest to shave a few seconds off their 5k personal best. Not only does this create a physical barrier to progress, but it can also be mentally demotivating and tedious.

Introducing variety into your running routine is essential because your body responds better and adapts more to changes in stimulus. Interval training, cross-training, and slower runs can be beneficial as they allow your body to adapt and react differently.

Aerobic Zone and Running Comfortably

One of the benefits of slower runs is that you are consistently working in your aerobic zone. Over time, your body adapts to this and becomes more efficient at converting energy, leading to improved endurance and speed. You’ll start to feel more comfortable during prolonged runs and, as a bonus, you might even see an increase in your VO2 max score, given that your slow runs are part of a varied training plan.

Mental and Physical Perseverance

Slower runs also offer a safer platform for pushing through fatigue, an important skill to develop for both mental and physical resilience. Running at a relaxed pace will likely keep your heart rate relatively low, reducing the potential injury risk associated with pushing through fatigue at higher speeds.

Dr Phil Maffetone developed a training philosophy known as the MAF method, which uses your maximum aerobic function (MAF) to dictate the pace of your runs. This method has been sworn by many, including myself, as a practical approach to maintaining aerobic fitness.

Deload Weeks and Running Form

Deload weeks, or weeks with lower volume and intensity after prolonged blocks of intense training, are another important part of the process. They allow adaptations at a cellular and muscular level, leading to significant leaps forward in progress.

Slower runs during these weeks also provide an excellent opportunity to focus on your running form. Paying attention to your cadence, how you carry your arms, your posture, foot strike, and stride length can create muscle memory that can be tapped into when you’re fatigued during faster runs or races. It’s not only beneficial performance-wise but also aids in reducing your risk of injury.

Running Slow: A Social Opportunity

When you’re not fixated on the pace of your runs, you can involve more people in your running routine. Running alongside someone allows for deep, meaningful conversations, significantly benefitting your mental health. A 2020 study from Edinburgh University found that runners participating in social running events were less likely to develop depression and had lower stress levels than those who ran alone.

Moreover, slower runs give you a chance to genuinely take in your surroundings which can add a new dimension to your run.

What do you think? Fancy running slower to get faster? Let us know in the comments!

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