As marathoners and athletes, we all want to get faster, push our limits, and achieve our goals. To get there, it’s common to feel like we have to constantly push ourselves faster and harder. 

But what if we told you that sometimes slowing down could make you faster? It sounds counterintuitive, right? 

Slowing down your runs can make you faster in the long run. That’s because when you run at an easier pace, you’re able to continue running without the need for frequent breaks, and you can cover longer distances. 

When you run longer distances at the right pace, your body has more time to adapt to the stress and pressure of running. It’s like the “Goldilocks effect” – you’re not pushing yourself too hard to the point of breaking down, but you’re not slacking off either.

In this blog post, we’ll explain why running slow could help you run faster and achieve your running goals. Whether you’re a seasoned marathoner or a beginner runner, this information will be useful for you.

Let’s get started…

Running Slowly Builds Your Aerobic System

Running slowly on your easy runs and for most of your long runs is crucial because it enhances the aerobic system. 

Let’s look into the science behind this and understand why easy running is so significant.

For your body to engage in exercise, it breaks down either carbohydrates from glycogen, breaks down fats or uses lactate, converting them into energy or fuel. The aerobic system, also known as aerobic glycolysis, is the dominant system when there’s enough oxygen to use pyruvate to create 32 ATP molecules, the energy source for endurance running.

During slow-paced running, if you maintain a pace where you can comfortably breathe, your body efficiently utilizes the available oxygen to power the muscles. 

This process allows you to breathe in, use oxygen to generate energy and exhale, releasing carbon dioxide.

Consistent aerobic running improves your body’s efficiency in utilizing oxygen for energy production, enabling you to run faster when needed. 

Easy running proves to be the most effective way to train and enhance the aerobic system.

Running Faster Doesn’t Speed Up Aerobic Development

Contrary to intuition, running faster every day doesn’t accelerate aerobic development; in fact, it hinders it. Faster running not only diminishes aerobic progress but also raises the risk of injury and overtraining.

  1. Let’s look at two key physiological developments that result from aerobic training: capillary and mitochondrial development. (While there are more aspects, we’ll keep it simple for now!)

Capillaries are small blood vessels crucial for delivering oxygen and nutrients to muscles and removing waste products. 

A higher number of capillaries surrounding each muscle fiber enhances the efficient transportation of oxygen and fuelinto muscles. 

Running easy, part of aerobic training, increases the number of capillaries per muscle fiber, facilitating better oxygenation and nutrient supply while speeding up waste removal. This sets the stage for improved running performance.

Mitochondria, microscopic organelles in muscle cells, play a key role in generating ATP, the body’s energy currency. Mitochondria break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into usable energy when sufficient oxygen is present. 

Having more dense mitochondria allows for increased energy production during exercise, enabling you to go faster and farther.

The higher the number and density of mitochondria, the more energy your body can produce efficiently during exercise. This enhanced energy capacity allows you to run faster and cover longer distances, contributing to improved endurance and performance.

  1. Running slowly helps reduce the risk of injury, which is excellent news for runners. It may seem contradictory—running slowly leads to faster runs and helps reduce injury risk. 

It makes sense if you look at it in detail. Running at a slower pace will allow your body to make adjustments, recover from previous runs, build endurance, and improve overall fitness, decreasing the risk of injury. 

Running at a slower pace puts less stress on your joints and ligaments, enabling them to strengthen and become more stable without taking a beating when you run.

Aerobic metabolism is improved by running at 60-75% of 5km race pace, at 60% and at 75% the improvements in Physiology are similar, but at 60% ground reaction forces are much lower, less stress and less risk of getting injured.

  1. Running slowly is a kind of meditation. It helps lift your mood and regulate your thoughts. Running at a slower pace forces you to focus on how you feel, the rhythm of your breath, and the pace of your steps. It is a mental exercise as much as it is physical. 

Running gives you the time to think, reflect, and be grateful for the opportunity to run. Running can be a relaxation technique that will help you be more grounded and calm in your life, making it worth the time to practice running slowly.

Balancing Speed And Endurance

Running is a balance between speed and endurance. Endurance allows you to run for longer periods of time, and speed determines how quickly you get to the finish line. 

By running slowly, you are building endurance. It will enable you to run for longer periods, which is excellent for marathoners. Running faster is crucial for short-distance runners. Slow running trains your body to recover quickly after running fast. 

Therefore, incorporating slow running into your routine will enable your body to increase stamina, recover quickly, and go for longer runs, which can, in turn, lead to faster runs.

Allows for Active Recovery

Running slowly allows your body to engage in active recovery. This means that on days when you are not doing intense training (such as speed work), you can still run and help your body recover from the previous training sessions.

Doing cross training like cycling or swimming can further improve on your recovery process by reducing the force the body experiences during running.

What Should I Do If I’m Feeling Good And Want To Run Faster?

Even if you feel good and want to run faster, it’s important to recognize that pushing the pace on easy days may lead to increased stress on muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones.

Running faster when your body isn’t fully adapted to the increased load can result in injuries such as IT band inflammation or hamstring issues. It’s crucial to prioritize the long-term health of your muscles and joints over short-term speed gains.

How Often Should You Run Slower?

According to the 80/20 method, popularized by Matt Fitzgerald’s book, 80/20, the majority of your runs should be done at a lower intensity. You should aim to do 80 percent of your weekly training at a low-to-moderate intensity. 

This means incorporating more easy runs into your schedule, which will help you build your aerobic base, recover from harder workouts, and prevent injury and burnout.

What is the 80/20 method? 

The 80/20 method of running, often referred to as the 80/20 rule or polarised training, follows the principle of dividing your training into two intensity levels. 

The idea is to allocate 80% of your weekly training volume to slow, easy, conversational-paced runs while dedicating the remaining 20% to more intense, hard efforts.

This approach aligns with polarized training, emphasizing a balance between low and high-intensity workouts. 

The majority of your runs are performed at a relaxed pace, allowing for recovery and building an aerobic base. The remaining 20% involves higher-intensity exercises, contributing to improved fitness and performance.

In athletes working full time jobs, older athletes and slower runners, I prefer to use a 85/15 or even 90/10 “rule” to reduce the risk of injury and maximise aerobic gains.

Exceptions To The 80/20 Method

It’s important to consider individual factors when applying the 80/20 method, and some individuals may benefit from adjusting their high-intensity training to constitute only 10% of their total volume. 

This adjustment could be particularly relevant for runners over 50, less experienced runners, those in recovery from injuries, and individuals with physically demanding jobs that involve prolonged periods of standing or movement.

For example, if you fall into one of these categories, you might choose to incorporate a three-mile or five-kilometer time trial every other week as a challenging workout without allocating a significant portion of your training volume to high-intensity sessions. 

The key is to strike the right balance that suits your specific circumstances, ensuring effective and successful training.

How Do You Run Slowly?

Alright, considering the scientific reasons discussed earlier, I trust you’re on board with the idea of slowing down your easy runs. But how do you go about it?

The key to running slowly is to pay attention to your pace and ensure you’re maintaining a comfortable and conversational effort. Strive for a pace at which you can easily hold a conversation without feeling breathless.

Here are some tips on how to run slowly:

Start with a Mindset Shift

The first step towards successfully running slowly is accepting that it’s okay to run slowly. Many runners struggle to let go of their obsession with pace and instead convince themselves that they’re not running if they’re not going fast enough. 

The misconception is that running slowly means you’re a worse runner, when in reality it has the potential to make you a better runner. Embrace the idea that running at your own pace is essential to life-long running, enjoyment, and injury-free running. Release the stigma that exists towards slow running.

Focus on Your Breathing

Another way to gauge your running intensity is to focus on your breathing. When running slowly, you should be able to breathe comfortably and easily through your nose and mouth without gasping for air or feeling out of breath. 

You should be able to carry on a conversation with someone without panting or huffing. If you find yourself struggling to breathe, slow down your pace, take deeper breaths, and relax your shoulders and neck.

Use the ‘Talk Test’ Technique

The talk test is a phenomenon where you can check if you’re running at the right pace by evaluating whether you can talk while running. If you’re out of breath and cannot have a conversation, you’re probably running too fast. If you can speak but gasp for air, you’re still going too fast. 

However, if you can speak comfortably in short sentences, you’re running at the right pace. This technique is handy to maintain a slow pace and is ideal for long-distance running.

Don’t Focus on Distance or Time

When you’re running slowly, the focus should be on the quality of the run rather than how far or how fast you go. Instead of trying to hit a certain distance, focus on running for a set amount of time. 

This allows you to tune into your body and adjust your pace accordingly. Alternatively, you can focus on form and technique. Slow runs are a great opportunity to work on your stride and posture.

Make it Enjoyable

Running slowly doesn’t have to be a chore. You can make it enjoyable by connecting with nature, listening to music or audiobooks, or running with a friend or pet. Additionally, you can try new routes or explore new trails. By making slow runs enjoyable, you’re more likely to incorporate them into your training regimen.

Related: How To Run FASTER: Lessons From An Olympic Coach

In conclusion, running slowly can be an effective way to improve your overall running performance and achieve your running goals. 

By building endurance, improving running economy, reducing injury risks, building the aerobic base, and allowing for active recovery, runners at any level can benefit from incorporating slow running into their training routine. 

It is important to remember that running slowly does not mean you are not getting a good workout. It’s all about balance and knowing when to push yourself and when to slow down. 

So, next time you lace up your shoes, remember that running slowly could help you run faster and achieve your personal best.


With a passion for high performance sport – Lindsey Parry is one of South Africa’s most widely recognised coaches. Having led a team to the London, Rio and Tokyo Olympic Games as well as the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, the Gold Coast & Birmingham, and coached both triathletes and runners onto podiums of some of the world’s most illustrious races, Lindsey has a unique ability to understand what it takes to succeed at any level and thrives on coaching, motivating and inspiring others to do the same – whether it’s on the track, on stage or behind a mic.

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