Well, most basically, it's a run that's easy to accomplish. It's the backbone of training. It's the run that makes every other run possible.
For some runners, this is all that needs to be said. But for a lot of other runners, especially new runners or runners who are entering a new stage of fitness, the concept of "easy" can be somewhat elusive.
Heck, if you are really out of shape, there's no such thing as an easy run because nothing feels easy.
That said, I think there are a few things I can say about easy running that will help new runners and experienced runners alike, mostly because I think that most people -- believe it or not -- can do their easy running better.
The place to start when looking to understand what an easy run is and how it works in training is to think about what it's not.
An easy run is not a workout, which means that it's not a couple more things: it's not structured or planned or focused on a certain pace. It's also not broken into intervals. These thoughts help us turn to what an easy run is.
An easy run is a continuous and sustained run at a pace that is determined in the moment by the feedback your body is giving you on the run. Instead of a planned workout, where we are usually trying to hit certain paces or times or even cover a long distance (as in the long run) the easy run is executed in a relaxed way with little conscious control. We just let the body run at the pace it wants to run. It's this lack of control -- or "pushing" -- that gives the run its "easy" quality. Like a raft on a river, we just float on the current. We don't fight it.
Simple enough, right? Just let it flow.
|Easy doesn't have to be slow.|
All of these runs are easy runs, regardless of pace -- we aren't fighting the run, we're just rolling with it; that's what makes it easy.
Maybe that seems too simple, but I wanted to write this out because over the years, I've seen two types of errors in runners when it comes to easy running. The first error is often pointed out on message boards and it is probably most common in new runners. You are already familiar with it and have heard it a thousand times. Since running is hard to begin with, and we want to be faster than we are, and part of the reason we love to run is we love to fight -- we run our easy runs too hard. This leads to injury and burnout, sure. But the worst consequence of running easy runs too hard is that the runner never learns to float the river, to listen to the body, and to surf its energies -- this art is really the art of all training and racing.
The second error rarely gets pointed out, but it's at least as common, I think, and it's most common in intermediate runners [Really, if you are a new runner, you should plug your ears now.] It's possible to run your easy runs too easy. Yep. Let me say it again and put it in bold and italics: you can run your easy runs too easy.
The metaphor is getting stretched, but I think it is still apt. Running easy requires getting into the flow of the run, and that's what these runners don't allow themselves to do. They consciously hold back, making sure the effort is "easy" -- and it's as if they are backpaddling, still headed with the current, but moving downstream slower than the water wants to carry them. Instead of letting themselves flow with the river, they are tentative and cautious and perhaps also want to make sure they are in control and not overcome by the river, so they never let themselves go.
These are the runners who get stuck in training. They do everything right, by the letter, by the book, by the McMillan chart, by the heart rate monitor, but all of that PLANNING holds them back and keeps them from being able to execute the single most important run in training: the easy run. Which, as you recall, is determined in the moment by the feedback the body is giving you. We run with the river of the body, not according to the chart of the mind.
So, if you are looking to train smarter this year and get faster, I suggest that you work on your easy running. Become the raft in the river. This probably means running some of your runs slower than you think you should. But some sweet days you will catch a deep and swift current. On those days fast will be easy.
When that happens, make the smart training choice: let it freakin' ROLL.