Reflecting on My Progress: Easy Runs Getting Faster

I’ve been back running for a little over six months now, and this seems like a good time to look back on the year and reflect on some of the progress I’ve made.

There are the obvious benchmarks – distances covered, miles run, PRs set. But over the last couple of weeks I’ve noticed something else that has improved significantly. The pace of my easy runs has gotten faster.

It’s a little hard to quantify that specifically. “Easy” from one day to the next can change, and just because my runs are getting faster doesn’t necessarily mean that they are still as “easy.” You can use heart rate to compare the relative intensity of runs, but that can also vary because of other things. For example, over the summer I’m sure my heart rate was often elevated because of the heat. So it’s not a true apples to apples comparison to look at an easy run today and compare it to an easy run with the same heart rate in July.

Nonetheless, I’m going to look at some of the data from my Garmin to reflect on how I’ve improved.

Easy Running in the Summer

I started getting back into running in April, and I’m not sure any of those miles were truly easy. Until you’ve built up a small aerobic base, it’s relatively hard to run even short distances. That being said, I probably was also running those miles too fast.

But by the summer time, I had eased into my ability to run at a conversational pace. I was regularly running over 20 miles per week, and my average run was 4-5 miles.

Some of the easiest runs were painfully slow. I had a couple recovery runs where my heart rate stayed in the mid 130’s – quite low for me – and my pace was about 10:45/mi. But this might have been a function of fatigue, because I had a couple other short, easy runs with a similar heart rate where the pace was about 10:15/mi.

As a baseline, I’d say my easy pace was around 10:15/mi. On some runs, I was down to 9:50/mi, but my heart rate was up in the 140’s, so at that point, I wouldn’t consider that easy anymore.

Easy Running in the Winter

That easy pace of about 10:00 to 10:15/mi held through the summer and fall. But over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed that my easy runs are quicker and they still feel quite easy.

For example, on Thursday I went out for a long, easy recovery jog. I’d worked out the day before (intervals) and had a moderate run the day before that, so my legs were probably somewhat tired. Still, I logged 5.7 miles at 9:30/mi pace and my heart rate was only 143.

On Tuesday, I went for an easy run with a few surges in the middle. These were just 30 seconds to a minute at 5k pace. Otherwise, it was an easy run. And overall, I logged 5.75 miles with a 9:24/mi pace. My average heart rate was a little higher (147) due to the surges in there.

Yesterday, I was out for my long run. The first two miles, I was at an easy pace warming up, but I was running about 9:45/mi. The next three miles, I tried to hold an easy pace and I found myself running well below 9:30/mi. One split was 8:59/mi, but that was probably thanks to a steep decline.

I’ll see if this pattern holds over the next couple of weeks, but it feels like my easy pace has dropped significantly – from around 10:15/mi to below 9:30/mi.

Why The Drop?

This part is what has me curious. Why has it improved now?

I logged a ton of miles (relatively speaking) through the end of October preparing for my half marathon and I introduced some quality sessions in the weeks leading up to it. So it’s possible that I had built up a decent amount of fatigue, and my easy pace suffered because of it.

After the half marathon, I took some time to recover. My legs are feeling more fresh now, and one possibility is that the increased volume is paying dividends that I can now see because I’m well rested.

The other possibility, though, is that I’ve started doing a lot more quality work. For the last three weeks, I’ve done two workouts per week, and I’ve included strides, hills, or surges on another two runs per week. This included some speed work at or below mile pace, as well as some intervals around 5k pace.

Those paces have improved significantly, so that baseline increase in speed may be shifting the baseline for what’s easy, as well.

I’ve still got six weeks until my 5k time trial in January. After that, and after I’ve recovered for a week, I’ll be interested to see where my easy pace is at. I wonder if it will improve some more.

But I’m happy that it is improving. I want to increase my mileage in the spring to prepare for another half, and I plan on increasing it even more over the summer to prepare for a full. And I’ll be a lot happier running 40-50 miles if I can do them at 8:00 to 9:00/mi than at 10:00/mi.

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