I don’t know if this has happened to you, but it is common, especially among beginners, to try to start running at a pace that is too fast or at an intensity that your body does not yet respond to efficiently, which causes you to end your session in frustration instead of having enjoyed it.
If, when you start running, you feel your heart is going too fast or that it’s almost hard to talk, you’re running at a pace that’s not good for you, with a very high heart rate and putting in more effort than you should, so you should slow down, even if it’s hard.
Do not think that by running slower in some sessions you will not progress or you will not achieve your goals, on the contrary, what you will achieve, although it seems a lie, is to prepare yourself to run faster, and I will tell you why it is so important to run slowly.
What do you learn by running slowly?
You’ve probably heard a friend or colleague say that running at a slow pace won’t improve your fitness or that if you run at a low intensity you won’t be able to slow down. Well, if you’ve even thought about it yourself, I’ll tell you that this is only true if you run slowly in all your sessions. In order to progress, you need to alternate between different training rhythms, work in sets, speed, etc., but it is also very important to know how to run at a slow pace, and today you will understand perfectly that this, in addition to being necessary, will help you to run faster.
Before combining different types and intensities of training, and especially during the first 4 or 6 weeks when you start running, it is very important to plan your sessions in a gentle way so that you can develop your aerobic base, which is what will help you to work as efficiently as possible. Also make sure to check out this review guides that talks in detail about the best running shoes for running.
It is normal that this type of training session, where you are running at a very slow pace, is boring and you do not feel that you are making a great effort, so you may even be tempted to skip it because you underestimate its benefits.
The fundamental variable that we use to measure the degree of effort of a physical activity, and in this case, of running, is the intensity, and on it different training plans can be designed depending on the objectives that each runner wants to achieve, and we could define it as the degree of stress to which you subject your body at a given moment.
If you remember when we talked about pulse training zones, your body obtained energy in two ways: one was aerobic, where your muscles worked in the presence of oxygen and your body worked at low intensities, and the other was anaerobic, where your body obtained energy from other sources because they worked without the presence of oxygen and led your body to work at high intensities.
To measure the intensity, it is best to take a stress test, as you will know exactly what your aerobic and anaerobic thresholds are, as well as the different work zones or intensities at which you can plan your workouts or sessions.
If we use the three-phase model in which we can divide the training into 3 work zones (which would be aerobic, aerobic-anaerobic, and anaerobic), we plan the running training sessions according to the zone in which you are going to work.
When you increase your speed, your heart rate increases progressively. When you are out of the preset zones, the training computer will give you a visual and audible alarm if your cycling rate goes out of the preset range. And finally, when the intensity of the exercise is so high that hardly any air enters your lungs, that is when your muscles have to perform their contractile functions in the absence of oxygen, which is when you reach the anaerobic zone.
In each of these zones, your body responds in a different way, and your muscles function using different sources of energy or supply.
Therefore, working in zone 1, which is aerobic, means that oxygen is present when the muscles perform their contractile function and your level of exertion perception is that of doing a moderate, easy and gentle activity. By running at this pace you can hold a conversation without agonizing or panting, because your respiratory system has enough oxygen.
What happens in your body and how do your muscles work at intensities within this area?
The muscles, when working at low or moderate intensities, barely produce lactic acid, because the energy your body needs for the contractions to occur is obtained through the aerobic pathways, that is, in the presence of oxygen.
When you increase the speed, the concentrations of lactic acid start to increase, and then your body needs to be able to eliminate it somehow so that the muscles can continue to maintain the contractions. This moment where the production of lactic acid starts to increase is known as the “Lactic Threshold”, and it also usually marks the passage to the second work zone, which would be the aerobic-anaerobic zone.
Therefore, the importance of learning to work in this first purely aerobic zone and before starting to generate lactic acid, is to teach your body to learn to be efficient and to be able to oxygenate itself better, because you will achieve the following physiological changes:
- The energy your muscles need to contract will depend on how both carbohydrates and fats are metabolized. Your fundamental energy supply will be fats and when you are working in this area, your body will learn to burn them rather than deplete glycogen reserves. That’s why we said in the article on running weight that in order to metabolize and oxidize fats it was necessary to work on this area.
- On a cardio-respiratory level, when you work in this area, you learn to control your breathing and thus allow oxygen to reach all corners of your body, including your muscles and above all, your blood.
- It will improve your blood circulation, since you will experience a growth of the capillaries, which are the small branches of the veins that will carry the oxygen and energy to every part of your body.
- By running at a low heart rate, you improve the functioning of your heart and its resistance, so that in the long run you can run for longer, even if it is slower.
- Because your body relies less on carbohydrates, and uses fat as an energy source, fatigue will come later, so you can run longer.
- Mitochondria are cellular organs that supply most of the energy to the cells, and by running at a slower pace, you increase their activity and density, so you’ll keep your body energized longer and get tired later.
- Another benefit of learning to run slowly is that you will reduce the risk of injury, since you will not overtax your body and will allow it to recover properly between sessions.
In short, what you are doing is teaching your body to make better use of its energy sources to be more efficient, but by running slowly, you are improving your body’s resistance and creating a greater network of capillaries that will allow you to have a better supply of energy and oxygen to your whole body, so you will delay the onset of fatigue and lack of energy.
We all want to be able to last longer by doing an activity such as running at a high intensity, but if you don’t work on your aerobic capacity sooner, fatigue and lack of energy in your muscles will appear much sooner than you expect. If you learn how to be efficient by training smoothly, then you will be able to train fast.
Don’t underestimate the benefits of running slow!
Now that you know all this, you will have understood how important it is to dedicate at least the first 4 or better 6 weeks of starting to run to work in this aerobic zone with the presence of oxygen, feeling the sensation of going comfortably, without too intense rhythms to allow your body to adapt to all those physiological changes that occur in your body and to lay a good foundation that will allow you to go faster afterwards. When it comes to running, you have to be prepared before you end up exhausted.