Ask a Running Coach: Easy Runs

Ask a Running Coach: Easy Runs

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 concepts and reality can diverge. Easy runs can be one of the trickiest aspects of training for some runners to master. Today’s Ask a Running Coach answers several questions I have received about easy runs. 

Ask a Running Coach: Easy Runs

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, 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. Heart rate can provide a clear objective metric of what is easy, perceived effort encourages the runner to listen to their body and adjust accordingly, and 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 is approximately 60-75% of your max heart rate, approximately 2-3 minutes per mile slower than your 10K pace*, or a light perceived effort that allows you to carry on a conversation.

Find a metric or two that work for you. Personally, I prefer to use perceived effort as my primary metric and a pace range to set parameters on the run. 

It is important to note that easy pace will vary for the individual runner: some will run 30 seconds per mile slower than marathon pace, while others will run 90 seconds 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. 

*This rule of thumb will vary based on your actual 10K time. If you want to be more precise and mathematical, easy pace is approximately 59-74% of your VO2max (source: Jack Daniels Running Formula) or 70-80% of your 10K pace (source: Running Times). So, for a runner whose VO2max is 46.4 ml/min/kg and 10K pace is 7:05, 70-80% of 7:05 (425 seconds) is 8:30-9:15/mile. 

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

It can be downright discouraging to see your easy day pace slow down when you are training to run a race PR. 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, meaning that your pace will likely be 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 – which will vary – 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 easy run per week, and then fill in the remaining runs with easy miles. For example, if you are running five days a week in preparation for a race, you may do two hard workouts, one long run, and two easy runs. 

Is it possible to run too slow on easy run?

Technically, no – especially if you ran a hard workout the previous day. That said, an easy run should still maintain good mechanics. If you are running so slow that your form deteriorates, either pick up the pace to a still-easy but more natural effort or simply call it a day and stop the run. 

What questions do you have about easy runs?
Do you love or hate easy run days?

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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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