With a need to improve speed for the big race, it may seem counterproductive to train by running slowly. However, low-intensity runs are in common practice by a variety elite athletes ranging from Kenyan distance runners to the three-time world champion of the Ironman competition, Craig Alexander, according to Triathlon. Although slow runs may be relatively easy, this does not mean that they are not beneficial. In fact, one of the keys to running better is practicing often, and it is impossible to do this if you are constantly practicing high-intensity runs.
Unfortunately, low-intensity runs are often neglected by triathletes, who have to make time in their weekly workout regimens to practice all three of the triathlon disciplines. As triathletes are unable to run as frequently as other types of runners, they often believe that they must make every run count by running at the very least moderately fast.
Moreover, up-tempo workouts, such as hill repetitions, time trials, and speed intervals, have the appeal of being more interesting. Often, high-intensity exercises are unintentionally promoted by sports journalism, which aims to engage and interest readers, and this further leads triathletes to believe that intense workouts are more important. This is far from true; low-intensity runs are actually the perfect tool to building aerobic fitness, endurance, and fat burning capacity, according to Lance Watson, cofounder of Lifesport Coaching.
What are low-intensity runs and how should you use them?
Slow running should be performed at the same pace as a comfortable warm-up, i.e. in Zone 1, or 25 beats per minute below your threshold heart rate. You can use low-intensity runs as:
- A recovery exercise, the day after a long or high-intensity workout.
- A triathlon tune-up exercise; slow runs can help to improve your race time and allow you to add another workout to your weekly schedule, providing you with an additional aerobic exercise that will not put too much extra stress on your body.
- An easier workout for days when you have a challenging run planned but are not quite up to it. When your body is beginning to feel worn down, low-intensity runs can help you avoid injury.
- A brick workout, which can be especially useful if you are struggling with the marathon part of your Ironman training. Brick workouts combined with slow runs can help you get used to exercising for an extended amount of time. When doing so, you should begin by cycling for two hours and then run for one hour. After some time practicing, increase to a three-hour bike ride, and still later to a four-hour ride, followed by two hours of running. With brick workouts, never increase the intensity of your running above Zone 1.
- A workout to ease you back into exercising after an injury. Keep to low-intensity runs for the first couple weeks. Staying in Zone 1 will be less stressful on your leg tissue than running at faster speeds.
Though perhaps a bit counterintuitive, low-intensity runs can actually improve your race-time speed and help you to perform at a higher intensity.