Go Slow

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Go Slow

Running slow can make you a better runner in the long run

By Ayn Veronica de Jesus

Slow runs are a good opportunity to listen to your body and make adjustments to improve running. Photo by Running Jack Lens.

People are often discouraged from taking up running under the misconception that, to complete a marathon or a fun run, you have to be fast all the time. The truth is, running slow is an important part of marathon training and race day. Here are some reasons.

1. Runners usually take advantage of the weekend to do long slow distance runs. Commonly known to runners as LSDs, these runs are at least 10 to 12 kilometers and could last up to 30 kilometers depending on the runner’s goal, and designed to build endurance by pushing the body to endure longer times on their feet at an easy pace. What’s an easy pace? Without getting into the technicalities, the LSD pace depends on what a runner can maintain over that long distance, and what is repeatable in the next LSD session. Compared with speed drills, LSDs are fun times for runners.

Running an ultramarathon, in this case 50K, requires a pace slower than marathons for better energy management. Photo by Eric Tipon of Active Pinas

2. If there is the long slow distance, there is also the short runs that runners refer to as the recovery run. Marathons and ultra marathons subject the body to much trauma.  Scheduling a recovery run one or two (or three) days after race day is part of your body’s restoration process as it heals muscle tears, rests the joints, and builds new mental and physical strength at a lower intensity.

3. Because slow running is not too strenuous, it supports those recovering from light injuries. Doctors always prescribe rest to those who are nursing injuries. But athletes are a bull-headed lot. Unless they are totally incapacitated, runners will find a way to lace up and show up. Slow running strikes a happy compromise between no run and relentless training.

Photo by Rick Petogo of Rickpets Lens

4. For beginners, it is a great introduction to the sport. Coaches and well-meaning friends would not want to scare or discourage newbies by having them run at high speeds right away. Besides, very few people are born as gifted runners. With most people, speed and endurance are honed in the natural course of focused and long-term training. A slow, natural pace helps both coach and runner determine the runner’s strengths and fitness level and build a program from there.

5. Listening to the body and mind. Whether seasoned or beginner, slow runs are a good channel for runners to “feel” out their body mechanics and make improvements in posture, landing, stride, and breathing, among others, lessons that are applied when you hit the faster speeds. It is also the time to build mental toughness, where you teach your inner voice to create positive mantras to get you through the pressures of the race. Thoughts like “Keep the pace,” “Ignore the pain,” or “I want a juicy burger.” From personal experience, I have learned that the body endures much if the mind is strong and steady.

Long slow distance runs can be done alone, too. Photo by Rick Petogo of Rickpets Lens

6. It can save your race. So today is race day. You are all pumped up. Adrenalin is rushing like mad in your body. This is the day you’ve been training for. The day you will slash your personal record. Then the leg cramps hit you at kilometer 10. Don’t fret if the others pass you along the course. Taking the time to slow your pace (or even walk) for a minute or so may save your race because it will relax your muscles and possibly let you restart. Yes, you will have to sacrifice speed. Yes, you are disappointed. But at this point, your general wellbeing takes priority. There will be other races.

7. Centering. A personal favorite of mine, the meditative form of running is where you learn to quiet the self and clear the mind. It allows you to value quality time, better appreciate blessings, and empty your mind of the pressures of daily living. A simple, quiet run is a time to rediscover your love of running and remember why you run.