The Hilly Easy Run, or How to Spice Up the Slog

By now, most runners know that in order to run fast, you have to spend a lot of time going slow.  Around 80% of the time, in fact.

If you run five days a week, two of them, if not three of them, should be slow and easy.  If you run every day?  Then it’s more like four easy runs a week.

Many of the runners I coach at Runners Connect find this concept very hard to grasp.  They’ll say that they are running easy, when they are actually running just a few seconds slower than marathon pace.

Sorry to say, your marathon pace is not your easy pace.  (Unless you run marathons far below your ability, but that’s another post.)

For reference, I typically run my easy runs 2-3 minutes slower than marathon pace.

“But I feeeeel good!” they’ll tell me after running a good 90 seconds faster per mile than they should.

Running so slowly is uncomfortable for me,” they’ll protest while logging an “easy” run that is actually right in between medium and hard.

Or the flat-out, “I want to run, not jog.” Sigh.  Jogging will make you a faster, stronger, and more resilient runner.

Unfortunately, what makes you feel good in the moment while you are running is not always what you should be doing.

Running slow and easy is just like eating your vegetables.  You gotta do a lot of it to be at your best.

Potato chips feel good, but no one’s going to say consuming a bag of Lays is going to help your running.

The idea of eating salads every day might make you feel uncomfortable at first, too, but it will certainly help with your health.

And lots of people would rather skip the veggies and eat fried chicken, milkshakes, half pound burgers covered with slabs of cheese, washed down with gallons of beer, but that’s not doing the body any favors.

So the trick to learning to love your easy runs is exactly the same as learning to love your greens–spice them up!

Instead of a boring slog on the same flat route you always run, find some hills.  Forget all about pace (seriously, you Type A runners–just let it go!) and just keep the effort easy, even if it means you have to stop or walk a bit on the inclines.

You want to keep your breathing slow, relaxed and even and your effort level should be exactly the same as if you were running on flat ground.

You should be able to sing a song out loud while running and freak out the neighbors.

That means that if you are used to seeing 7- or 8-minute miles on your easy runs, get your ego prepared to see some 9s, 10s or even 11s.  Let all the pride you attach to pace (we all do it, I promise) go and instead make your challenge be how smooth you can keep your effort level.

You will feel ridiculously slow on the inclines and that’s okay!  Shorten your stride so you can keep your cadence light and quick and just pitter patter your way up the hill with your nice forward lean.

You will be rewarded at the top with a descent where you can open up your speed a bit to take advantage of gravity.  This is where you can have some fun!

But don’t speed up so much on the declines that you accidently increase your effort level, of course, but it’s a treat to go a little faster while keeping the effort nice and easy.

Another point to make on the declines is to remember to keep your footsteps light and avoid the natural tendency to brake with hard footfalls.  You should keep your nice slight forward lean that you have on the inclines to almost fall downhill rather than stomp down it.

If you keep the effort level easy, running hills will add variety to your runs and will strengthen your legs and lungs for race day.  Running flat will soon seem extra easy and long hills late in a race will no longer have the power to defeat you.

And who knows?  Maybe just like veggie lovers who eventually start to crave kale, you’ll learn to love your easy runs.



Run Slow, Get Fast

Most runners cringe at the word “jog.”  If a non-runner asks, “How was your jog?”  the most likely response is a curt, “my run was great, thanks.”   But I have learned to embrace the jog.  If professional jogging were a thing, it would be my thing.  I run really slow most of the time.  Sometimes I’m tired from the workout the day before or I’m just not feeling into it and running slow simply feels better.  Other times, I feel fine and running slow can feel like a bit of a drag.  But I put on some headphones and listen to a podcast and run slow anyway.

I credit all my slow miles as one of the main reasons I have not been injured as a runner.  I’m fresh and recovered on my speed days from running easy the day before.  The day after a hard workout more easy miles help recovery.

Sarah Crouch, an elite marathoner who was the second American in Boston this year, puts it this way, “You cannot run too slowly on a recovery day, only too fast. Make sure you understand that. It is a simple concept that is notoriously hard to grasp.” 

If you want to learn about the science behind easy running and completely geek out (like I do) about mitochondrial and capillary development, Jeff Gaudette, head coach at Runners Connect, (the program I follow) has a great article explaining the concept in more depth.

Your aerobic system develops at any speed, so you might as well go slow.  I’m talking at least 2 minutes and probably 3 minutes slower than your marathon pace.  For example, my marathon pace is somewhere around 7 minutes per mile (hopefully 6:50!) and my easy days are in the 9 minute range.

But there’s something up with our egos that makes us hate to go slow.  Maybe it feels embarrassing to log slow miles on Strava or run slow with a faster friend.  Whatever it is, we need to get past it.  Slow is good!  But make sure you’re still actually running.  If you go so slow that you are shuffling and losing your good form, that’s not as helpful.  Be proud of your jog!

I had a fantastic long run yesterday with a high school friend of mine who’s in town with her family on vacation this week.  She kept apologizing for being slow and I had to keep telling her no, it was great; I want to go slow!  (She’s also comes from flat sea level, so running in the summer in the mountains is going to be hard on anyone who’s not used to it.)  Maybe she thought I was just trying to be nice and run slow for her.  Not true.  I’m not nice and I’m running slow for me, not her!

I’m taking back the word “jog.”  No cringing, no shame.  I’m owning the jog. So the next time someone asks me about my run, I’ll reply, “my jog was great, thanks!”

Escaping With a Good Podcast

I nearly always run with headphones.  Not on the track or the trails, but whenever I’m out for a run alone, I’m listening to something.

I used to listen to music exclusively.  Upbeat, current pop/dance music gets my feet moving a little faster and the time goes by a little quicker.  I still listen to music for faster runs, but if I’m out for an easy session, I’ll choose a podcast instead.

Podcasts are perfect for keeping your pace slow and even, which is how easy runs should feel.  I also love how I can be completely absorbed in an interview and barely notice the miles clicking by.  My mind is distracted from the boredom of repetitive runs on familiar routes and I forget about those nagging excuses to quit and call it a day. With pop music on the other hand, a song ends every third of a mile or so, constantly reminding you of how far you have to go.  It’s much easier to allow your mind to wander listening to music than a podcast where you feel almost actively engaged in a conversation.

Like many people, I got hooked on podcasts when the Serial series came out over a year ago.  Each week, more details of the story of a cold case were revealed and I could not wait to hear what happened next.  When that season ended, I looked around for something else to fill that void.  Here are some of my favorites:

The Rich Roll Podcast:  Plant-based athlete and author, Rich Roll interviews what he calls “paradigm-busting” culture changers who do incredible feats across the globe.  One week he’ll be talking to an Olympian swimmer, next will be a documentary filmmaker, and the following will be a guy who climbed the highest peaks on the seven continents plus the two poles in record-breaking time.  Roll is a skilled interviewer who truly engages his guests in thoughtful conversation.  Listening to his podcast is like being a fly on the wall at a really cool dinner party.

Run To The Top Podcast: Hosted by elite Saucony athlete Tina Muir, this podcast is mostly about (wait for it) running (were you surprised?) with interviews of top coaches, athletes, and influencers in the sport.  I would not say, however, that Muir is a natural interviewer.  At times I am a bit frustrated that she doesn’t ask more in-depth follow up questions or challenge her guests a little more often, but she is improving her skills and she brings on some very interesting people.  Overall, I find the show well worth a listen each week.

Mortified:  I don’t listen to Mortified regularly simply because each podcast is too short for most of my runs, but I still highly recommend it.  The premise is adults read their teenage diaries out loud to a live audience.  I have laughed so hard listening during a run that I nearly doubled over on the sidewalk.  Hysterical.

Endurance Planet:  I’m new to this one and I’m still deciding if I like it.  Triathlete coach Tawnee Prazak hosts a super-nerdy podcast getting into the science of nutrition and endurance training.  Her diet advice leans heavily Paleo/low-carb/high-fat/no grains which I’ve always been skeptical of, but I don’t immediately dismiss, either.  Because of some of her interviews, I’ve been experimenting with adding more whole fats into my diet and I’m liking how I’m feeling fuller longer.  I will never be low-carb or low-grains, but she doesn’t prescribe that for all athletes and knows that marathon runners have to have a higher mix of quality carbs, so I’ll keep this podcast in rotation for a while.

What about you?  Do you have any podcast recommendations for me?  What do you listen to on a run?

Way Upstate New York

What a difference 2000 feet makes!  That and a 15-hour drive north.  Running along Lake Ontario is a road runner’s dream.  Smooth and flat with a lake breeze and cloud cover–it will make anyone run a little faster.

After such a long day cooped up in the truck yesterday, being able to run felt so needed.  I didn’t have a length or pace in mind, but wanted to go a little harder than an easy run, but not quite a true tempo.  With the temperature about 15-20 degrees cooler than North Carolina, my legs felt light and my lungs easily settled into a rhythm.

The wonderfully-named Point Salubrious outside the town of Chaumont, NY has a beautiful 6.5 mile loop with lake views and interesting lake cottages.  So I parked in town about 3/4 of a mile away to get a total of eight.  My husband and son chose the same loop for their bike ride and it was fun to catch up with them after they stopped and admired a new friend’s boat.  A few minutes earlier, I saw my husband biking ahead of me and I hollered out to him.  He waved a bit cautiously and kept going.  I figured he must have been trying to catch up with our son around the bend, but then remembered he left wearing an orange shirt this morning.  This biker was wearing blue.  Oops.  He must have thought I was just a really friendly runner!


I’m looking forward to exploring more of the area on runs.  As long as I’m next to the water, I’m happy.  It’s such a gift to be able to run in a completely different environment than I’m used to.

Of course, this vacation is not about running.  I’ll still get them in, but it will also be nice to relax and be more connected to family and less connected to the internet.