As a runner, you have a goal to improve your running pace and performance. It could be for a marathon, a 5K, or just for fun. But how do you achieve that?

Most times, you might think that the answer is to run faster and harder every time you hit the road or the treadmill. After all, the more you push yourself, the more you improve, right? 

Well, not exactly. Running faster all the time can hinder your progress and lead to overtraining, burnout, and injury.

So, what is the secret to running faster? Surprisingly, it is to run slower. Yes, you read that right. Slower is faster! Running slower can help you run faster in the long run. 

How is that possible? In this article, we’ll show the science of running slow to run faster and how you can incorporate this strategy into your training routine.

Understanding the Science of Running Slower to Run Faster

Running at a slower pace trains your body’s aerobic energy system. During aerobic running, your muscles use oxygen to burn fat and glycogen for fuel, resulting in a controlled production of lactic acid. 

This process occurs while keeping your effort in the aerobic zone, below the lactate threshold. The controlled production of lactic acid at this pace is a normal and beneficial aspect of the energy production process. 

It allows your muscles, lungs, and circulatory system to become more efficient at delivering oxygen and clearing waste, without experiencing the excessive fatigue associated with intense anaerobic efforts.

Over time, you can run faster before crossing that lactate threshold. Running slowly also increases capillary density in your working muscles. And more capillaries mean more oxygen-rich blood can be delivered to power your runs.

Benefits of Running Slower

Running slower during your training sessions offers significant benefits that you think of. Here are the key ones:

1. Improved Aerobic Base and Endurance

If you want to know how to run for long periods, slower running could be an option. It primarily uses the aerobic energy system, which relies on oxygen to fuel muscle activity. When you consistently engage in slower-paced runs, you improve your body’s ability to use oxygen more efficiently. 

This leads to increased endurance, allowing runners to sustain longer distances without fatigue. It also helps in building a strong foundation for more intense training sessions.

2. Prevents Overtraining and Burnout

High-intensity training without adequate recovery can lead to overtraining syndrome. It comes with prolonged fatigue, decreased performance, and a higher risk of injuries. 

On the other hand, slower running reduces this risk by providing a less physically demanding form of exercise that still maintains cardiovascular fitness. This balance helps in avoiding burnout and keeps the training sustainable over time.

3. Enhanced Recovery and Injury Prevention 

Relaxed runs after intense sessions aid in muscle recovery. They promote blood flow without placing additional stress on the muscles. This improved circulation helps in flushing out toxins and delivering nutrients to repair tissues. 

Furthermore, slower runs reduce the impact on joints and connective tissues, lowering the risk of common running injuries. This is particularly important for long-term joint health and for runners increasing their mileage.

How to Find Your Optimal Pace

half marathon runner

Finding your optimal slower running pace is a crucial aspect of training effectively and enjoying your runs. Here’s a guide on how to run slower and determine your ideal pace:

1. Use the ‘Talk Test’ 

A simple method to gauge your slower running pace is the talk test. You should be able to hold a conversation without gasping for air while running at this pace.

If you can talk comfortably, you’re likely in the right zone. This pace typically corresponds to 60-70% of your maximum heart rate, which is considered the aerobic or “fat-burning” zone.

2. Heart Rate Monitoring 

A simple formula to estimate your maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220. 

For example, if you are 30 years old, your maximum heart rate is 220 – 30 = 190 beats per minute (BPM). 

To determine your optimal slower pace, start by calculating your target heart rate zone. This range, measured in beats per minute, corresponds to your desired exercise intensity. 

Ideally, your heart rate during your slower pace should fall within 60-75% of your maximum heart rate. For example, if your maximum heart rate is 190 BPM, your target heart rate zone would be between 114 and 133 BPM.

This method ensures you’re training in the right intensity zone for aerobic development and recovery. For a more precise approach, use or wear a heart rate monitor.

3. Pace Calculators and Apps

You can also use some of the various online calculators and running apps that can help determine your optimal training paces based on your current fitness level and recent race times. 

These tools often provide a range of paces for different types of runs, including your ideal slower pace.

4. Adjusting by Feel 

The fastest marathoner in his history, Eliud Kipchoge,  when asked about the biggest mistake of runners, answered: “Not listening to their bodies well”.

It’s crucial to listen to your body and adjust your pace accordingly. Some days you might feel stronger and can maintain a slightly faster pace without strain, while others might need to slow down more than usual. Factors like fatigue, stress, weather, and terrain all affect how a pace feels on any day.

5. Regular Assessment 

As you become fitter, your optimal slower pace will change. Regularly assess your fitness level—through time trials, races, or heart rate changes at specific paces – and adjust your training paces accordingly.

6. Avoid the ‘Too Slow’ Trap

While slower running is beneficial, it’s important not to fall into the trap of running too slow on every run. 

Your training should include a variety of paces, including moderate and faster-paced workouts, to improve different aspects of your running fitness.

How to Incorporate Slow Runs into Training Plans

Incorporating slow runs into various training plans is essential for a well-rounded and effective running regimen. 

Here’s how you can integrate slower-paced runs into different types of training plans

1. Marathon Training

2. Speed Training

3. Frequency Considerations

For beginners, start with 2-3 slow runs per week, gradually increasing frequency as your body adapts. 

On the other hand, experienced runners might include slow runs 4-5 times a week, depending on their training phase and goals.

4. Duration Considerations

5. Listen to Your Body

Adjust the frequency and duration based on how your body feels. If you’re feeling particularly fatigued, it’s okay to shorten or slow down your runs.

6. Plan Variation

Mix in different types of runs (tempo, intervals, hill repeats) with slow runs for a balanced approach. This variation is crucial for improving different aspects of running fitness.

7. Consistency

Regularity is key. Consistently including slow runs in your routine pays off in terms of endurance, recovery, and overall performance.

How to Measure and Track Progress

Measuring and tracking progress, especially when incorporating slower runs into a training plan, involves looking at different performance metrics and key indicators. 

Here are some additional tips to help measure progress when running slower:

1. Lower Resting Heart Rate 

As your cardiovascular fitness improves, you should notice your resting heart rate decreasing over time. Track this first thing in the morning before getting out of bed. 

2. Increased Respiratory Exchange Ratio (RER) 

This measurement indicates how efficiently your body is using oxygen during exercise. As your aerobic fitness improves, your RER at the same easy pace should decrease, indicating your body is relying more on fat for fuel.

3. Improved Running Economy 

This refers to your oxygen consumption at a set pace. As your running economy improves, you’ll use less oxygen (become more efficient) at the same easy run pace.

4. Shorter Recovery Intervals 

During interval or repetition sessions, you should recover faster between hard efforts as your fitness increases. Note how long it takes your heart rate to return to normal.

5. Higher Lactate Threshold Speed 

This is the fastest pace you can maintain before lactate begins rapidly accumulating in your bloodstream. Having lab testing done periodically can help identify increases.

6. Less Perceived Effort 

A run that felt challenging a few months ago will feel easier at the same pace, indicating your improved aerobic conditioning. Pay attention to your rating of perceived exertion.

Common Misconceptions on Running Slower

Now that we’ve gone over the myriad benefits of running slower, let’s bust some common misconceptions.

Here is a comparison table for some myths about slow running and their corresponding facts

I’ll lose speed if I only run slow.Easy runs build your aerobic base to support faster speeds.
I’m not getting a good workout at slow paces.You’re still gaining cardiovascular, muscular, and mental benefits.
Running fast every day is better training.This leads to overtraining, exhaustion, and higher injury risk.
I’ll get bored running slowly all the time.Mental benefits happen at all paces. Mix up your routes to keep it interesting.
You don’t burn as many calories with slow-runningWhile the calorie burn per minute might be lower, the ability to run for a longer duration can result in a similar or even higher total calorie burn

Remember, some speedwork is still critical to boosting leg turnover and lactate threshold. The 80/20 running method finds the right balance of intensity and recovery.

Final Thoughts

Running slower on most of your runs might seem counterintuitive, but it’s a proven training strategy. It helps you build your aerobic base and prevent burnout. Ultimately, you’ll step up to the start line stronger. 

Pay attention to your body, embrace the easy miles, and don’t get caught up in pace. Soon enough, you’ll find yourself running faster than ever, thanks to the benefits of running slow.