Brett and Nick are fast runners. Both can run 5:00 pace for the marathon. Both are National Champions and both were part of an Olympic Development Team I coached a few years ago. When I set up the team, the idea was to get guys training together on a daily basis, not just on workout days but everyday. I envisioned a pack of guys putting in the work on the high altitude trails of Flagstaff.
Soon though, I started to notice the pack would often split apart on easy runs, not always but often enough for me to take notice. Nick would be with the “fast” group and Brett would be with the “slow” group. At first, I was frustrated since this was counter to my idea of team training but soon I realized a very, very important point. Training pace on easy runs is just as unique as how a runner responds to and adapts from different types of fast workouts.
I often talk about runners being more like Endurance Monsters or Speedsters and that their key workout selection and sequencing must be modified based on these traits. Knowing your type means you can choose key workouts that best fit your type and thus get more from your training plan. From my experience with the pro team, it’s important to recognize that there are also individual characteristics when it comes to easy runs. Runners tend to be either fast or slow trainers and both are okay.
Over time, I’ve noticed this fast trainer/slow trainer phenomenon with male and female, young and old, fast and less fast runners. For some, it’s simply in their nature (physically and psychologically) to run at the fast end of the easy run pace range from the McMillan Calculator. Others feel better on the slower end. (Look at your easy run paces from recent runs and see how they compare to the recommended paces from the McMillan Calculator. You’ll quickly see if you are a fast trainer or a slow trainer.)
You may have experienced this difference in training speed in your training group. Even with runners who race at the same level (like Brett and Nick who can race within a minute of each other in the marathon), you may find a few that seem to always be at the front of the group wanting to go a bit faster on easy runs and others that seem to be close to falling off the back of the pack all the time.
It’s easy to think that the fast trainers are getting more benefit than the slow trainers but this is not the case. What I realized and I encourage you to realize is that how you train on your easy runs is as unique to you as your signature stride that friends can spot a mile away. If you find yourself naturally at the faster end of the recommended pace range for easy runs and you feel fine and are performing well, then you are probably a fast trainer. You’ll feel more comfortable at the fast end of the easy run pace range and it will work the best for you.
If, however, your nature is to run a bit slower – in the middle or slower end of the easy run pace range, then you are probably a slow trainer. This is where you should stick if this is your tendency. Again, there is no right or wrong with either approach. But, what I’ve witnessed in my coaching is that there is a right or wrong for each runner. If you are a fast trainer and suddenly try to slow down on all your easy runs then you will likely feel sluggish and not perform well in future workouts and races. Likewise, if you are a slow trainer and you try to speed up on all your easy runs, then you’ll also feel a growing tiredness and will not perform well in the future.
As always, running is an experiment of one and this idea of fast trainer vs. slow trainer is really key to the jigsaw puzzle that is your optimal training regimen. Know yourself and work with your nature not against it. And know your training partners. If your regular training partner isn’t your “type,” then be very mindful of this when you train so you don’t always get stuck in a pattern that doesn’t match your type.
Sure, you can always run with any runner and there will be some days when a fast trainer is really tired and runs slower on an easy run or a slow trainer feels good and runs a little faster but my experience has been that on the bulk of your easy runs, you should stick with the type of training that comes natural to you.
On paper, Brett and Nick are very similar but from a coach’s view, they couldn’t have been more different from the type of training they needed to reach their potential. Understand yourself, work with not against your nature, and your performances will soar, just as Brett and Nick’s did.
Unsure of your type or want a fun experiment in training (perfect for the off season)? For two weeks, run on the fast end of the easy run pace range on all of your easy runs. See how you feel. Do you feel overly tired or do you feel faster and fitter? Then, for two weeks, run on the slow end of the easy run pace range. How do you feel? Do you feel more rested and perform better in your key/fast workouts or do you feel sluggish and less fit? You may learn something about yourself that will inform your future training.
Your Individualized McMillan Training Plan
I’ve released all my training plans and you can find them here. Using my McMillan Training Plan Recommendation widget, you will quickly get my recommendation for the best plan for you. It will take into account your runner level, runner type, current training/racing fitness and your goal. Your new plan will integrate (and advance) your McMillan training paces so you are always training optimally and includes my injury-proofing prehab routines so you build a strong runner’s body. You can even upgrade to my Run Team and I’ll be there with you every step of the way. Either way, you’ll love training on a scientifically-based, proven plan that is individualized for you and your unique traits.