Since I’ve started following a training plan to help me prepare for running my first post-baby half marathon in July, I’ve been surprised by how many of the suggested sessions are made up of ‘easy’ miles. But what are easy miles and can they really help you improve your fitness and running stamina?
Put simply, easy miles are miles run at a slower and more comfortable pace than the speed you’d probably aim for on race day. In most training plans, they make up about 70-80% of the weekly mileage. There are several different ways to calculate what an easy pace is for you, you can use an online pace calculator by entering finish times for recent races, or if you have a Garmin or any other brand of running watch then it might even work it out for you! You could use heart rate to determine what your typical easy pace is. But the method I’ve been using so far (and which is probably the simplest) is perceived exertion level. For non-professional runners like me who are getting out there for the love of running, I would say this is the easiest yet most reliable way to keep runs enjoyable.
Running easy miles at a low level of perceived exertion is basically a posh way of describing running at the pace during which you can sustain a conversation and not feel out of breath. On a scale of one to ten, with ten being pushing yourself the hardest you can in search of the next PB, easy runs probably sit about half way up at a five. Using this method, you can adapt your pace to the weather or temperature that day, or the elevation levels in your planned route. It’s useful for me personally to help me find an easy pace with or without the buggy, as I definitely can’t run as fast pushing a heavy one year old and all his snacks as I can when all I’ve got to carry is my phone and water! You may have heard this effort level described as ‘chatty’ miles, or even the potentially misleading term ‘junk’ miles, but there is actually some science behind running slower to help you speed up.
Changing up your running pace throughout your training week to include speedier sessions combined with easy miles doesn’t just stop you from getting bored by running the same pace every single time, it also uses different parts of your muscles called slow-twitch and fast-twitch fibres. Slow-twitch fibres are mostly used for running easy, and these workouts help to increase blood supply to muscles, ultimately helping you to increase the intensity you can maintain in a tougher workout. Bizarrely enough, the easier you run on easy days it might just help you to run even faster on fast days. Your legs also need a chance to recover from the hard workouts you DO do, which won’t happen if you keep pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion every single time you head out for a run. Training in this way can help reduce your risk of injury or burnout.
The complicated science and the hope of smashing out a new PB come race day aren’t the only reason to incorporate more easy running into your training. For me, there are plenty of other benefits to slowing down. Firstly, it takes the pressure off and makes a run instantly more enjoyable. During an easy run I find it much easier to remind myself that it’s perfectly acceptable to stop to take a picture, have a water break or check the map. If I’m running with the buggy (which I am about 90% of the time) I also often stop to check on Max, have a breather at the top of a hill, or to point out interesting things we see on our route. Of course it’s absolutely fine to stop for any of those reasons during any workout, but if I’m running at a more relaxed pace anyway it reduces the post-run regret feeling that I could have pushed harder, as that wasn’t the aim in the first place.
I think one thing that holds some people back from truly allowing their easy miles to feel easy, is the fear of judgement from other people. Will they judge us for being too slow? Will they think we aren’t a ‘proper’ runner? Well here is your little reminder that anyone who puts on their trainers and heads out the door for a run is a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast you go, how far you go, or even how frequently you go. Sometimes it’s hard not to compare our speed or our distance to others, but I can honestly say that letting go of my ego since I began my post-baby running comeback has increased my love for running by a mile!
I believe the aim of any run should be to enjoy it, as if you’re not enjoying it then what are you doing it for? I used to go all out most of the time, constantly chasing PBs and not sure why I wasn’t really seeing any drastic improvement. I enjoy the tougher runs for other reasons, (I mean, who doesn’t love going after a new PB every once in a while?) but since I’ve got back into running after having my son I’ve definitely discovered a different kind of enjoyment in slowing down, taking in my surroundings, and enjoying being more mindful during my runs, rather than rushing to get a session done and tick it off the to-do list.
If you are interested in learning more about easy running, or specifically low heart rate training, I cannot recommend the episode of the Cook Eat Run podcast featuring Amanda Brooks enough. She goes into detail about the long list of benefits there are to easing off and the best tech you can use. You can listen to the episode by clicking here or visit her running blog called Run To The Finish.
To read more about my postpartum running journey, please click here. Don’t forget to subscribe to be the first to know about any news and updates, just enter your email address at the bottom of the page. Thanks!