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Elite Runners Frequently Train at a Slow Pace. Here's Why You Should, Too.

Take it easy.

By Natalie Arroyo CamachoFebruary 16, 2024


You’re on a run, but you can’t stop staring at your watch, criticizing yourself for not running a mile at a single-digit pace. You start characterizing your run as bad. Sound familiar? But slow running isn’t a negative thing. Contrary to what you may assume, even elite athletes run slowly most of the time. And as it turns out, running at a steady, conversational pace may even have some benefits. 

“Running slowly is incredibly important for several reasons,” says Peloton instructor Matty Maggiacomo. “It helps prevent burnout, reduces the risk of injury, promotes recovery, and builds an aerobic base.” Logging miles at a slower pace may also enhance your overall endurance and performance. 

What Does It Really Mean to Run Slowly? 

Let’s get one thing out of the way: “Slow running” is unique to every runner. Your slow run will be at a different pace than someone else’s, even if you two share a lot of other similarities, such as height, weight, and diet.

“Slow running is not about a specific pace, but the underlying physiological stress that athletes face,” says David Roche, a former USATF Trail Runner of the Year at the sub-ultra distance and head running coach at SWAP Running in Boulder, Colorado. That physiological stress mostly has to do with how much control you have of your breath. So, how can you tell if you’re running slowly? You should be at “a comfortable, sustainable speed that allows for conversation without extreme effort,” Matty says. You may hear this speed referred to as a “conversational pace.” 

Regardless of whether you’re conversing on your run, you should be able to maintain a slow running pace for anywhere between 20 and 60 minutes—depending on your training regimen. 

The Benefits of Slow Running

If you’re an avid runner or cyclist, you may be familiar with the zone training model. Zone 1 is very easy and slow, while zone 5 typically asks you to go harder and faster.

Long, slow runs fall under zone 2, or easy training below aerobic threshold that’s meant to increase your endurance. Like pace, each person’s "zones" look and feel different, Roche says. However, by training in zone 2, you’ll reap a few specific benefits when it comes to your runs. Here, Matty and Roche break those down. 

1. It Reduces Your Injury Risk 

“Slow running minimizes [the] impact on joints, allowing for a lower risk of injuries compared to high-impact, fast-paced running,” Matty says. Dialing back the pace also allows you to be more aware of your form, which further reduces your risk of injury, such as straining your groin or hurting your knee. 

2. It Improves Your Endurance

Two factors dominate your runs: speed and endurance. But they don’t necessarily go hand in hand. For instance, you can have a really fast mile time—but you may not be able to sustain that pace for a longer session. If you don’t hit the pavement (or the Peloton Tread) at an all-out pace, you may be able to run two miles—even three. 

Depending on your fitness goals, you want to focus on running slower in order to cover more distance. “Long, slow runs enhance muscular endurance, promoting better stamina and resistance to fatigue,” Matty says.

3. It Helps You Build Speed

“Running slowly most of the time makes it easier to run fast when it counts,” Roche says. It helps you increase your endurance—which can sustain you for miles or a set pace. Additionally, slowing down allows you to recover from fatigue better, he says. It gives your body the time and energy to do a “systems check” of sorts.

When you’re sprinting or maintaining a quick mile pace, you’re likely not focused on anything beyond your stride or your breath. However, when you dial back the pace, you can tune into (and address) any pain, discomfort, or fatigue you’re feeling. 

4. It Helps Increase Your Aerobic Efficiency 

“An athlete who runs too fast on their daily runs will create major aerobic inefficiency,” Roche says. Slow running, on the other hand, can help increase your aerobic efficiency. 

When you go slower, your body uses fat as the primary fuel source, Roche says, instead of just relying on the carbohydrates (glycogen) that drive your fast runs. On slower runs, you’re able to give your body plenty of oxygen (compared to those breathless sprints), helping convert fat and carbohydrates into the energy you need. As a result, you’re able to train your body to go further for longer.

How to Actually Run Slower

Running slowly is a bit more difficult than you may think. Whether your goal is to cover more miles or run for a longer period of time (i.e., build endurance), you may have to actively tell yourself to slow down. Here’s how to make sure you’re actually running at a conversational pace. 

“Gauge your running pace by monitoring your breathing,” Matty suggests. “If you can talk without gasping for breath, maintain good form, and feel relatively comfortable, you're likely running at a slow pace.”

You can also turn to technology for support. “The best way to be sure about your easy effort is to check in with a heart rate monitor,” Roche says. “You don't need to monitor heart rate all the time, but it will give you a good understanding [of your effort and pace].”

Focus on your start. Instead of hitting a burst of speed in the first minute of your run (and having to dramatically slow down later), prioritize a sustainable pace from the first step. When you head out or hit the Tread, take a few strides that are barely above walking pace. You can speed up from here if your body allows it—but not too much. To help you with this effort, consider trying a warm-up run on the Tread. Remember: Keep it at a conversational pace. 

How Often to Practice Slow Running

Some marathoners subscribe to the 80/20 rule, where 80 percent of your runs are slow and 20 percent are at race pace. This volume of slow runs in your regimen definitely has its benefits. “Incorporating regular slow runs into your training routine provides the body with the necessary recovery and endurance-building benefits,” Matty says. “However, individual preferences and goals may require adjustments to this ratio—especially if you're competing.” 

If you struggle with the concept of frequently clocking a slow pace instead of hitting a fast tempo, remember that even top-tier runners log slow miles. “I have seen athletes become world-class performers with as much as 90 to 95 percent of their training [being] easy, under aerobic threshold,” Roche says. But he’s never seen an athlete get close to the same fitness levels with, say, 30 percent of their training being hard.

“Over time, running can feel relaxed and sometimes transcendent,” Roche says. “That all starts with embracing the endurance power of easy running.”


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