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Quick read on easy runs. They’re not garbage miles. (UPDATED FOR EASIER READ :)) sorry!

As posted by cyktrussell
October 2, 2014

Easy Runs – Garbage miles?

Part of any good training plan is your base – the easy runs. The majority of the running you will do in a plan is often just recovery and easy runs. Is there a science to easy runs? Is there a right way or wrong way to run these easy runs? Are these just filler or ‘garbage miles’? This is a topic that has become more interesting in recent years as the science and opinion has shifted. It turns out that your easy runs are a fundamental part of your training plan and that there is a right and wrong way to run them in most cases. As with everything else in training for a marathon the ‘easy run’ has a number of nuances to it that I shall cover here. Base Building The first topic under easy runs is the concept of base building. When you enter an official training cycle for a race you have to make a decision on whether or not you have the appropriate base to support that training cycle. How do you know? This base is an important training enabler is a number of ways. If you are going to drop into a hard training schedule you need to have the cardio fitness, the muscle strength and the general skeletal robustness to handle it. A good base of running will mean that your cardio vascular system has adapted to running. Your lungs and heart are bigger, stronger and ready for a harder push. This kind of adaptation doesn’t happen overnight, especially if you are starting from a sedentary lifestyle. This kind of base adaptation may take a year or more. Your muscle strength will be the fastest to adapt to base training. After a few weeks of easy running your leg muscles will be used to the effort and ready for more. Muscle adaptation is typically not the constraint when you drop into a hard training plan. Skeletal and connective tissue adaptation, on the other hand, does not happen quickly and is typically a constraint to hard training. The majority of failed training cycles will be due to some sort of tendonitis or other connective tissue injury. A good, long, easy, base-building phase will allow the fascia and connective tissue to adapt to the stress and be in a position to handle a hard training cycle.

How much base do you need before dropping into a training cycle? It’s different for different people. Whether you have enough base to jump into a training cycle will depend on a few factors. First, what is your experience in general? How long have you been running? Did you run in school? Have you been consistently putting in 20-25 mile weeks for a year or so? If the answer is ‘yes’ then you probably have a pretty good base built up. Second is age. Younger people will react much more positively to any training and will recover faster from hard efforts. The younger body will adapt faster to base building and hard training alike. If you’re under 35 you can probably get away with less base. What do you do if you don’t think you have enough base to drop into a serious training cycle? The answer is simple; you need a base-building phase first. Depending on your experience, age and goals this could be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few months. What does a base-building cycle look like? It looks like running for an hour or so at a low heart rate effort level with good form a few times a week.

What is the appropriate effort level? What is a low heart rate effort and why do I want to do that? I’m not going to go too deeply into the science of heart rate or aerobic training here – I’ll just give you the overview and a couple rules of thumb to get you started. When most of us go out for an easy run we run too hard. If you take your effort level and spit it up into five zones you can determine what effort level to train your easy runs at to get the best adaptation.

Zone 1 effort level is equivalent to a walking effort level. Zone 2 effort is a very easy effort level, it may be a slow jog or even a run with some walking involved. You should be able to talk in full sentences and not be breathing hard.

Zone 2 effort level is where you should be when doing your easy runs, especially in the base building phase.

Zone 3 effort level is where most of us are actually doing our easy runs. This effort level still feels relatively easy but our heart rate and breathing is up to the point where we talk in broken sentences between breaths. You’re not breathing hard per se but your breathing is noticeable.

Zone 4 effort level is when you are starting to get into tempo or race effort. You are breathing hard and you can only squeeze out words around your breathing. This effort level may not sustainable for long efforts.

Zone 5 and above is a 5K – 10K race effort level. Your heart is working and you are breathing hard. At this effort level you have trouble speaking at all.

Long story short; during your base building phase you want the majority of your runs to be at a zone 2 effort level. Use your easy runs to practice good form and mechanics. Since you are running at a low effort level you can use this opportunity to work on your form. Focus on running easily and lightly in your easy runs. Work on an easy, fast foot strike and good upright posture with an easy arm swing. In this way the easy runs become another training tool to make you a better, more efficient runner. They are another form of homework that supports the harder efforts in your training plan. They are practice. Practice in finding and controlling effort level and practice in finding and managing efficient form.

What about the easy runs that are part of your marathon training plan? The easy runs that are built into your marathon training plan are not as much focused on base building because you should have a reasonable base before you start the plan. The easy runs in your marathon training plan are more focused on active recovery. These easy runs will usually fall on the day before or after a hard speed, tempo or long run. These recovery runs should be run at a very easy effort level. The focus should be on movement not effort. Using your muscles in the easy run promotes recovery by bringing blood to the muscles which brings nutrients and takes away waste.

You should never fall into the trap of using your recovery runs to run hard, even if you feel great. It may feel great today but misusing a recovery run will come back to bite you later in the training cycle. Not recovering well will manifest as exhaustion and injury later in the cycle.

If you really feel the need to work up a little sweat in your easy run do it in the last mile. If you’ve got too much energy, hold your easy zone 2 pace until you’re ½ or ¼ mile from your finish, and then let your pace accelerate. This will be the final minute or so of your run, no longer than that. These ‘fast finish’ episodes at the end of an easy run are ok because they’re not long enough to wear you out. When you do a fast finish your body is nice and warmed up and will handle the effort easily. They teach your body to close a run hard, which is what you need to do in a race and they build confidence.

Just be sure not to overdo it! In summary, easy runs are not ‘garbage miles’. They are an integral part of a training plan. First as a way to build the base necessary for a hard training campaign and secondly as a way to practice good form and effort management. Finally they are an integral part of your active recovery during a hard training cycle.

– See more at: http://runrunlive.com/easy-runs-garbage-miles#sthash.zLpIzjCu.dpuf

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