How I learned to run easy

Back when I started running 7 years ago, there were countless things I was doing “wrong.”  The thing is, I didn’t think anything was “wrong,” I mean, how hard is running?  You put one foot in front of the other and get out and do it as many days each week as you can handle.  My first ever run was with a friend and we ran 5 miles at 10:00/mi pace (she had a GPS).  Knowing what I know now, this was a steady state effort for me that day but that day, I just ran and gave it no thought.  And for months afterward, it was the same.  Every single effort was a steady effort, and my times got faster and faster as they do when one gets fitter, but I always ran at that same level of effort and always 5-6 miles. 


After 7ish months, I had become incredibly efficient at running 6 miles.  My steady state efforts were at around 6:50 pace and I began to get curious about whether or not I could race.  I don’t know how it took me this long to start reading about running, maybe because I was enjoying so much just going out and having no plan, but this is when I first started doing some research.  I was pretty thrilled by the idea that I would supposedly be able to race faster than my normal pace on race day, though the idea kind of baffled me.  I started looking up races and I saw a half marathon that sounded interesting but the farthest I had ever gone was 6 so I researched some more and learned about the mythic long run.  I read about how these are run slower and decided to go out for my first double digit run (yep, no build up, just 10 right of the gate…told you I knew nothing back then). 


I decided to go out at 8:00/mi and see how that went.  It was hard for the first mile or two because I had never run such a controlled effort before and it was really difficult to keep myself from speeding up but I eventually got it under control and something miraculous happened…it felt easy.  My daily runs had never felt truly hard before, because I had never pushed the pace, but neither had they ever felt this kind of effortless ease.  I went on my normal 5 mile loop and when I was halfway through the second one, I knew I was going to make it.  My stride felt so light and energetic, I couldn’t believe it.  I finished 10 thinking I could definitely go longer and feeling amazing.  I signed up for the half that day…and my first marathon. 


The funny thing is, I’m still always tempted to do my training runs too fast.  I don’t want to do my intervals at 5k or 10k pace, I want to do them at close to max effort.  I blur the lines between steady state runs and tempo runs.  But the easy days, those are special.  I can remember so accurately the feeling of that first long run and I try my best to replicate it on all my easy runs, to remember what it feels like to truly run easy and to feel like you could do it forever and like there’s nothing you’d rather do than just keep running.  You’ve probably read the little axiom “run the hard days hard and keep your easy days truly easy.”  It’s the closest thing I have to a training philosophy these days and whenever I’m tempted to go out too hard, I remind myself that the hard days are what make gains in your fitness and the easy days are for adaptation and recovery.  If that doesn’t work, I remind myself that easy days are what restore my faith in running 😉



Did you make any big training errors when you started running?

Do you remember your first long run?

What convinced you to sign up for your first race?


43 thoughts on “How I learned to run easy

  1. I think learning to run the easy runs easy is just one of those things that people always tell you to do but you usually have to learn the hard way to actually start implementing it. Us humans are a stubborn bunch 🙂

    • It helps so much to use one of those calculator tools and see what your training paces are supposed to be. Every time I do it I’m surprised at how slow they want me to run the easy runs but they’re called “easy” for a reason!

  2. What a great memory of your first long run! I love that feeling that you could just go forever when you’re running a relaxed pace.
    I still make a big training error- I run almost all my runs at the same pace regardless of distance and bike my bikes at the same pace regardless whether they’re 20 miles or 100! I think I just love to be out there and comfortable!

    • Despite fixing it with running, I still do all my biking and swimming at the same pace…it’s so hard for me to get out of my comfort zone, especially with biking!

  3. I ran “steady” for years… and then real training started. 🙂
    For sure I remember my first long run, it was 13K/8M and I was so scared of it! Even took a GU in the middle so I wouldn’t pass out from hunger or weakness.

  4. I can totally relate, I used to just power through all my runs and I was always adding miles, never did any recovery runs. Sometimes I still do a random long run when I’m feeling excited about running and if I haven’t built up to it, I usually end up regretting it 😦

    • That’s like me and speedwork…sometimes after a base phase, I’ll decide it’s time for my first interval session in 2 months and try to go do them at my usual speed pace. Always end up super sore and/or actually close to getting physically sick on the track. Oops.

  5. Hey!! You’re awesome and I can definitely relate to this post!!
    I’ve always had lots of speed but never had much interest in racing until my husband convinced me to sign up for a few races. I’m still quite new to the sport, but am enjoying it lots!
    Recently, I talked to my parents and asked them why I never ran track in high school, etc. I held the mile record at my middle school and was always pretty speedy when I ran in the summers (to train for swimming), but…I don’t know…guess I swam year around and that was my passion.
    I’m glad I’m enjoying it now though!! XOXO!! Have a wonderful day!

    • That’s so cool that you were such a fast kid! I never ran a race or anything as a kid, but I played soccer all the way through freshman year in college so I guess I was too busy enjoying that to consider running! I’m glad I found it when I did though because now I love it 🙂 you have a great day too!!

  6. I think I undertrained a lot of my races when I started running. I had a boyfriend who ran marathons, and watching him inspired me to run races too. I should have focused on building a base in those early days, but I went straight into 5Ks and 10Ks and got a little burnt out during training. Your advice is spot-on and I need to always remind myself to mix up my effort!

    • I don’t think any of us knew what we were doing when we started! At least your runner boyfriend probably kept you from doing anything toooo crazy bad for you 😉 What is your favorite kind of run now?

  7. Your first long run sounds so peaceful! I had the opposite problem when I started. I got complacent with my current pace and scared to push myself faster. Colin convinced me to sign up for my first race. My first ever official 5k was in a triathlon and it got me hooked.

    • I was definitely scared to push harder on effort, everything was steady pace because I was terrified to go to tempo or do intervals or anything! Glad you had Colin there to get you hooked on racing 🙂

    • I think I hate it for the first mile or two but then I start enjoying how it feels to just run. I definitely have to check my watch a lot though and force myself to slow down 😉

  8. I remember doing my first “long run” my freshman year of high school. It was only 6 miles but before that most of my runs were 2-3 miles… I remember running with my teammates and just loving the whole experience. Afterwards I was sooo tired and soo hungry that I ate 6 slices of pizza at team party that night – 1 slice for each mile! lol

  9. good post! I had never really thought about this before. in my first few months of running, I increased from 1 mile to 6 miles, all at the same pace. I remember the first time I ran 6 miles (my first “long run”)–I meant to do my normal 4 mile loop, but then I got lost.
    my first race was a thanksgiving 5k that I hadn’t planned on. my family was visiting relatives, and my dad and aunt convinced me to run the 5k with them. I even had to borrow running tights and a sports bra from my cousin!

    • Oh my gosh to your unplanned 5k! I’m assuming this was before you started gradually building your running? I think a race out of nowhere would have freaked me out back before I started!

  10. I like your current training philosophy. 🙂 I’m studying to be a trainer and one thing they constantly pound into our heads is that you do not need to work at max or almost max effort every day. Even the elites only do 10% of their training at max intensity and the rest is mid or easy intensity. Although I bet the elite’s easy is our max!

    • Haha I read some elite marathoner’s running log once and wanted to cry, his easy runs were faster than my tempo runs and his “race pace” I don’t think I could hold for 400 meters so a marathon is incomprehensible!

  11. Great advice!!! And it sounds like you made a lot of the same dumb mistakes I did when I started – increasing mileage without regard to any kind of build up. We were morons, haha! I had always run 5k’s, but never anything further until my sister talked me in to joining her for our first marathon. I mad a lot of other mistakes – wrong shoes, wrong clothes, wrong lack of cross training, wrong everything. I’m much smarter now. 😉

    • Haha yep I did all of that, ran in a worn out pair of xtraining nikes, no clue about paces or mileage, went out in approximately 8 more layers than necessary… Ahhhh, newbie runners 🙂

  12. That’s amazing that you progressed so quickly to a 6:50 pace for a steady effort run! I ran for a long time (probably until this year if I’m being honest) doing steady effort runs. I’ve just started doing speedwork and slowing my pace for long runs and it has really helped. I hit my goal of a sub 2 hour half this spring and ran several races while staying injury free!

    • I totally agree, being careful with your paces is SO important to avoid injury or overtraining! I wish I had figured it out sooner 😉 Congrats on hitting your big goal, that’s amazing!

  13. Fantastic post. Really enjoyed reading it. Mistake I made early on was over striding. Ended up getting a lot of ITB pains. Worked on foot strike and general stride and that is pretty much gone. First long run was 8 miles, it was brutal lol. Fiancé signed us up for our first race, I figured I was in pretty good shape so I was good to go, first race got me hooked.

    • How long was the first race you guys did? I definitely already had the running bug but I don’t think I enjoyed racing as much until my 3rd or 4th race, now I love it!

  14. I am terrible at going out too strong and ending with positive splits. I have a difficult time focusing on smart training instead of just getting the mileage in. It’s a daily struggle!

  15. You just described me exactly. Over the past couple months I’ve worked a lot on slowing it down for training runs. It was so tough! Today was a prime example of what the effortless easy run though. I had a 6 mile on my schedule (which turned into 6.2) went out super relaxed in the beginning and then when I got to the last bit which was mostly downhill I was just gliding along and it felt so great.

    My first race was years ago when I didn’t care about running at all and was just doing a 5K for the charity, but my first race since I started actually caring about all this was a 10K last July that I signed up for because I wanted to race, but wanted something a little more difficult than a 5K. Then I ended up signing up for my first half before I even ran the 10K. I like to get ahead of myself.

    • I totally get ahead of myself too…no 5k or 10k, straight to signing up for a half and full the same day and running them a month apart. When I eventually ran a shorter race, I was kicking myself a little for not going there first as a confidence booster but nope, I like to make things hard for myself 😉

  16. I knew nothing when I started running! I remember I would read Runner’s world and ignore most of the advice…things like foam rolling and core strength, I was like why would I do that? I thought I was invincible because I had never been injured. And I then I started getting injured…surprise surprise! It was a huge wake up call and then I actually started listening to advice about running!

    • Me too! After I got injured the first time, I started inhaling all this running advice and realized just how stupid I had been and I completely changed my training around when I was able to get back into it. I’m just amazed I lasted more than a year without injury with everything I was doing wrong!

  17. I, too, love this post! I am a big treadmill runner and I actually feel guilty if I do not run at the same pace/5 days a week which really leaves no room for an easy run. This often leaves me feeling fatigued and I end up really only enjoying my Monday run. Hopefully this can help “restore my faith in running.” A big thanks 🙂

    • It’s so easy to feel bad about your pace when you run slower, that’s what tripped me up about easy days too. It took a while to accept that running slower on easy days would help me run faster in general…I still struggle with it but it’s the results that have made it worth it! 😉

  18. My first race was a half marathon – no half measures here. And I had no idea what I was doing pace wise. Next time round I varied my paces as I’d read somewhere that if you really make your hard days hard then you’ll have to take your easy days super easy.

  19. OMG I have such a hard time forcing myself to take those easy runs, easy. Because my fast pace is slow to begin with, I always feel guilty during my easy runs- like, you need to be running faster to get faster (even though I know the easy runs are there for a reason). It’s such a mental battle for me, especially when all those speedsters pass me!

    Lol my running mistake was waking up one morning and deciding to just run 5 miles after no running at all. And then a week later doing 10…idiot, I was.

  20. Running easy on off days is a vital part of recovery and longevity. I used to bust out 5:30 pace for ALL of my runs thinking that my body was more efficient and could recover faster than others…nope. Everyone needs some down time and running a relaxed pace allows you to enjoy the surroundings.

    If you, or any of your running followers, would like some personal coaching on how to maximize your workouts and take minutes of your PR, just shoot me an email. I am an elite distance runner and I love coaching. No charge or anything, I just enjoy working with athletes to see them reach their potential!

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