The Art of Running Slowly

The story so far

Having been running now since June/July 2017 I’ve really got to the point of enjoying my running.  Towards the end of 2018 I was going out running regularly, probably 4/5 times a week.  3 times during the week and trying to put in a long run on a weekend day.  This was invariably a Sunday.  It’s what you do as a runner isn’t it?  Short runs and a long run on a weekend!  So I was doing what I was meant to.  The thing was that although I might have been running with a ‘program’ I wasn’t quite sure what the program was telling me to do.  It would say go and run an ‘easy’ run or go and run a ‘tempo’ run, and do it for about 30 minutes.  great.  I assume ‘tempo’ runs are faster than ‘easy’ runs, but by how much.  I read a few websites and saw reference to running to a percentage of maximum effort.  Gee thanks, that helps.  it might sound straight forward but I really don’t think to the untrained, and aspiring runner, that this is at all easy to judge.  Like, what is the difference between 70 and 80% effort meant to feel like!  What I tended to do was go out running and almost certainly end up putting in runs of fairly similar efforts, all probably harder than they should be.  I remember most runs I would feel like I had out myself through it.  I would come back knackered from a 45minute 10K or a 60 minute 13Km run.  all runs ended up feeling as much effort at the end as each other.

To be honest, I kind of assumed that the only way to get better at running was to try hard every single time you go out.  Leave everything out there, take no prisoners, if you aren’t hurting then you aren’t trying!

I read an article in the RunnersWorld mag that mentioned about aerobic and anaerobic efforts.  It sort of made a bit of sense…

Making the change

Around the same time as reading the article I had been lucky enough to treat myself to a new toy.  The most amazing of watches (my opinion – other watchers might be just as good or better, but probably not 😉 ), a Garmin Fenix 5.  This watch could do everything, record and provide feedback on data I didn’t know I needed or wanted.  Not to mention data I simply had no idea how to understand!  The watch though would give me information about aerobic and anaerobic effort.  Ooh, I’ve read something about that …

So being armed with this new information – that I had limited understanding about, I started to make comment about it online in my training posts.  It seemed that I should be looking to improve my aerobic training impact.  I think that’s what I wanted to do anyway (I told you I barely understood!).

I started to get some really useful comments back and feedback, with some being very positive about the training, but I also got a few comments, suggesting that this was something people started to take note of once they started 80/20 running (shrugs shoulders and points palms up to sky).  Whatever that is.

Now I’ll be honest.  I am a quick adopter of new ideas, and often as quick to change my mind and give them up.  god knows how I managed to keep running towards 2 years now!!

So, step 1:

I googled 80/20 running and got a whole host of websites and pages.  I also found the facebook group 80/20 running.  Now there are lots of advocates of the concept (under various names and descriptions).  But the general concept is to put in low effort in the majority (around 80%) of your running, and only put significant effort into the remaining training (20%).  Doing that will make you a better runner.

So, let me put this straight in my mind, the key to being a better runner; to being a faster, more competent runner; capable of endurance and short runs, is to run slowly !?!  I must admit I just didn’t get that.

step 2:

I joined the 80/20 running facebook page:

80/20 running – Facebook group

step 3:

I bought a book which seemed to be popular amongst facebook and web page bloggers:

step 4:

and I found the associated website:


the website has great information accompanying the book, especially training plans etc.

I got the book out, a cup of tea and started to read.  I got another cup of tea, some digestives and a bourbon and kept on going.



What I changed and what happened

I decided that the idea, once explained made a bit more sense.  Its just about building condition and capability within your body.  Doing it slowly so your body can make small steps towards a more efficient machine.  being more efficient then means it can do more with less.  Put in another way, but letting your body build up slowly it gets the opportunity to slowly grow and build and become better at what you are trying to get it to do.  It then becomes better at it, allowing you to achieve more with a consistent level of effort.

Now the obvious point is that this isn’t an overnight thing.  The bit that is tricky to get your head around is that you could go out and run a 10Km 5 times and push hard every time, getting a PB time after time.  the problem is that your body finds it harder to learn when you are pushing it to it’s limits.  This apparent improvement in many will be limited.  your body will soon reach a point of not being able to get any better/faster.  By taking a step back and reverting to this 80/20 concept you will make most runs slower than you could, but over time your body becomes better conditioned and more accustomed to the efforts.  It eventually starts to be easier to achieve a consistent result, or on the flip side, you can achieve more with a consistent effort.  Keeping this theory means you should find your body is likely to achieve more eventually, and you are less likely to strain, stress or injure yourself on the ay there as you won’t be hammering yourself every time you go out.

Methods of measuring effort

This varies and a number of options are out there.  My preference is heart rate.  Its a good indicator of how much effort you are putting in.  There are various methods to set what are called heart rate zones which then map to ‘effort’ zones.

You can use a variety of scales but my preference, and one that fits nicely with Garmin kit is to use 5 zones.

– Zone 1: Warm Up – 0-60% max heart rate

– Zone 2: Easy – 60-70% max heart rate

– Zone 3: Aerobic – 70-80% max heart rate

– Zone 4: Threshold – 80-90% max heart rate

– Zone 5: Maximum – 90-100% max heart rate


To calculate your maximum heart rate you can use various tests, or some sports watches will do it for you, but a good guid is 220 – your age.  Its an estimate and not always perfect but a good start.

If you can, there are tests you can run from various apps/fitness devices that work out your heart rate zones for you using a physical test and reading your heart rate etc.  But the estimate works well enough!

Variety is the spice of running

The additional feature of using the 80/20 book above is that it has some great structured training plans for various distances and levels of runner.

As I mentioned earlier, my runs used to be mixed with easy or tempo or whatever, but I never knew how to measure if I was doing just that.  By using heart rate I can use the heart rate zones to measure when I am working easy (Zone 1 or 2), moderate (Zone 3) and high effort (Zone 4 and 5).

Indeed, the training plans available within the 80/20 book and online set workouts using the hear rate zone as a measure workout parameter.  i.e run for 5 minutes zone 1, then 5 minutes zone 2, then 20 minutes zone 3 …

This basically means you can build a whole set of various runs, workouts and challenges around various heart rate zone patterns and durations.  mixing long slow runs with short high effort runs, with recovery and warm up and cool downs.

I instantly found this helpful.  I like a bit of form to what I do so I can measure if I am doing things right.  The theory behind 80/20 running made sense to me , and the training plans were built to fulfil the theory – that sounded perfect to me.  This I could follow, this I could work to.

I plan to put together a list of different run types, some explanations and descriptions and ideas as to when to use etc in a further post on the page so check back later or follow to get notified of further updates 😁

The results

Well I’m still doing it so results are ongoing, but so far so good.  There are a few things I have found about running through this approach.

  • I always have a purpose to my run reflected in the effort I run at, this makes all runs seem worthwhile and valuable and provides motivation to go out and do them
  • I have really enjoyed the high effort runs (short intervals etc) as I have a real framework to run to, I have found my sprint times really improve with 90second intervals now achievable at around 3min 20sec per Km, something I never anticipated possible
  • The overall program structure has motivated me to run more, 2019 has been by far the best mileage year so far (for the equivalent amount of the year that is) with weekly distances covered often well over 50Km
  • Running this way when there is a community of people out there doing the same has provided more motivation and feeling of support
  • I have found it helps support injury recovery.  Having injured my knee in Feb, I took a few days off and then used the principled of 80.20 running when coming back to it.  It was greatly effective and when I got back on the road I had a 3 week running streak of going out every day and quickly got back to over 50Km per week, being able to run the Big Half in March and Brighton Marathon in April without problems from the injury


So overall I’m still on the journey of 80/20 running and that journey looks to continue well into the distance, probably going forever.  In the early days I had to put my self perceived idea of success to one side and trust the approach was going to work.

I think this works, Im really pleased with how things have progressed and I feel I have reason to run, reason to follow the plan and am enjoying what I do.

Good luck in your running journeys!!!


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