With Team RunRun Coach Brant Stachel
Easy run days might suck sometimes, but here’s how you can embrace them and make them suck less!
It was one of those days. The sun was shining, the air crisp, and I had just laced up my sneakers for what was supposed to be a light, enjoyable easy run. But even though my pace was just slightly faster than my easy zone, the whole experience felt, well… hard. That run made me reflect not only on how pivotal easy runs are, but also on the countless runners who’ve never truly experienced the beauty of a properly executed easy run.
Picture this: you’re at a local 5k, and you overhear a group of newer runners discussing their training. “I just don’t get how people can run forever. It’s exhausting!” one says. Sound familiar? If you’ve been running for a while, you’ve probably heard this more times than you can count. But here’s the thing: running doesn’t have to be “so hard”. In fact, the secret sauce to making it feel more effortless lies in the practice of easy training runs in Zone 1 Zone 2.
Why are Easy Run Days Important?
Let’s get technical for a moment. Your Zone 2 correlates with two significant metabolic events: LT1 and your max fat oxidation rate.
These can be conceptualized as:
LT1 (Lactate Threshold 1):
LT1 refers to the exercise intensity at which your body starts to produce lactate at a faster rate than it can clear it away. Think of it as a tipping point. Below this intensity, you can exercise comfortably for longer periods. Once you go above it, fatigue sets in more quickly. It’s often used as a marker to guide training and understand an athlete’s endurance capabilities.
Max Fat Oxidation Rate:
This is the highest rate at which your body can use fat as its primary fuel source during exercise. When you exercise at lower intensities, your body primarily burns fat for energy. As you increase the intensity, your body shifts to burning more carbohydrates. Knowing your max fat oxidation rate can help tailor your training and nutrition to optimize fat burning, which is especially important for long-duration events.
But why does this matter?
Mitochondrial Function is the Name of the Game: Mitochondria are often dubbed the “powerhouses” of our cells. The more efficiently they function, the better our performance across all sports, not just endurance events. And guess what? One of the optimal ways to train and improve mitochondrial function is through Zone 2 efforts. And this is not just for endurance sports like marathon running or triathlons. Athletes across a broad spectrum can benefit from improved mitochondrial function. Whether you’re sprinting down a basketball court or attempting a heavy lift, how your mitochondria function affects your overall athletic prowess.
Feel I’m only scratching the surface here? You’re absolutely right. The science behind easy runs is vast, and the benefits manifold. But, for the sake of brevity, let’s pivot.
Making Easy Runs… Easier
How do we ensure our easy run days are, in fact, easy? Enter the talk test, a rudimentary but surprisingly effective gauge of your exertion level.
- Zone 1: You should be able to talk easily, maybe even sing your favorite song.
- Zone 2: Here, you’d have slight pauses in your sentences, but still maintain a conversation.
- Zone 3: You’d speak in short phrases, probably not delving into a debate about the latest TV series.
- Zone 4: At this point, talking isn’t really on the table.
Now, if you’re the type who feels odd talking to yourself during a solo run, no worries. But occasionally checking in and uttering a sentence or two might be a game-changer in ensuring you’re at the right pace. And if you’re lucky enough to have a running buddy, embrace the slowness of easy days together. Conversations can be a delightful distraction, making those miles fly by.
In a world that often emphasizes “go hard or go home,” the nuanced beauty of easy run days can be lost. Yes, they may not seem as sexy or Instagram-worthy as sprint sessions or hill repeats. But literature and experience show time and time again that they’re foundational for progress.
So the next time you head out for an easy run, remember to embrace its pace, enjoy the moment, and know that you’re laying the foundation for countless personal bests to come.
Brant Stachel is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about him or to work with him, check out his coach profile.