Ask a Running Coach: Am I Doing Easy Runs Right?

Curious about your easy run heart rate or pace, and if you are doing easy runs right? Read this full article!

Easy runs are featured in a majority of training plans (with exceptions being plans similar Run Less, Run Faster). The concept sounds simple enough – you run at an easy effort – but theory and practice can diverge. Easy runs can be one of the trickiest aspects of training for some runners to master. This article addresses common questions about easy runs. Read this article for more on the science of easy running.

How do I know if I’m going easy enough on my easy runs?

You can use three metrics to gauge if you are truly running easy: heart rate, perceived effort/talk test, or pace. Each has its drawbacks: heart rate can be affected by caffeine consumption, weather, and the like; perceived effort can be tricky to gauge for some runners; pace can cause a runner to push beyond what is actually easy for them. However, each has its benefits. Easy run heart rate can provide a clear objective metric to help learn easy pace. Perceived effort encourages the runner to assess physiological signals such as breathing and adjust accordingly. Pace explicitly shows exactly how slow you should be going (especially for runners accustomed to running too fast on their easy days. 

An easy run should be at:

  • 60-75% of your maximum heart rate or 80-88% of your lactate threshold heart rate
  • approximately 2-3 minutes per mile slower than your 10K pace
  • light perceived effort that allows you to carry on a conversation

Importantly, if you are using heart rate zones, you want to set your individualized zones. A 2023 study in the Journal of Clinical Medicine found that age-based heart rate formulas miscalculated runners’ heart rates by +/- 5 beats per minute. Instead, you want to test your own heart rate zones using a field test and a chest strap monitor. Then, set your easy run heart rate zones using your individual data.

You can choose one or two metrics. As long as you calibrate your metric properly (set individual heart rate zones, learn RPE, use the talk test, etc), no singular method is superior to others.

It is important to note that easy pace will vary for the individual runner. Some will run 45 seconds per mile slower than marathon pace, while others will run 2 minutes per mile slower than marathon pace. Individual factors such as recovery rate, fatigue resistance, and aerobic base will affect easy day pace. Don’t compare your easy day pace to runners with the same PRs as you; focus on your own effort. 

My easy runs are slower when I’m training for a race. Does this mean I’m losing fitness?

Seeing your easy day pace slow down when training to run a race PR can be downright discouraging. However, this is normal – and beneficial. Whether you are training for a 5K or marathon, you are doing challenging speed workouts and demanding long runs. These workouts fatigue your muscles, making your pace slower at the same perceived effort on your next run. 

If anything, going too fast on your easy days can compromise your recovery and leave you tired during your hard workouts. Don’t worry about pace and focus on maintaining an easy effort. 

How often should I run easy?

Every run contains some amount of easy running, including the warm-up and cooldown miles in a speed workout. The number of easy runs depends on your level of fitness, goals, and frequency of runs.

Most runners do one to two hard workouts and one long run per week, then fill in the remaining runs with easy miles. For example, a runner doing four runs per week will do one hard workout, two easy runs, and one long run. A runner doing six runs per week will do two hard workouts, three easy runs, and one long run (sometimes, the long run and one of the hard workouts may be combined).

Related: How Many Days Per Week Should You Run?

Is it possible to run too slow on easy run?

Technically, no – no pace is so slow that you will lose the benefits of easy running. That said, an easy run should still maintain good mechanics. If you are running so slow that your form deteriorates, check your form and adjust your pacing slightly.

Why Is My Heart Rate High on Easy Runs?

If you feel like you are running slow, but your easy run heart rate is high, you may be concerned if you are running easy enough. And you may simply be running too fast. However, your heart rate may be high for other reasons – you drank too much coffee, you are battling illness, or other reasons. Read this full article on why your heart rate may be high on easy runs.

How to Make Easy Running Easier

As counterintuitive as it sounds, easy running can feel cumbersome. Going at a conversational effort does not come naturally for most runners. Easy running is a skill – it takes conscious effort and deliberate repeated practice to master. If you want to make easy running easier, keep working at it – the more you do it, the more natural it will feel.

Additionally, building your overall fitness as a runner will help easy running feel easier. If you increase your mileage, you will build aerobic endurance – and that will help slow running pace feel more natural. If you introduce harder workouts like intervals or tempo runs, those will improve your aerobic capacity – which in turn will make easier runs feel easier.

Will I Get Slower From Doing Easy Runs?

A common concern is that a slow running pace for easy runs will make one a slower runner. If a runner was to do only easy runs for several months (6+ months), they may plateau. However, easy running within a balanced training plan will only help you run faster.

Why? Not only do easy runs promote aerobic development, but they also reduce training fatigue. As a result, you can accumulate more miles with less fatigue. You are also able to run appropriately hard on your interval and tempo runs – which are the workouts that build speed. Slowing down easy runs can also reduce your risk of injury or overtraining – both of which could require time off of training that leads to detraining and getting slower.

Read this article for more information on how running slower is part of running faster.

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14 Responses

  1. I’ve learned to really appreciate easy runs, especially while training. It can be hard to figure out what is “easy” but I like to mostly used perceived effort. I feel like if I go slower than a certain pace my form feels really weird.

  2. Thanks! I’m still trying to figure out easy runs. I’ve been trying to do it by heart rate but I feel like I have to go sooo slow to keep my heart rate in this range. I may switch to perceived effort and see how that works out.

    1. I think switching to perceived effort could be a worthwhile experiment! So many factors can affect heart rate – like if you have a cup of coffee before or are stressed about work – that it can mean go slower than perceived effort would have you run.

  3. Running my easy days easy was a hard lesson to learn but boy do I enjoy it now! Tina Muir wrote a post a few years back about “having the courage to run slow” and that resonated with me so much. It’s so hard to look at those slower numbers and still have confidence in running your goal race pace, but it’s absolutely the right thing to do. Another great post with key information!

  4. Overall, I enjoy easy run days. I start my watch and try (very hard) to not look again until finished. For my easy run days, I predominately focus on effort; which as you mentioned, this can cause pace to vary. My easy day run pace can vary by 30-45 seconds / mile from week to week. Because I (you/we) have been pushing myself a bit more with some of my speed days and long runs, I think my body is appreciating the easy days a bit more. 🙂

  5. I’m often tempted to just run by how I feel… sometimes this ends up being a slow run and sometimes a fast run…. I hardly ever check my watch to make sure I go easy. It seems hard to push yourself to go slow.

    1. I really think going by feel is the best way to do an easy run – the pace can range so much that some days, a certain pace feels right, but other days it would feel to slow.

  6. For an easy run, what should your cadence range be? (Steps per min). This is something that I find sooooo much conflicting information for. Thanks!

    1. Cadence will vary for individuals, especially on easy runs (which are slower and therefore will have a lower cadence). There is no ideal cadence for an easy run. It’s best to focus on running truly easy while maintaining good form.

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