Running some easy miles is good for your body, relaxing for the mind, and can increase your dopamine and vitamin D stores fast. But there’s so much conflicting information about easy running, whether as part of your training program or just an easy run.
Most people do their easy runs too fast or too hard. While this is bad for your recovery, it can also take much of the fun out of your running routine. Taking it easy and making the most of recovery days can hugely benefit your performance as a runner.
So, what is an easy run, and why should you add it to your routine?
What is considered an easy run?
Sometimes called a recovery run, the easy run is any run you do at a comfortable pace without pushing yourself. It’s not a specific distance or time, but it usually ranges around 30-40 minutes on your recovery days. It’s best to use your rate of perceived effort to judge if you’re running easy instead of speed or pace.
Generally, easy runs are done slower than other workouts during run training. It’s a conversational pace for regular runners, where you can enjoy time with a friend, listen to a podcast, or take in the surroundings as they shuffle along. An easy run aims to get your body moving, helping reduce muscle soreness and preventing you from stiffening up between harder sessions without pushing yourself.
Although the terms ‘easy runs’ and ‘recovery runs’ are used interchangeably, there are subtle differences. The main difference is that ‘recovery runs’ come after intense training sessions. Some pro marathoners train twice daily, with a short recovery run at a very slow pace done in the evening after an interval training session or a tempo effort earlier in the day. Kenyan and Ethiopian professional runners who subscribe to this method have had impressive race times, so it’s a good one!
On the other hand, easy runs can take place at any time. It supplements your training volume without making you exert yourself too much and keeps the blood pumping through your body and to your muscles, supporting recovery.
How long should an easy run be?
The length of easy runs depends on your fitness levels, training plan, and previous workouts. On average, you shouldn’t run any longer than 3 miles on an easy day or 30-40 minutes. With that said, a golden-rule-of-thumb is to judge the length of your easy run based on your weekly mileage and your usual race pace.
For example, if you regularly put in over 30 miles a week, you may be comfortable running 5-6 miles for your easy run. However, less experienced runners who go out 2-3 times a week will be happy with a 3-mile easy run.
We also need to distinguish easy runs done by elite runners from the general population. Pro marathon runners’ rate of perceived exertion is completely different from someone training for their first race. As a result, an elite runner could do 8 miles at a very low heart rate in the same time it takes a beginner to cover 3-4 miles. That’s fine because the easy run is all about taking it easy!
What is considered an easy running pace?
When you do your easy runs, you should be able to talk leisurely without being out of breath. If you consider pace, aim for 50 to 75 percent of your 5k race pace. However, heart rate (measured with a chest strap for accuracy) is also a good way to ensure you stay relaxed – aim for zone 1-2 maximum.
Runners who speed up too much during their easy runs do themselves a disservice, and most coaches, personal trainers, and professional runners agree. Some professional runners even take blood lactate measurements to ensure they’re going easy enough.
This is because pushing the pace consistently with every run doesn’t allow the body adequate time to recover between efforts. Your muscles and cardiovascular systems need easier runs to adapt to the efforts they’ve been through during the rest of the week.
Many people push too hard on their easy runs because they don’t reach the correct effort level during a tough workout. This is why heart rate training and working with a coach or with a detailed training plan can be beneficial in understanding the differences within your pace range.
What pace is an easy run vs. a marathon?
Marathon training is increasingly popular. Around 1.3 million people run a marathon every year, according to statistics released in 2019. However, when taking on the first big distance goal of their running career, many runners tend to become overly focused on running at a marathon pace as often as possible. Yet, for easy runs, they should be as much as 2 minutes per mile slower than that.
It may feel like you’re running very slowly – or even grinding to a halt. However, remember that easy runs give your body time to recover from intense efforts, and they’ll help you have more energy in your weekly long run (not to mention your race). Moreover, they teach you how to run slower, which will be useful when you slow down because of fatigue in longer races.
The easiest way to nail your easy runs is to remember that each training session in your diary has a specific purpose. If it helps, write this down next to every one of them. Then, review this before you head out on your run. This is a lot like setting an intention for the day. When it’s fresh in your mind, you’ll be more likely to stick to that goal.
How many easy runs a week?
Growing evidence suggests that you should do 80% of your running at a slower pace and 20% of your total running volume at high intensity. This is called polarized training and has yielded great results for many elite distance runners and triathletes.
For most runners, a training program will include 3-4 sessions a week. One will be an easy run, topping up the weekly mileage. You’ll usually have an interval training session, another easy-to-moderate-effort run, and a long run. Of course, as you ramp up your distance or prepare for specific events, like hillier runs, you may need to add a hill training session or other workouts.
What is an easy run vs. a long run?
Every training plan features the long run – an endurance effort that builds gradually as you near your goal race. Long runs are very similar to easy runs, just longer. The goal with them is to get used to the increased distances and time on foot. You’re not just going out to get your legs turning over; you’re working towards becoming comfortable at your target race distance.
On long runs, you’ll typically experiment with your race nutrition and hydration and try out the clothing you’ll have on during your race. The physiological benefit of the long run is that it teaches your body to become more efficient at using fuel sources. You’ll also get the psychological benefit of going through long efforts and becoming used to the discomfort.
An easy run can be an excuse to go out, rack up a few miles, and “smell the roses.” When performing an easy run, the key is to be comfortable while still moving your body, getting the blood pumping to the muscle tissues, and helping them recover for the next big effort. Most people go too hard on easy days, so remember they’re called “easy” for a reason.
Come back to Runtrails.org to get more training tips and advice. In our next article, we’ll tell you all you’ve ever wanted to know about elite runners – so check back soon so you don’t miss it!