In 2018, I ran my first marathon with one goal in mind: finish in one piece. Ideally, I wanted to finish in under 5 hours, but beggars can’t be choosers. I was recovering from a hip injury, my physical therapist suggested that because I was feeling pain in my knee after 5 miles, perhaps 26.2 miles wasn’t in the cards – plus I’d never done it before. When I crossed the finish line 4 hours and 50 minutes later I felt like a star. I did it!
In the following weeks, I started to wonder: “could I get faster?” Now I am training for my third marathon and the question has become increasingly relevant.
Over the past few months, I’ve set out to explore this question. Surprisingly (at least to me) one of the most consistent pieces of advice I received is that I need to run slow to run fast.
Huh? Why would I run slow if my goal is to get faster? Here’s what I found:
Running Slow Reduces the Wear and Tear on Your Body
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” For runners looking to run long distance, building up your body’s endurance is key. Running slow reduces the impact on your body, which means you can recover quicker from training and continue with your progression. Last year, when I sped through certain long runs, I was scolded by my virtual trainers who reminded me that we were building towards something. Building requires a foundation and running fast wasn’t giving me the time to build that foundation (and may have explained my persistent knee pain).
Maintaining and Building Your Aerobic Capacity – Avoiding the Wall
If any of you have a Garmin (or some other running watch), you may notice that you can get data on the aerobic and anaerobic levels from each run. For sustained movements, like a marathon, you need your aerobic energy system to be in high gear. Aerobic energy is the creation of energy by oxygen, which helps your muscle to convert fat, protein and glycogen into energy, which your body relies on to sustain a run.
When you are sprinting, or pushing yourself past a comfortable pace, your body runs out of aerobic energy and is forced to depend on your anaerobic energy system. This means that your muscles will start to convert glycogen into energy less efficiently. In turn, you will fatigue more quickly, eventually forcing you to slow down or stop. If all of your runs are fast, you don’t develop the oxygen capacity you will need to carry yourself through the end of a marathon.
Building Mental Fortitude
As my coach said, when you run fast, you put your body into survival mode. Your body is trying to survive until the end of the run, rather than building the strength needed for future runs. This stress on your system can cause both physical and mental damage and lead to overtraining.
My takeaway: play the long game. Gains take time. I want to be out here for at least another ten years and the only way to do that is to build a solid foundation and then grow from there. I’ll get faster; I’m confident of that. But I won’t break myself in the process.
Don’t Take it From Me…Here are a few great sources on this>