A.K.A. Run Slow To Run Fast!
Almost every new runner thinks that to run faster, they have to push themselves to run faster. Maybe that’s you? Maybe you are wondering why you aren’t getting fitter as quickly as you’d hoped? Or maybe you are wondering why your legs and lungs always feel so beat up at the end of each run? This article will help answer the question “How fast should I run as a beginner?” However, really it’s the question that’s wrong. A better question would be “How slowly should I run as a beginner?” All new runners: No way?! This article: Yes way!
Let’s leap right into it: the majority of improvement (whether beginner 5K or elite marathoner!), comes from running quite slowly. Weird, right? Only a small portion of the weekly running hours should be fast. The rest of each week should be run at a boringly easy to moderate pace depending on experience and aims. If your brain hasn’t exploded, and haven’t decided the author needs help, you might be thinking: Why is this? What are the advantages of running slowly? Let’s find out.
Here’s a list of the main benefits of running slower:
- Increases red blood cell count
- Increases amount of haemoglobin in those red blood cells
- Promotes capillary growth
- Promotes Mitochondria growth and density
- Promotes the use higher proportion of fat as fuel
- Easier to run for longer, so above benefits get more time to occur.
- Lowers injury risk
Red blood cell count
Running slowly promotes an increase in both red blood cell count and the amount of haemoglobin in those red blood cells. Haemoglobin carries oxygen, so running slowly = more oxygen in the bloodstream.
Running slowly promotes capillary growth. Capillaries supply the blood to the muscles and organs. Therefore running slowly gets that oxygen delivered more efficiently to the muscles.
Mitochondria growth and density
Running slowly promotes Mitochondria growth and density. Mitochondria in the muscles use that oxygen as part of the aerobic reactions to turn fat and glycogen into power for the muscles. They respond to demand, so with longer duration of exercise, they sense demand, and mitochondria density in the muscles increases.
Higher fat / glycogen ratio
Running slowly promotes the use of more fat during aerobic exercise. The normal fuel sources during exercise are glycogen in the muscles, plus a little fat. If you run slower, slightly less glycogen and slightly more fat is used and the body gets used to this mix. This is important once you start running longer distances, because muscle glycogen runs out after 90 minutes or so, leaving glycogen stores in the liver and fat. The longer you can delay that, the longer you can maintain pace in long runs and races.
Easier to run for longer
If you just run fast, you can’t run as long, so the above processes get less time build. Time on feet, building on the above benefits, plus enough recovery, is critical. So run slower most of the time, because it’s easier and you can build all the core aspects the body needs to run faster when the time comes, be it race day or just a session smashing it out on your local routes.
Lower injury risk
Running slowly has a lower risk of injury, since it does not stress the muscles so much and its easier to recover from. It’s common sense, but so many runners ignore the body and push on through when they should have either had a rest day or done an easier run. If you run slower, you’ll be able to do more running, both each week but also in the long term, so you’ll get faster and fitter.
Running slowly is quite a chilled experience – it can help with the mind as a kind of meditation. This might not be so apparent as a beginner runner, but once you have excellent running form dialled in by habit, are breathing easily and are able to run for a while without thinking about it too much, you may find mental benefits from running slowly too.
fast slowly should I run as a beginner?
As a beginner, ALL your runs should be run at an easy pace. While your muscles are still adapting to the demands of new running activity, you are aiming to finish each running session feeling like you could have gone faster and looking forward to the next session.
What’s an easy pace?
As a beginner runner, you should aim to do the running bits of your sessions at a pace that lets you have a chat to yourself without having to gasp for breath half-way through short sentences. For example repeat this mantra out loud while running: “I should be able to say a sentence of about this length without taking a breath”. If you can’t, then try to run slower.
If you aren’t able to do this, you might need to look at your breathing (matching it to your steps properly and using belly breathing).
When can I run faster?
After you’ve done the initial training like a C25K, or better yet a more knowledge-rich alternative like our Running For Beginners course, and are able to run for 30 minutes non-stop, you can start introducing a faster running session each week, such as a Tempo run – all explained in our course as well as other great ways to progress safely.