When I am devising running programmes for my clients, I give them a pace ‘guideline’ for each of the different types of run they do. Most will have recovery runs in their schedules, where the object is to keep the pace and effort level really low. The run needs to be low-intensity enough to not require any further recovery – so going faster than the guideline pace is not necessary and may well be counter-productive. And yet, over and over again I hear the cries ‘I can’t run that slow!’ ‘It’s more tiring to run slowly’ and most of all ‘Sorry, I tried to run slow but I inadvertently speeded up.’
I’ve mulled over this a lot – worried about it, even – because personally, I have no problem whatsoever running slow. But it doesn’t mean I can’t, or don’t, run fast when I need to. It’s often observed – with amazement – how slow Kenyan runners go in their easy runs, given how fast they could be going.
I’m starting to wonder whether running technique has something to do with people finding it ‘hard’ to run slow. If you run with good form, then that form should hold true whatever pace you are maintaining. Running slower shouldn’t mean a slow ‘sticky’ cadence, a shuffling gait or a minimal leg lift. I suspect that people who find it very hard to run slow are doing the following: overstriding – most likely with a heel strike – running with too slow a cadence or too much tension. One of the drills that running coach and Alexander Technique teacher Malcolm Balk suggests in his book Master the Art of Running is to run very slow whilst maintaining perfect form. I highly recommend giving it a try.
The other reason runners can’t slow down is probably mental. It’s an issue of bravado – ‘hell, I can’t run THAT slow!’ – with the tacit suggestion being either ‘I’m too good,’ or ‘someone might see me and think I’m slow…’ But I’d say it takes focus and commitment to reap the benefits of any training session – and recovery runs are not excepted. Try a go-slow on your next run and you might just find that less is more.