Winter is the perfect time for base training. Generally speaking, endurance athletes are all putting in some miles to prepare for warmer weather, faster workouts, and racing.
In a perfect world, it would be a good time to slow down the runs and rides into Zone 2 heart rate AND add more strength training to the schedule. The perfect world is hard to come by, however. If you're anything like me, you might find it hard to slow down your training to the level of slow we should be running during the off-season (or on any planned easy days throughout the year). You also might be thinking, "I know I need to do my strength training, but <insert excuse here>"
Because slow runs and strength training are ALWAYS important, but especially during the off-season, we want to take the time to help you reframe your thinking toward these activities.
Know the Importance of Slow Running: Why Do I Have to Run Slow?
To answer this, I pose another question. Which effort is harder? 7 miles in 63 minutes or 7 miles in 77 minutes?
There isn't really a correct answer here. One is faster but shorter, the other slower but longer. Scientifically speaking, however, the faster run has no greater physiological benefit for me than the slow run. This is because the faster run is in Zone 3 and the slower run is in Zone 2 (hypothetically speaking). In addition, the faster run increases my risk of injury and decreases my ability to recover for the runs that really count, such as speed work, hills, and threshold runs. In other words, the slower I run my slow runs (which should take up about 80% of a training week) and the more recovered I am in general, the faster I can run my fast runs (20% of a training week). This, my fellow runners, is how I (and you) will get faster.
On top of this, the slow run is a test of mental stamina like no other. It requires patience and mindfulness, attention to breath, as well as the swallowing of a huge amount of pride (for most of us). It also improves your overall muscle endurance, running economy, and efficiency. It's similar to giving yourself a really big fuel tank. We can add the horsepower later.
This very slow training also maximizes your potential to burn fat as fuel. When we burn fat as fuel efficiently, we are less likely to run through our carbohydrate stores, especially earlier in the race. What does this mean? NO WALL!
In summary, slow runs let us run our fast runs faster so that we can race faster. Slow runs build mental stamina, muscular endurance, and running economy. Slow runs improve our ability to burn fat as fuel, allowing us to run longer without hitting the wall. Finally, slow runs will decrease your overall risk of injury and illness, keeping you healthy for a lifetime of running.
Know the Importance of Strength Training: Why Do I Need to Strength Train?
If you're anything like me, it can be hard to find the motivation to do the "other stuff." I'm a runner, which means I like to run. I'm not a lifter, so I don't like to lift. And I definitely don't have much of an attention span for lifting and foam rolling!
If there's one thing from the "other stuff" that you would benefit most from, it's strength training. It can help you in so many ways. If you do it right, you may not even need to stretch! Here's what strength training can do for you:
Improved running performance
Improved bone health (decreased risk of stress fractures, osteoporosis)
Know Your Priorities: How DO I fit It all in?
I think the biggest trap we fall into is thinking that every workout has to accomplish something (which in fact they do, if you think about it differently!). When I ran in college, for example, it felt like every run had to be a good run. To me, a run was only productive if I pushed myself and felt like I accomplished something.
Others might have a mindset that if they don't run that day, they will lose their grip on their weight-loss goals, etc.
Whatever your mindset is, it's probably resulting in your choosing that comfortable (albeit, too fast) run more often than the strength training or easy day.
So, how do we learn to choose the healthier option over the more comfortable option?
Define your values and priorities: How would your training look if you were training to qualify for the Olympic 5k versus training so you can be healthy enough to run a 5k every year until you're 100? In the first option, we might see value in spending a lot of time training (i.e. full-time training, not working, or having a family) so that we can fit in the running and all the "other stuff." In the second option, we might be able to see value in choosing to take out a day of running in your busy schedule so you can prioritize strength training. You know this will help the longevity of your running. If you haven't already written down your values and priorities, do so now.
Define your why: Are you running a race to get a PR? Are you running a race to prove you can accomplish something? Are you staying in shape so you can always play with your kids and/or grandkids? Once again, take the time to write this out.
Define your goals: Your short-term and long-term goals should align with each other and with your values and your why. (i.e. I want to be able to squat 50lbs by March so I am confident I can lift my grandkid when I visit) Did we say write these out? Do it!
Ok, so now we know why running slow is important. We also know why strength training is important. And, you have written down your values, priorities, your why, and your goals. At this point, it should be clear exactly what you want out of your training and what you need to do to get it. (Hopefully, what you need to do includes some easier days and strength training! 😉)
Moving forward, if you wake up in the morning and struggle with what to choose that day like I so often do, go back to what you wrote down. It will take a lot of the stress out of making the decision and hopefully help you avoid the guilt of feeling like you missed a run or didn't work hard enough.
Also, as I always like to remind people, I believe you will be much happier with the accomplishment of your goal in the future, rather than the result on Strava today.