Running Less and Running Slower made me Happier, Healthier, and Faster

The Beginning

After a disappointing performance at the 2016 Air Force Marathon, I vowed to run more, run harder, and run faster. The next few months were exciting as my weekly mileage climbed and my average pace fell. Typically these are two things that usually do not happen in tandem and for good reason. In the meantime however, my training was going very well!

It’s well known that that shortest route between two points is a straight line. In running however the two points are separated by a mountain pass and the road is windy and filled with many obstacles. Attempting to avoid the windy road and head directly up and over the mountain will work for a bit but is ultimately unsustainable.

Heading into 2017 I was clearly making incredible gains and was the fastest I had ever been. Every week saw faster paces, faster workouts, and more mileage. It was in February when the first chink in the armor appeared, my right glute was starting to frustrate me. I backed off for a few short days and I was back at it a week later. In early March entered my first track meet at a local university and it was an incredible success. A huge PR in the 5000m, 15:31. I was ecstatic and during my cool down added in a few two hundred meter repeats. When I got home however I was limping, my plantar fascia was hurting.

I woke up the following morning and it was still painful, I limped through an 8M run so awkwardly that I formed a large blister on my foot. The wheels were finally coming off the train. I would spent the next 8 months trying to rehabilitate my foot.

Training Smarter

In December of 2017 I was afforded the opportunity to spend two weeks in Iten, Kenya where I ran with world class runners such as Paul Chelimo, Stanley Kebenei, Haron Lagat, and Betsy Saina. The runs I shared with those incredible runners would forever change how I approached my own running and how I shared running with others.

It was in Kenya and from those runners that I learned, running faster isn’t always better. In fact, slowing down and learning when not to run was the key to so many of the successes that come out of Kenya in terms of world class distance running. They imparted on me that taking time off is as crucial to training as the actual running is. They also would spend miles upon miles every week simply plodding along and enjoying one another’s company. So why does running slower translate to running faster? The science is well researched and found in the book “The Jack Daniels Formula” by Jack Daniels. For those who are unaware, Jack Daniels is one of the Godfathers of distance running and training.

In his book, Daniels states that the benefit of easy days is that they build resistance to injury, develop your heart muscle and increase vascularization. Thus when you run easy, you can run more and with less stress on the body. Daniels argues that most of your running should be easy which allows the body to build strong muscular and skeletal systems which are the foundation of avoiding most common running injuries.

Easy running is also outstanding for strengthening the heart, “the maximum force of each stroke of the heart is reached when the heart rate is at about 60% of maximum (Daniels, p. 48).” Thus you only have to run at 60% of maximum heart rate to allow your muscle fibers in the heart to “grow” by allowing them to accept more oxygen and by increasing their efficiency in converting fuel to energy.

A New Plan

With that knowledge and seeing its application first hand in world class runners, who was I to question and/or ignore it? Runners are inherently stubborn but I was going to finally listen and make some big changes in my 2018 running plans. Those plans manifested themselves in two ways. 1) I would take one day off from running every week. 2) I would never worry about the pace on easy runs and never run faster than what felt comfortable on easy days.

The spring of 2017 had a few setbacks with Laryngitis, and Upper Respiratory Infection, and then a tooth infection. Even with all that I managed to get my 5K back to 15:50. There was no pain anywhere in my legs and I was enjoying the process. Following the completion of my spring races I took two weeks off without running. That was followed by a two month period during May-June where I just ran easy with no workouts. Come July I started my 18 week cycle with a concerted effort of going hard during my workouts. Most importantly though, I focused on taking the easy runs easy and continually taking a day off every week.

Finding Success

My personal life was getting the best of me in October. I was finding tired from non-stop traveling, getting married, buying a house, and producing a race. I continued to trust the process however and in early November I set a new personal record in the Half Marathon. My 1:12:26 at the Indy Monumental Half was my first PR since March of 2017 in any distance. It was also my first PR in the half marathon since April of 2016.

Talk about sheer joy. I had run less than in 2017 and my average pace was definitely slower, yet I was now faster. As an added bonus, nothing hurt. There was no need to take a few days off here or there for a shin splint, an IT Band, Runner’s Knee, Plantar Fasciitis, etc. I was healthy.

But if you want to know what is most important, I am happier. I found that when I ran easier I enjoyed the runs more and more. This was due to no longer feeling obligated to hit a target pace on all of my runs and I was free to run as I pleased. Sometimes that meant 9:30 miles and sometimes that meant 7:30 miles. That also meant I was able to run 12:00 miles with others and not feel like those miles were “wasted”.  Jack Daniels had made it clear, 60% heart rate is all you need to experience large aerobic gains. What that translated to was a healthier, happier, and faster runner.

The Road Ahead

Looking ahead to 2019, I plan to increase my mileage over that of 2018. Some weeks I will run all seven days but all training will be with a purpose. It is also important that without a doubt the majority of those runs will be easy. I firmly believe that continued patience in my training with a heavy emphasis on easy runs will bring new PRs in the new year.

I encourage you all to revisit your training plans and see if perhaps you had made these same errors. Make 2019 a year of resolving to run healthier and happier. You might just find that it also brings you the added benefit of running faster.

Happy running and keep doing your part to Make America Fast Again!

Brandon Hough
Advanced Running Project

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