Running Slow

by Gary
(Westborough, MA, USA)

Is Running Slow Good For You?

I've found it tough to find a running partner because most of the time our speeds don't match up. Some of my friends only run slow, which is fine, but then I don't feel like I'm getting a workout. And, my more experienced running friends say that I should be running slow sometimes, so it is okay. I just don't want to waste my time doing the wrong thing.

Editor Suggestion Regarding Benefits of Running Slow

Hey there, thanks so much for your question. Before we jump into the answer(s), kudos to you on looking for a running partner. It is so helpful for new runners to have the accountability and expertise available from having a running buddy. It helps to get more people involved, and helps them stay active with running for longer periods of time. And, if you're the more experienced runner, then you'll likely benefit, too!

Your question is one that we've been asked often, by people who are just getting into running programs, by people returning from injury, and by more experienced runners, as well.

The Short Answer

The really short answer is that it depends, which is so usual for many fitness-related questions.

The Longer Answer

The longer answer is that it depends on several variables. We'll outline a few of them for you here:
  • Exercise History - One's level of experience with running with play a part in whether running slow is appropriate and whether it will be of benefit. For someone who is beginning running workouts for the very first time, running slowly may be the only option in which they might comfortably complete a workout, depending upon time goals (meaning total time to complete workout), or more specific to heart rate and feelings of fatigue or exhaustion.

    If the goal was to complete a workout that lasts a minimum of 20 minutes, but a new runner is unable to achieve that initially, we'd be of the mind that slow running is okay. We'd even say that if it becomes a question of running vs walking that walking is a fantastic way to build the foundation that will allow for improvement over the long-term.

  • Goals - Second, we'd want to know more about the reasons you're running. Are they performance-based? Are you preparing for a race? Is it to improve health? What other things are important to you as it relates to running, health, and fitness?

    One mistake that we see a lot of runners make, especially when one of their goals is to improve running speed for races of any distance, is that when they run slowly (either by choice or due to fatigue), the quality of running form suffers greatly.

    When your form suffers, and you continue to run, you begin to build a pattern of movement dysfunction. That dysfunction, overtime, can lead to skeletal, muscular, or connective tissue issue, all of which have the potential to lead to injury.

    And, what happens with injury? Well, usually, stubborn runners will run through it, compounding the issue, but it also leads to needed, though unwanted, time away from the hobby or sport that is loved so much.

  • Enjoyment - If your "Why I Run" isn't performance-based, and your overall fitness program is comprehensive enough to help in preventing repetitive motion injuries and muscular imbalances, and your main goal is just enjoyment of being outside (or inside if you enjoy treadmill running), alone or with friends, then have it! Being happy in what you're doing is a great way to keep doing it!

A Bit More About Running Slow and Running Form

Above, we'd mentioned that running form may suffer when fatigue sets in, or when purposefully running at a pace slower than usual.

One way that we advise clients in maintaining, or improving, the quality of their running form is through heart rate based training.

An example would be if a runner had a long run planned. Let's say that was to be an hour of running, and that their fitness level was such that they knew fatigue would set in before they'd completed the hour. With that fatigue, their form was going to falter. Rather than have that runner push through 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or half an hour or more of dysfunctional movement, the quality of their movement pattern and running form can be maintained by a focus on specifically zoned activity.

We may have an athlete run a 1/4 mile distance, at a specific pace or at a specific heart rate. As they complete that 1/4 mile, they then recover to another specific heart rate, rather than for a given amount of time, or not at all. Once they've reached the targeted recovery heart rate, then they begin the next 1/4 mile.

That recovery, in-between sets, ensures that the athlete is in a zone that will achieve the desired energy system development, and will also allow for the muscle recovery necessary for quality form in the following 1/4 mile.

Depending on a runner's goals, experiences, and injury history, we might prescribe this for anything from 20 minutes to 3 hours or more.

Bonus tip: No matter your starting point, be logical in planning and progression.

Rucking - The Great Equalizer

Where you'd mentioned the possibility of having running partners (of varying levels of speed and ability), you may want to check out our articles on rucking. Where each person is able to carry the weight that is appropriate for their level of fitness, it can be really helpful in getting groups to move at speeds comfortable for the majority of participants.

Readers and Runners: What is your best advice about running slow? Do you believe it helps or hurts? What are some of your best tips? Let us know in the comments below!

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"Hard work is not punishment. Hard work is the price of admission for the opportunity to reach sustained excellence."
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