Running too hard, too often, is the single greatest detrimental mistake in the sport of running. It’s difficult for many runners to make peace with the concept that if they want to run faster they likely need to slow down in some of their training sessions. Running slowly doesn’t come naturally to many runners and there is a tendency to run what should be an easy pace run at a moderate pace which can hinder progress. Wanting to run faster, yet needing to slow down seems contradictory.
The world’s leading runners spend on average 80% of their total training below the ventilatory threshold – a pace slow enough that you can hold a conversation. The other 20% of training time is spent at high intensity, that is above the respiratory compensation threshold (the point where hyperventilation, or rapid, deep breathing occurs).
In other words, for every one hard run, the elite distance runner will run four easy runs. By contrast, the recreational runner tends to run one easy run for every hard run.
In ‘80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower’, Author Matt Fitzgerald cites that new research suggests recreationally competitive runners improve most rapidly when they run more slowly in training more often than not. The good news is that unless you are an elite runner, it is almost certain that you are doing less than 80% of your training at low intensity, and that you can improve by just slowing down.