How slow is too slow?

  • Creator
  • #7484

    Recently I have seen some training programs of some
    top marathon runners and oftentimes training runs
    are classified simply as “easy” or “moderate” or “hard”.

    This made me wonder about the meaning of “easy” or “slow”.

    There is “regeneration” pace which can probably be very very
    slow since the sole purpose is to speed up recovery from
    other training. But the meaning of “slow” is more vague to me.
    Presuming that anything below aerobic threshold (AeT) can be
    considered slow, there’s different degrees of slow. Let’s say
    that AeT is at 82% of HRmax and say you have a 3hr “easy”
    training session. You can now do this 3hr session at
    81% of HRmax or at 70% of HRmax. While in theory both
    intensity would be “easy” or “slow”, in my experience they
    would have different feel and very different fatigue levels
    after the training.

    So, how do we distinguish between different levels of “slow”?
    In running, there’s no point going slower than some pace, but
    I am not sure if this is true for mountain running or
    cross-country skiing.

  • Participant
    maxf on #7485

    No idea if this is what you are ‘meant’ to do, but…

    I estimate my top of z1 around 140, z2 around 150.

    I typically run one z2 60 min session around 140-150

    Another 2 or so 60-90 min or so at around 130-140 (hills dependent)

    Then I try to do a longer effort 2-4 hours which usually is more walking and ends up around 120-130. Hikes typically go way lower especially when walking downhill, but its all time out on the legs I

    recovery runs/ cycles etc try to keep about 100-120

    Anonymous on #7486

    Hey xcskier,

    The important thing to remember with adjective-based intensities is that they are all relative, never absolute. They may be relative to max, to anaerobic threshold, to aerobic threshold, or to race pace, but they’re always relative to something.

    Also, different schools of thought may use the same adjective for different intensities, so it’s great that you’ve thought to clarify this.

    In your post, you mentioned “regeneration” paces. That makes me think that you’ve been reading some Renato Canova? If so, Canova uses “slow” to describe 80-85% of aerobic threshold.

    When in doubt, go slower!

    I hope that helps.

    Scott S.

    P.S. @maxf: Heart rates are like fingerprints; they’re only relevant to the individual. It’s impossible to apply accurate heart rate prescriptions to different people.

    maxf on #7490

    Interesting reply Scott!

    And yes of course, my numbers wont match someone else. I guess I was just trying to illustrate that within ‘slow’ I will typically train at a few different paces through the week, depending on the length of the workout.

    Anonymous on #7497

    I should have said, “When in doubt, go easier.”

    Although “slow” is often used, again, it’s relative to an athlete’s reference point. Although tedious at first, those “slow” paces will stop being slow, although they’ll still feel easy.

    Long Slow Distance should really be called Long Easy Distance.

    xcskier on #7500

    In your post, you mentioned “regeneration” paces. That makes me think that you’ve been reading some Renato Canova? If so, Canova uses “slow” to describe 80-85% of aerobic threshold.

    In skiing, people also go for easy “regeneration” skiing in the afternoon after hard morning
    session or a race. You just want to be moving, so it’s even easier/slower than “easy”.

    Since you mentioned Canova, I just came across this marathon training article:

    Training for a Sub 2:05 Marathon

    where the money quote is:

    “What does a 2-hour easy run have to do with the marathon? Nothing.”
    Renato does not understand why anyone training to run a fast marathon would do long easy runs. It is not specific to the marathon in any way. Following the Golden Rule of Canova, to achieve your best race-day performance, you must practice running at or around goal race pace for long periods of time. A 30-mile trail run up a mountain will get you in good general shape; it won’t, however, make you a faster marathoner.

    I understand the theory behind going easy and it makes sense, but if you are an
    elite athlete (ie, well trained for years) there surely must be a
    point where going too easy doesn’t have much benefit, if any. Going “too slow”
    may not hurt you, but it may not have any benefit either.

    Anonymous on #7503

    For race-specific training, yes, that’s true.

    But even Canova’s athletes put in most of their time in the easy range to support their race-specific training. There’s a log online somewhere of Moses Mosop’s training before his 2:03 marathon. 80+% of his time was in this easy zone.

    Anonymous on #7504

    Here’s the page with Mosop’s training schedule before Boston 2011:

    If you scroll down and click on the “relative paces” link, you’ll see his training with paces converted relative to race pace. Since the event was over two hours, I think it’s safe to assume that, although blistering fast, race pace for Mosop is pretty darn close to AeT (~2 mM).

    If you look at the pace descriptions at the top of the “relative paces” page, Easy is 49-68% of AeT and Moderate is 68-78% of AeT.

    If you find your AeT and then run those percentages of the pace (either by speed or HR), you’ll find that they are super easy paces.

    Looking at Mosop’s calendar, you can see that most of his hours are in the Easy and Moderate category.

    Anonymous on #7542

    I couldn’t resist.

    I went through the Mosop pre-Boston training schedule and converted all of the workouts to minutes-per-intensity to find out exactly how much time Mosop spent where.

    Here are the statistics:

    Easy 49-68% 100h 02m 57%
    Moderate 68-78% 36h 00m 21%
    Sub-AeT 79-100% 33h 21m 19%
    Super-AeT 100+% 5h 43m 3%
    TOTAL 175h 05m

    In three and a half months leading up to a marathon PR of 2:03, Mosop only trained above AeT for less than six hours. The six hours were spread over nine workouts.

    Recovery intervals during hard workouts were assigned to their respective zones of intensity. So only the actual high-end work was assigned to the super-AeT zone, not the entire workout.

    I find this amazing for a couple reasons: First, only 3% of his volume was super-AeT; 97% was below AeT. Second, the vast majority of his volume (78%) was spent on easy and moderate training.

    To be fair, I suspect that Mosop’s AeT and AnT are very close together, perhaps only a 30″/km difference. That being the case, the stress for him to train in the sub-AeT zone would be much higher than it would be for the rest of us mortals.

    xcskier on #7610

    If you look at the pace descriptions at the top of the “relative paces” page, Easy is 49-68% of AeT and Moderate is 68-78% of AeT.

    Hmmm, I am puzzled by this. 50% of AeT is slow walking pace.

    For top marathon runners, their marathon pace is at AeT (so 100% of AeT).
    Many top runners don’t go below 80% of AeT unless it’s a regeneration.
    Even then due to running biomechanics going slower than some pace is
    actually more effort (and therefore harder).

    Stephen Seiler analyzed Kipchoge’s published training before 2017 Berlin marathon
    in terms of intensity:

    It’s about 70% “easy” and 30% hard(er).

    Anonymous on #7614

    I’m just the messenger…

    One thing to consider about comparing the percentages is that Seiler quantified the breakdown using sessions. Mine is by the minute.

    So the ratios are not apples to apples. If done by the minute, then Seiler’s ratios would be closer to mine. I’m not saying they would be identical–Mosop and Kipchoge have different coaches–but Seiler’s numbers overstate the actual minutes of high intensity workload and understate the low intensity.

    Also, I’m not saying that Canova’s methods are the only way. They are just obviously very effective. As are Sang’s (Kipchoge’s coach).

    On a personal note, I tried increasing the polarization in my own training last summer by doing a lot of ridiculously-easy volume. It had a very positive impact. I’m faster overall.

    xcskier on #7633

    I definitely agree with you about the benefit of slow/easy training.
    But going back to my original question, I haven’t seen a good
    explanation of what “slow” or “easy” means or how easy is too easy.
    Those are very fluffy terms and I guess that’s where the art of coaching
    comes in. So, maybe there’s no solid agreement or definition of it.

    Seiler’s polarized training analysis says that 80% of *sessions* are
    easy (below AeT or VT1). In terms of *time*, the distribution is 90% of
    time is easy.

    I looked at Kipchoge’s training before Berlin’s marathon.
    His marathon pace (MP) is 2:55/km (say that’s 100% of MP or AeT)

    His “easy” runs were at about 4:00/km which is very very slow,
    37% slower than his marathon pace.

    His “easy / moderate” runs were between 3:45/km to 3:26/km which
    is 17% to 30% slower than his marathon pace.

    His “moderate” runs were at about 3:22/km – 3:25/km which is
    about 15% to 17% slower than his marathon pace.

    His long “tempo” runs (40km long) were at 3:16/km which is
    about 12% slower than his marathon pace.

    All his “hard” sessions were in the range of 2:45/km (6% faster than his MP)
    to about 3:00/km (3% slower than his MP). He did have some 400m (in 62s/400m = 2:35/km)
    repeats that were about 11% faster than his MP.

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