If you do not follow Jeff Edmunds' blog, "The Logic of Long Distance", you're missing out on some gems.
His recent post on What is an easy run? hit home hard for me. In that post, he writes,
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.
I can no longer consider myself a beginning runner, but I can consider myself an intermediate one. This is the disease of the intermediate runner.
Running boils down to run hard some days and easy on your other days. There is no shortage of how to run hard (tempo's, cruise intervals, intervals, repetition, hills, fartlek) and on, and on...
But, how do you run easy? What are the accepted rules of easy?
When you're beginning you hear you should:
- Make it conversational. You should be able to carry on a conversation w/a running body, or your slightly quirky self.
- Make it slow. It's the time on your feet that matters, not your pace.
- Feel fresh at the end of it. Like you didn't even run.
- HR %Max of 65 - 79. A huge range to keep your heart rate inclusive of.
As you progress through, and from those meanings, you start to just feel "easy". You understand what it feels like when your body is running easy.
The line for "too easy" is not clear though. When we are a beginner, no run is easy, and as we progress, the effort and purpose of the easy run changes.
But, changes to what?
The purpose of the easy run is the build stamina -- to be able to put your body into a near-tireless state so that oxygen debt is not created quickly. When you're no longer a beginner, but an intermediate looking to improve, the too easy serves less of this purpose.
The "Too Easy" running should be thought of as supplementary running, or recovery running if you will. The purpose of the recovery running being to "work the junk out" in your legs, not to contribute to additional stamina.
To build stamina, the easy runs need be thought of as a steady state run. This is not Long Slow Distance (LSD).
This is running at a decent effort and finishing each run feeling pleasantly tired. You will still benefit from running slower, but it will take longer than if you ran at a good aerobic pace.
This isn't a workout, it's merely edging up the overall intensity of your "easy" run, in order to reap the greatest aerobic benefits from them, increased stamina.
The next time you go out for an easy run, spend some time thinking on the purpose you wish to achieve with those footfalls.