Here we go! Blog #2 of my 3-part series (post 1 is here)–prompted by my interview for the article in shape.com.

If you’re reading ANY of these posts, this is the big one….because today, I’m giving you the super duper, top secret, really exciting INSIDE SCOOP behind what I believe are the two most important things you can do to get faster:

  1. Recover like a boss.
  2. Slow the fuck down.

Master these two things, and you’re destined for Tokyo 2020.

Just kidding.

But for real. This shit is important!!!!! Hope you get something out of it. Let me know if you have any questions.

See you Friday for the third and final post.

What are some common mistakes runners make that prevent them from getting faster despite hard work and following a training plan?

Runners tend to forget how important recovery is. Recovery includes (but is not limited to) stretching, hydration, nutrition, and, most importantly: sleep. Running hard speed or tempo workouts puts your body in a state of stress…so if you don’t give it enough time to recover, the nervous system starts working overtime, leading to injury and burnout. 

How do you know if you’re recovering correctly? -it’s easy. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY and be honest about how you feel. Yes, 7:30s can feel impossible one day and easy breezy the next. That’s normal. Do you eat/sleep/poop/breathe the same exact way, every single day? Probably not. So then why would you expect your runs to also feel the same every single day? They won’t, and that’s fine.

Ran a tough workout and feel like crap the next day? No matter what mileage is prescribed on your fancy pants training program: I promise you, the world will not spontaneously combust if you do not run every single mile that’s “assigned” to you. Seriously. If you’re really beat up, a light trot of 30 minutes will help immensely for blood flow. And if you’re really not feeling it (or you’re in pain), then bag it completely. Or do some light dynamic stretching, movement prep, and non-running, multi-planar locomotive movements that will increase your HR and loosen your muscles without killing your body with pounding.

And now I’m going to say something that will blow your mind:

If something is not right in your body, you can (and should!) skip your workout. In fact: I praise my athletes when they tell me they skipped their workout because x y and z hurt, or because they slept poorly the night before. There are a multitude of reasons why your body could be saying “no” to a workout on any given day; and you have to respect that. Any time I’ve ditched a workout in the past, it’s either because I’m coming down with a bug, or I did a bad job at recovering (sleep is my kryptonite…and I’m not always the best at it).

So don’t be a hero and run yourself into the ground.

On top of inadequate recovery, runners also tend to run way too fast on their easy days. Slowing the easy runs WAY down is SO important and crucial. Easy runs should be anywhere from 1:30-2:00/mile slower than your threshold, or 10k pace…but even that is a flexible rule. You really have to listen to your body and truly make easy runs an effort where you’re running comfortably and can hold a casual conversation. 

Why is it important to slow down on easy runs? How does running slow actually help make someone a faster runner?

Easy runs not only help you recover from a speed session, but they also serve to condition your heart and muscle fibers. This helps improve aerobic capacity, or the efficiency with which your body delivers oxygen to your muscles. In other words: by improving your aerobic capacity, you’re building the base of becoming a faster, stronger runner.

Sound complicated? It’s not. The two major things that you’re improving with easy runs are your heart and muscle fibers. Running at 60% of your max HR helps to develop your heart’s stroke volume max (or, the amount of blood you pump with one beat). Creating a more-developed heart makes for a heart that can withstand the stress of a speed workout, or a long distance race.

Easy runs also develop mitochondria within your muscle fibers. Mitochondria are important because they help produce ATP…or ENERGY!! The more mitochondria you have, the more ATP can be developed during exercise.

If you run too fast, or above 60% of your max HR, on your easy days, you won’t be able to maximize the benefits of building a strong aerobic base. 

Having trouble slowing down? I get it, I really do. My biggest piece of advice: ditch your Garmin and the music for a week and use a regular ole Timex. Don’t cheat and run a route where you you know exactly how much the mileage already is…and then later convert your pace (yes, I know every trick in the book). Better yet – find a trail and run it. Both your body and mind will appreciate the change. Learn what it’s like to run while listening to your own breath and footsteps.

If you truly run slowly on easy days, you’ll find yourself not only recovering from your speed sessions, but also refreshed and ready to tackle your next run. More importantly, you won’t face detriments to your tendons, muscles, bones, and joints that come from not slowing down on easy days. Running “slowly” gives your body the chance to properly recover so you can continue to enjoy running throughout your lifetime.

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I practice what I preach. This was just before Boston, where I ran a 3:06 in 80-degree heat. Slow training does not equal slow race results.