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Easy Days and Easy Pace Running

Updated: Feb 6

Easy Days and Easy Pace Running

When you talk with runners, the concept of an 'easy day' or an 'easy run' frequently comes up in conversations. Experienced runners often segment their training into distinct categories: easy days and hard days.

Dividing training sessions in this manner makes a lot of sense. Many newcomers or individuals without a running coach tend to maintain a moderate level of intensity throughout their runs; They run kind of hard basically every run. This middle ground, often referred to as the grey zone, involves exertion levels that aren't in the right zones to significantly improve fitness, yet substantial enough to induce fatigue. You might want to reread that. It's possible to get to a point where your training is just getting you tired and not getting you faster.

Initially, this approach may yield some positive effects. However, it's generally an unsustainable strategy and really limits how fast you can run year over year.

The absence of distinct polarities in training—between slower, easier runs and faster, more challenging ones (aerobic threshold training)—tends to lead individuals to associate all running with discomfort and difficulty, which not only undermines effective training but also diminishes the enjoyment of the activity.

I have run A LOT of miles in my life and probably 80% of them have been spent chatting with a buddy or listening to a podcast and enjoying the outdoors at a relaxed comfortable pace.

Now, you might be wondering: Why isn't it advisable to run hard every day? Firstly, lower-intensity running offers a plethora of benefits. Even at a relaxed pace, one can derive most of the advantages that running has to offer. The aerobic system is effectively engaged and improved at almost any pace faster than a walk.

Understanding the Multifaceted Nature of Easy Days:

  • Recovery and Adaptation: Easy days play a pivotal role in the recovery process. They allow your body to adapt to previous training stimuli, reducing the risk of overuse injuries and burnout. But you can only recover and adapt if the pace and effort are low enough. The lighter intensity enables muscles to recover while maintaining a level of activity that aids in flushing out waste products and enhancing blood circulation.

  • Preventing Burnout and Injury: Continuous high-intensity workouts without adequate recovery can lead to burnout and an increased risk of injury. Easy days interspersed within a training regimen offer the necessary respite, allowing the body to recuperate and repair.

  • Individualized Pace: Determining your personalized easy pace is crucial. It's not solely about adhering to specific heart rate zones or predefined speeds. It's about finding a pace that feels comfortable and conversational, where you could easily hold a conversation without feeling breathless. Factors such as terrain, weather, and overall fatigue levels can influence this pace.

  • Psychological Benefits: Besides physical recovery, easy runs provide significant psychological benefits. They serve as a mental break from more intense workouts, promoting a positive relationship with running. Enjoying the process and appreciating the surroundings during these runs can enhance overall mental well-being.

  • Training Balance and Longevity: Incorporating easy days into your routine maintains a balanced training regimen. It ensures that your body isn't constantly pushed to its limits, thereby extending your running career by reducing the likelihood of injury and burnout.

By embracing the multifaceted nature of easy days and understanding their significance beyond just pace, runners can optimize their training regimens for enhanced performance and recovery.

Harnessing Easy Running's Physiological Benefits:

Incorporating easy-paced running into a training regimen harnesses a myriad of physiological benefits that extend beyond cardiovascular improvements. Its impact on blood flow, nutrient delivery, red blood cell production, and enhanced oxygen utilization elevates overall endurance performance while fostering efficient muscle recovery and adaptation. Embracing these advantages forms the foundation for a well-rounded and sustainable approach to running training.

Easy Running's Impact on Blood Flow, Nutrient Delivery, and Red Blood Cell Production:

  • Enhanced Blood Circulation and Nutrient Delivery: Easy-paced running significantly accelerates blood circulation, ensuring a steady supply of oxygen and nutrients to working muscles. This increased blood flow aids in the efficient transport of essential nutrients, such as glucose and amino acids, to muscle tissues. Consequently, it promotes quicker recovery by facilitating the repair and regeneration of muscle fibers following workouts, reducing soreness, and enhancing overall muscle function.

Runner Red Blood Cells

  • Stimulation of Red Blood Cell Production: Regular aerobic exercise, including easy-paced running, stimulates the body's production of red blood cells (RBCs) through a process called erythropoiesis. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to various tissues and muscles. Increased RBC production improves the blood's oxygen-carrying capacity, enhancing endurance performance by ensuring efficient oxygen delivery to working muscles. This adaptation is particularly beneficial for athletes aiming to improve their aerobic capacity and endurance levels.

  • Improved Oxygen Utilization and Endurance: With enhanced blood flow and increased red blood cell count, the body becomes more adept at utilizing available oxygen during exercise. This improvement in oxygen utilization contributes significantly to endurance capacity, allowing runners to sustain efforts for more extended periods without experiencing undue fatigue.

  • Recovery and Reduced Muscle Fatigue: The heightened blood circulation facilitated by easy running not only aids in nutrient delivery but also plays a crucial role in flushing out metabolic waste products, such as lactate, from muscles. This process helps in reducing muscle fatigue and soreness, expediting the recovery process post-workout.

Fitness Benefits of Easy Pace Running:

  • Mitochondrial Density and Aerobic Capacity: Easy pace running serves as a catalyst for enhancing mitochondrial density within muscles. Mitochondria are the powerhouse of cells, responsible for generating energy. Regular easy-paced runs stimulate the growth and proliferation of mitochondria, thereby boosting the body's ability to produce energy aerobically. This improvement in mitochondrial density enables better utilization of oxygen and fuels endurance by enhancing the body's aerobic capacity.

  • Aerobic Improvements at Slow Paces: Contrary to common belief, significant aerobic adaptations occur even at slower paces. Easy runs promote the development of capillaries within muscles, improving blood flow and oxygen delivery. This leads to increased efficiency in utilizing oxygen, enhancing the body's ability to sustain prolonged efforts without accumulating excessive fatigue.

  • Fat Utilization and Efficiency: Training at lower intensities, such as during easy runs, encourages the body to utilize fats as a primary source of energy. This adaptation is beneficial for endurance athletes, as it preserves glycogen stores for more intense efforts while improving overall metabolic efficiency.

  • Musculoskeletal Adaptations and Injury Prevention: Running at an easy pace allows for a lower impact on joints and muscles, reducing the risk of overuse injuries commonly associated with high-intensity workouts. It aids in strengthening connective tissues, muscles, and tendons gradually, leading to more resilient and injury-resistant musculoskeletal systems.

  • Mental Endurance and Recovery: Easy-paced running contributes significantly to mental endurance and recovery. It fosters a positive mindset towards running by offering a break from intense workouts, reducing mental fatigue, and promoting psychological well-being. Additionally, these sessions aid in active recovery, facilitating faster recuperation between harder training sessions.

Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE): A Crucial Indicator for Easy Running:

While heart rate zones and physiological markers like VO2 max percentages offer structured guidelines, one of the most effective and intuitive ways to determine the intensity of an easy run is through the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). RPE is a subjective measure of how hard you feel your body is working during exercise and is based on a scale of perceived effort.

Experienced runners can link their biometrics to their effort after years of training. Being in tune with your body and your effort level is far more useful than a heart rate monitor or a lactate meter!

  • Understanding RPE: The RPE scale typically ranges from 1 to 10, with 1 representing minimal effort (akin to sitting or standing) and 10 indicating maximal exertion (equivalent to an all-out sprint). For easy runs, the ideal RPE typically falls between 3 to 5 on this scale.

  • Personalized Perception: RPE accounts for individual variances in fitness levels, making it a highly adaptable tool for runners of all abilities. It considers factors beyond heart rate or pace, incorporating sensations like breathing rhythm, muscle fatigue, and overall comfort.

  • Listening to Your Body: By tuning in to your body's signals during a run, you can adjust your effort level based on how you feel. An easy run should feel comfortable, allowing for easy conversation without feeling excessively breathless or strained.

  • Environmental Considerations: RPE is dynamic and considers external factors such as weather conditions, terrain, and fatigue from previous workouts. It empowers runners to adapt their effort levels accordingly, especially on days when external factors might influence perceived effort.

  • Gradual Adjustment and Learning: Determining the appropriate RPE for easy runs might take time and practice. Gradually becoming attuned to how various effort levels feel and learning to differentiate between easy, moderate, and hard efforts contributes to mastering the art of easy running.

  • Flexibility and Adaptability: RPE offers the flexibility to adjust your pace according to how your body responds on any given day. It's a valuable tool for maintaining consistency in training while respecting the body's need for recovery and adaptation.

RPE and Optimal Easy Running:

Incorporating RPE as a primary gauge for easy runs empowers runners to develop a stronger mind-body connection, allowing for a more intuitive and personalized approach to training. By embracing perceived effort as a guiding metric, individuals can navigate their runs more effectively, ensuring that easy days truly serve their intended purpose within a well-rounded training regimen.

Implementing Effective Easy Day Running:

  • Listening to Your Body: While scientific guidelines exist, such as heart rate zones or VO2max percentages, it's crucial to listen to your body. Factors like sleep quality, stress levels, and overall fatigue influence how your body responds to exercise. Adjust your easy day pace accordingly, allowing for flexibility within the prescribed range.

  • Gradual Progression: Beginners might find it challenging to gauge their ideal easy pace. Starting conservatively and gradually increasing intensity or distance can help identify the sweet spot between effort and comfort. As fitness improves, what once felt moderately challenging might evolve into a more relaxed pace.

  • Incorporating Variability: Easy days don't necessarily mean monotonous or slow runs every time. Introducing variety within easy runs—such as incorporating hills, trails, or new routes—adds diversity to your training while maintaining the lower intensity characteristic of these sessions.

  • Mindfulness and Enjoyment: Embrace mindfulness during easy runs. Focus on your form, breathing, and the environment around you. Engage in activities like mindful breathing or simply being present in the moment, fostering a deeper connection with your running practice.

  • Restorative Techniques: Supplementing easy days with restorative practices like yoga, stretching, foam rolling, or other forms of active recovery can further enhance the benefits of these sessions. Such activities aid in muscle recovery and flexibility, contributing to overall running performance.

  • Tracking Progress: Monitoring your performance and how you feel during and after easy runs helps in fine-tuning your approach. Utilize running apps or journals to log your runs, recording perceived effort levels and any notable observations.

Embracing the Balance:

Achieving an optimal balance between hard workouts and easy days is integral to a successful running journey. Recognizing the multifaceted nature of easy day running, encompassing physical recovery, mental rejuvenation, and personalized effort, enables runners to thrive in their pursuit of fitness and longevity in the sport.

In conclusion, easy day running isn't just about pace; it's a holistic approach that nurtures both the body and mind. By integrating these sessions intelligently within your training routine and appreciating their diverse benefits, you'll not only enhance your running performance but also find greater fulfillment in the journey itself.


Easy pace running isn't merely about logging miles at a comfortable speed; it serves as a cornerstone for developing a strong aerobic foundation, enhancing physiological adaptations critical for endurance performance, and reducing the likelihood of injuries. By embracing the multitude of fitness benefits derived from easy-paced runs, runners can optimize their training routines, fostering long-term progress and overall well-being.

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