Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Fri, 19 Nov 1999 09:44:42 -0500

Not So Hard

(from RC 290)

It's time to speak of the least-spoken word in running: "easy." The easy run -- short slow distance, if you prefer -- is what we do most of the time when no one is watching.

We talk the least about the runs we take most, the easy ones. That's because all the accolades in this sport reward the hardest efforts, which also are the rarest.

No prize is awarded for going easier. No pats on the back are given for running slowly, and no bragging rights are earned for stopping short.

No one writes books on how to run short and slow. No one gives speeches praising runs that first-year runners can do in their sleep. No one boasts, "I ran three easy miles today."

No, we don't talk much about these runs that are neither long nor fast, but we take them. We need to run easily most days of any week.

Easy runs seldom go by their real name, as if "easy" were a four-letter word. One alternate definition is particularly distasteful: "junk miles." What can be trashy about runs that serve so important a purpose?

True, we also need to run hard sometimes. Otherwise we wouldn't know the contrasting feeling of easy.

Easy runs are the twine that binds together the hard runs. If the easy days in between the hard efforts aren't easy enough, the good health that supports all running can come unraveled.

Easy runs are accurately called "recovery" or "active rest." They're known as "filler" between hard days or "token runs."

You could say this is "gentle running" or "SSD." I think of them as "dog runs," both because my pet goes along and because I'm dogging the effort.

I've always liked the way George Sheehan defined his easy days. Those runs were "not a test but therapy."

Putting numbers on the definition, Kenneth Cooper recommends easy runs of two to three miles. This is enough to build and maintain basic aerobic fitness without risking injury.

I've long thought that if my runs lasted less than an hour and were at least a minute per mile slower than I could race that same distance, they were easy. Nowadays these runs average closer to a HALF-hour and TWO minutes above race pace.

However you define these little runs, they are neither long nor fast. Whatever numbers you put on them, they must be short and slow enough to repeat day after day without running yourself down.

The occasional long run must be long enough to prepare you for your longest race, and the infrequent fast run fast enough for your shortest race. So too must the many easy runs be easy enough to heal the pains of the hard days.

Easy is how you run while making plans to do something big. It is as important to get down to the little runs as to get up for the big ones, and maybe more so because the easy ones come around so much more often.

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