Slowing Down to Get Faster

As I alluded to in my last post, I am doing a bunch of things differently this training cycle. The most glaring change I have made is slowing down every run {with the exception of my long run}.  Easy runs, tempos, intervals, recovery…They are all slower. Anywhere from 15 sec to 1 whole minute slower than I was running in the spring:

  • Recovery/Easy Runs: 7:35-7:45 -> 8:05-8:40
  • 5 mile Tempo Run: 6:30 -> 6:55
  • 1600m intervals: 6:00-6:10 -> 6:35-6:40

It may seem counter-intuitive, but by me going slower most days, I am hoping to get stronger and faster.  

In the spring, my mentality was to go as hard as I could for each workout. I used McMillan’s Running Calculator to determine my training paces, but truth be told, I would either try to be on the faster range of those paces or try to run them faster because I felt I should be working hard (95-100% effort).  And in my mind, working hard equated to all out exhaustion.  Part of it was that I was trying to regain my speed that I had “lost” during pregnancy. I thought if I ran as fast as I could for speed workouts that I would get faster.

While I know that I definitely DID get faster (I PR’d by over 2 minutes in the half marathon in March), what was the cost?  I was often too exhausted the day after a tough workout to do my recovery/easy run.  There were also a few instances where I totally bonked on my long run (once on a 16 miler, once on a planned 22 miler that I turned into 19 miles). Both signs of training too fast overtraining.

Mile 12 of 2013 NYC Half Marathon

Mile 12 of 2013 NYC Half Marathon

Sure I was racking up some great and impressive workouts. But the workouts I were doing were not helping me for marathon training. I was missing the training benefits that I would have received if I had slowed down. My body was not recovering fully, I was skipping easy/recovery runs (which are important runs during training), and I was beginning to get run-down.

This time around, I am not using speedwork to build or regain speed. Yes, that is a side effect of doing 400 or 800m repeats.  But the real purpose is to make the next type of run/workout easier. My coach has told me that the “the 400, 800 and mile repeat workouts make the tempos more comfortable, the tempos make the steady state more comfortable and the steady state makes the half and marathon strong and manageable.” (She’s pretty darn smart, isn’t she?)  They should all be building upon one another. “The purpose of training all of those different areas isn’t to kill it and go all out on each and every one, but to run them in a way that benefits each of the other types of training runs.”  

So, I am slowing down the paces on some of these runs.  I am also decreasing the recovery times for interval workouts. Active recovery instead of full rest. Example: In the spring, mile repeats were done between 6:00-6:15 pace (on the treadmill).  This time around, they are closer to 6:35-6:40.  Slower, yes. But there’s more of them. And there’s way less recovery.  These are making my tempo runs feel a bit easier. And so on…


So what is the result of all these changes?

My weekly mileage is higher now (7 weeks out from the marathon) then it was during my entire spring training cycle. (55 to about 45)

I feel stronger. I feel energized. I am not dragging every single day.

I am recovering faster.  I haven’t missed one run because of exhaustion or being too tired or overtrained.

My long runs feel amazing. I am using the long runs as practice at marathon goal pacing. I am running them fast (for me) and am finishing strong and happy. My last miles of every single long run have been the fastest for that day.

I set a half marathon PR two weeks ago after following this training plan 5 weeks ago. This was with a mini taper (I did a traditional taper in the spring for the NYC Half).

But, it’s not always easy. Slowing down takes confidence in your training plan, your body and yourself. You have to have the confidence to know that even though you aren’t pushing 100% every single day, you will be ready to do so on race day.

I’ve learned (with the help of my coach) that just because I can run a certain pace, that doesn’t mean I should. Slowing down is making me stronger…which hopefully means I am faster on race day. 

(*Note: I am doing a few other things differently this training cycle as well {recovery, drills}, so there are other factors that need to be taken into account when looking at my performance on race day.)

How do you know how hard to push during workouts?

Have you been overtrained before? I’m doing a post on overtraining and how to tell if you are – any advice you can provide that I can share?


I don’t post here every day, but I post all of my workouts (and other happenings) on Instagram on a daily basis {NYCRunningMama}.

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    23 thoughts on “Slowing Down to Get Faster

    1. I really try my best to respect paces. Even if on certain days I feel great and full of energy, I know that if I’m supposed to be running at MP, I’m supposed to be running at MP. Period. Same when it comes to easy runs. Since when marathon training started back in July, I saw so many people around me getting injured and I don’t want to end up like that. I’d rather not reach my goal but finish the marathon than getting injured during my training and having to skip the marathon altogether.
      MartinaNYC@runtomakeadifference recently posted..Secrets of a runnerMy Profile

    2. Awesome post! Learning when and how to hold back is incredibly important. Something I am still working on but feel I have made good progress over the last year or so. I know there are still many instances where I am running faster than I should for certain runs. There is a lot to be said about running more but slower, build a huge base and endurance level but mix in speed to really turn things up..

      I have definitely been burned out and over trained before. Signs: not recovering well, REALLY struggling at the end of workouts instead of finishing strong, finding a huge wall in a race (been there done that), etc. I think bonking at one of my marathons about 2 years ago (and officially burning out after the fact for a few months) was important.. it sucked obviously but it taught me a lot about what to do and what not to do and now I strive to not reach that point again.
      Laura @losingrace recently posted..Proper Taper Technique: NFL styleMy Profile

    3. I think overtraining can present itself in a variety of ways and differs by person but the ones I’ve noticed in myself in the past (in chronological order):
      – feeling more tired/less excited to train
      – not sleeping soundly (tossing and turning or waking in the middle of the night)
      – waking up with a mild sore throat that goes away during the day
      – declining workout performance (either can’t hit my paces or feeling like certain paces take more effort than usual)
      – feeling lots of muscle soreness or minor injuries
      – full-blown injury or illness

      Thankfully I learned to balance my training so that the downward spiral doesn’t happen. Looking forward to reading your post though – I think a lot of people are unaware that they are overtraining!
      Andrea @ The Fit Scoop recently posted..Pregnancy-Friendly Core ExercisesMy Profile

    4. This is such a good reminder. I have a tendency to go “all out” during my tempo and track workouts. Thankfully I run track with my run club and the coach slows me down, but on my tempo runs I run them hard. Maybe too hard? Especially yesterday, it was my last “hard” tempo before the 1/2 and I did 6 miles at my McMillan pace and today on my recovery run I felt stiff a little sore and just plain tired. I averaged 9:59 for 5.3 miles, walked a bit and didn’t really warm up until mile 4. I’ve got to take it easier this week and let my body recover or I’m screwed.
      Sarah @RunFarGirl recently posted..Swiftwick Review and GiveawayMy Profile

    5. I’ve tried really hard this training cycle to just leave my watch at home for the easy runs, too. I’ve always been good at not pushing it too much during easy runs but before, I would just get discouraged with the slow pace and it would ruin my whole run. Not knowing pace lets it be nice and enjoyable!
      Theodora recently posted..NYC Marathon Training: Less Than 5 Weeks to Go!My Profile

    6. THIS. I PRd my last half by 7 minutes by slowing down my training runs. I was bonking my long runs because I was pushing too hard every time. I ended my training cycles burnt out and not ready for race day. After changing my routine to slowing down I rocked my long runs and went to the race feeling READY. It seems counterintuitive but it totally works!
      Madeline @ Food Fitness and Family recently posted..Meal Planning with TechnologyMy Profile

    7. Another great post! I find that a running calculator is not the best way to figure out target paces. There are days we can hit those ranges and days we can’t. If we are too rigid about paces and even pick ones we are capable of but, we may not truly be ready for, it can be dangerous!
      I love signing up for a race and seeing where that puts me. Then, I go from there and run what feels good. When I overthink it, the fun gets lost! You are doing great and I can’t wait to see your results!!

    8. Wise words! I’ve been keeping my easy days this cycle reeeeally easy. And sometimes not even wearing a watch so I can just run by feel. Or running with my husband and the stroller for a recovery day, which means we barely break 10mm. :) The easy days make speed days much more doable- like you said, I never feel exhausted or overtrained. Excited to see you in Philly!
      Laura @ Mommy Run Fast recently posted..Progress, not perfectionMy Profile

    9. You are training much smarter this time. It will pay dividends on race day.

      East way to tell if you’re overtraining. In your running log, rate each run on a scale from 1 to 10. Three consecutive runs with a rating of 4 or less is a sign of overtraining. I then advise my clients to take 3-4 days off from training. They usually rebound with renewed vigour and enthusiasm…. And better workouts

    10. Thank you for sharing. This was literally exactly what I needed to read after I failed to hit all of my targets on this mornings speed workout. Very insightful, and useful to help me tweak some things in my schedule going forward.

      Did you say that you were using MsFitRunner as your coach? I thought I remembered reading that, but was not certain, and I had been contemplating contacting her!
      Crystal@TheFastFitRunner recently posted..Growing from failure & learning to push past discomfort.My Profile

    11. I love this. So true and so smart! I think the same way – that working hard should make me feel exhausted and I realized that I just wasn’t doing my body any favors. It’s hard sometimes to see the big picture of a training plan and have faith but glad you are seeing some great benefits thus far.
      Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted..Things that I AcceptMy Profile

    12. This is awesome Michele!!! You are going to rock your marathon! I totally agree and am doing the same thing with my training this time. I think my past training mistake was doing all my runs at a moderate pace. I would do all my runs at 7:50-8 min pace…none faster, none slower. This time I am doing speed and making my easy and recovery runs slower…we’ll see!!! My harder runs still pretty much take a lot out of me so it is hard to know if I am pushing to hard or if running is just hard and it is making me stronger :)
      Jen @ milesandblessings recently posted..13 years in pictures :)My Profile

    13. I haven’t hit that overtraining spot and I really hope that I don’t. I know when I’m getting close, I start to feel run down and everything feels sore so I get a massage and back it off. I try to keep my heart rate in my target zones when I’m doing speed work but sometimes that doesn’t happen. I plan on slowing things right down after my goal race in 4 weeks. I’ve been toying with slowing things down for my Boston training next year, even though I have an aggressive time goal, I think it may be beneficial for me to take a step back in my pacing. I only run 3x a week (swim & bike the rest of the time) though so I’m going to have to make it count. What to do what to do. I’ll definitely be interested to see how this new pacing turns out for you.
      Phaedra @ Blisters and Black Toenails recently posted..4 Ways to Stay SuppleMy Profile

    14. YES!!!! to this training. I am a huge proponent of easy days being easy. In fact, I really don’t believe in following a pace on easy days. I let my heart rate and/or legs dictate the pace. I also sandwich my MP miles in the midst of long runs with easy miles, as well as w/u and c/d miles. It truly makes all the difference. It’s something that so few runners get, though! Hopefully your good experience and wide reach will make a few people consider it a bit more!
      misszippy1 recently posted..Utah makes the gradeMy Profile

      • I think I told you – I really try to not wear a garmin on easy days now b/c I found I was too concerned with pace. I ran 6 “free” miles today and really just enjoyed the run – something I feel I don’t do when the garmin is looking back at me. LOL
        nycrunningmama recently posted..Slowing Down to Get FasterMy Profile

    15. Such a great post. I love reading your blog, because everything you talk about is so relatable. I have been looking ahead to my 2014 season and having a lot of conversations with coaches / friends / etc about both topics: slowing down to go faster and over training.

      I did the same thing to myself last year when training for my first marathon. I felt I needed to be at the speedy edge of the given paces and push every workout. The result? Complete burnout a month before my first marathon. While I finished the marathon, I didn’t perform nearly to my expectations.

      I have hit a point of overtraining several times. For me, the first sign that I am overtrained is I loose my appetite completely. Despite the effort I am putting out, I have to force myself to consume even maintenance level calories. The other way I know I am overtrained is I just want to sleep 10+ hours a day and have zero motivation.

      Keep up the awesome work! You are a rock star!!
      Wornout Soles recently posted..There is more to life than TriathlonMy Profile