How to get fast by running slow, seriously.

If you wanna get fast, you gotta run slow!

I don’t know about you but years ago when I first started running I would go out every day with only two goals, go longer and get faster. I had no idea what I needed to do in order to make that happen so I just pushed myself to run harder than I had the day before, every single time I went out for a run. And guess what? Yeah, I didn’t get all that fast, in fact, I got injured a lot.

Slow down runner

Back then if you would have told me that I needed some slower days, I would have thought you were crazy. How the hell could I become a fast runner by slowing down?

Enter the science between aerobic and anaerobic training and enter my love of all things analytical…Turns out there’s a lot of science behind this thing called running, who knew?

The difference between aerobic and anaerobic running

When you run your body breaks down sugar and converts it to glycogen so it can be used as fuel. When your body has enough oxygen for that process, it’s aerobic, when it doesn’t have enough oxygen, it’s anaerobic.

So, what is running aerobically? Well, simply put, when you run and you can easily hold a conversation without gasping for air, your body has enough oxygen and can produce the energy needed to power your muscles. Your body expels the waste in the form of water and carbon dioxide through your breathing.

Anaerobic running requires more oxygen than your muscles have available so your body begins to break down sugar but it doesn’t produce water and carbon dioxide as waste, instead it produces lactic acid. Lactic acid is much harder to get rid of than carbon dioxide and water. You can’t just breathe it out and as it accumulates, it causes you to become tired.

Dancing Granny

Is this aerobic or anaerobic dancing? Ah, who cares, Granny rocks.

Believe it or not, even a 2 mile run utilizes mostly aerobic energy. Anaerobic energy contributes a very small amount of energy therefore a greater aerobic capacity will allow you to perform better at any endurance event.

So, how do you improve your aerobic capacity? Well, the best way is to train in your aerobic zone just under your anaerobic threshold. For most people the anaerobic threshold is somewhere between 80-90% of their max heart rate so you’d want to train just under that but thresholds vary and the only completely accurate test is one performed by a professional who can test your blood .

rabbit and turtle

Let me be perfectly honest and tell you that when I first started training with a heart rate monitor I was a little pissed to realize that I had been running in the anaerobic zone for a large percentage of my runs and all of the charts told me to slow down, way down. Constantly running in an anaerobic state is probably why I was so tired and suffered from so many injuries. With the heart rate training I was able to find the proper zone and then work on improving it and contrary to what I originally thought, I didn’t get slower, I got faster.

Best Damn Race

When you first begin aerobic training you may feel like I did because you’ll need to slow down to maintain your heart rate and it can be frustrating. However, you are working your aerobic system and increasing your aerobic capacity which, over time will improve your ability to run faster.

If you start out running a 10:00 minute mile, as you train in your aerobic zone, you’ll improve to 9:45 at the same heart rate; eventually, you’ll improve to 9:30 and so on. This increase in aerobic capacity will significantly improve your time and your race paces as well. You’re basically training your body to run faster at the same level of exertion.

During aerobic training your body learns how to efficiently utilize fat for energy. The more efficiently your body utilizes fat, the better you’ll perform. Since fat sources are unlimited, the aerobic system is extremely efficient and long-lasting.

There are many benefits to training in the Aerobic state vs the anaerobic state:

  • Increases in VO2 Max (oxygen consumption)
  • Lower Blood Pressure
  • Increased muscular endurance
  • Reduced body fat
  • Reduced LDL blood cholesterol
  • Raises your metabolic rate
  • Improves lung functions and strengthens the heart
  • Reduces stress
  • Improves Glucose Tolerance and insulin Resistance
  • Improves the immune system
  • Helps prevent injury
  • Helps you run more efficiently

So, if you haven’t tried training with a heart rate monitor, you may want to. By doing so, you can learn how to train aerobically. I train with a heart rate monitor and have written a post about it here.

Now tell me, how many days do you run hard and how many days do you run easy?

How much slower do you run on your long runs?

Do you use any other methods of training to get faster? Tell me about them…

12 thoughts on “How to get fast by running slow, seriously.

  1. i haven’t tried the heart much I am missing as far as being a better runner…but it occurred to me that I heart running is really I heart hiking…i love it like it was a hike so to speak…I stop take pics and love to observe nature.

    • Here is a link to a wikihow article. It tells you how to determine your resting rate, maximum heart rate and some other interesting data. I hope you enjoy the HRM training as much as I do. It’s so much fun to be able to ‘measure’ your fitness level and not just in terms of speed or distance. 🙂

    • It’s more common than you think. I know a lot of runners who have been running for years and even some who are very competitive yet they never trained with a heart rate monitor or in the aerobic zone. It’s amazing to think how fast they would be if they did….

  2. This is the hardest advice for runners to accept, that you need to run CERTAIN runs slower to end up running faster in races. In other words, each run you do should have a purpose. A side benefit of running your long runs slower is that you recover faster and your legs are fresher for speed/hill intervals during the week

    In my marathon club, I am among the slowest runners on Sunday’s long run (about a 10 minute/mile pace in my aerobic HR zone to build aerobic capacity), but among the faster runners on Tuesday’s interval sessions (about a 7:30 mile to build anaerobic strength. Neither of these runs are at my goal race pace—the long runs are at least a minute/mile slower, and the speed work is is at least a minute/mile faster, than my goal pace.

    I do at least two easy runs a week—one long (10miles+) and one shorter (usually 6 miles after a my Tuesday intervals) and usually two hard interval/tempo workouts. I try and throw in a steady state or race pace run in as well to mix things up.

    In the 6 month since I started focusing on heart rate training, I’ve lowered my aerobic pace by about a minute a mile. Training like this helped me achieve a 4 hour marathon and a 1:50 half (a 10 minute PR since I started doing HR training).

    • That’s excellent Yuri. This is exactly the type of results I’ve seen, not only in myself but in a lot of my friends who use the hrm to train. I actually only do 1-2 speed workouts per week and I find that it’s sufficient to help me improve and not too many so that I have to spend tons of time recovering. I also havent had an injury since I started training this way so that alone speaks volumes in my book. Thank you for sharing and I wish you tons of racing success in the future 🙂

  3. I really have to think about a heart monitor. I don’t do a lot of hard runs because I run with people who are slower than I am. How did you figure out the optimal heart rate? Telling me that you have to run at 80% capacity doesn’t really help me. I’m not that in tune with my body.

    • Here is the formula for determining max heart rate, if you are under 40, 208 – (.7 x your age) and if you are over 40 use this formula, 205 – (.5 x your age). The second method is to visit your personal physician and they can perform the test you need to find your maximum heart rate, this usually involves a treadmill or uou could also do it yourself by running 400 meter repeats or hill repeats. Sprint the distance and then take a short jog to recover and repeat this five times. You should achieve a heart rate that is very close to your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR). If you don’t already have a heart rate monitor you can find them on amazon and some are under $30. I always advise starting with a less expensive one and then going up from there if you find this type of training beneficial. Don’t hesitate to email me if you have any questions, If I cant help, I’ll refer you to some excellent sites. 🙂

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