Gear-obsessed editors choose every product we review. We may earn commission if you buy from a link. How we test gear.

Running Easy Makes Hard Running Feel Way Easier—Here’s How

Nike Run Club’s Head Coach Chris Bennett explains how running easy when you need to allows you to run hard when you want to.

Smiling group of friends running together
Thomas BarwickGetty Images

I didn’t plan for the run to suck. But it did. I was low on motivation. The winter in Oregon can have that effect on people. It basically drizzles for seven months straight. It’s not rain. It’s more like the clouds are aggressively spitting on you, every day, for months. And this late afternoon five-miler was looking to be yet another chilly, puddle jumping, head lamp-wearing kind of run.

I started out feeling sluggish, and over the course of the run, had worked myself up to merely heavy. My legs were glassy early on and had improved (or worsened) to rubbery by the time I finished. Did I mention that I was low on motivation? Well, I was also damp. That’s another thing about the winter here. You’re always damp. Not wet. Just damp.

This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

I’ve been coaching for over a decade, and the question I get more than any other question is, “Are you really from New Jersey? Because you don’t sound like you’re from New Jersey.” But the second most common question I get is, “How do I start running?”

It’s a simple—and yes, a loaded—question. Because the question is really code for “How do I do this run so I can end it wanting to run again?” And that’s really just another way of asking “How can I run without absolutely hating it?” Luckily, simple questions deserve simple answers. And the answer to all these questions is easy. Literally. The answer is easy. Run easy. An Easy Run is not a slow run. It’s an easy run. And yes, language matters. You may just call it a run. That’s all an Easy Run is. It’s just your normal, everyday, out-the-door run. It’s not a tempo run, a long run, or a speed run. Easy is not a pace or a distance. Easy is an effort. It is unique to the runner and the run.

And the purpose of an Easy Run is to…run easy! (Honest marketing!) You do Easy Runs so you can recover for or from a harder run. You do these runs to develop the habit of running consistently, and to build strength and endurance. You do them to reclaim some peace and joy that you may have lost during the day, to relieve stress and anxiety. You do Easy Runs because they make you a better runner. They make you a better person. How could anyone not want to do a run that accomplishes all that?

Easy is not a sign of weakness, yet oddly enough, easy is really hard for runners to do. We’ve been taught that running is supposed to be hard. We’ve been told that easy running is not “real” running. We’ve been conditioned to start our runs too hard, and therefore we’ve experienced too many runs that ended too early because the run became too much, and that left us feeling—well, not too good. And when every run ends with us feeling like failures, we just stop starting runs.

Too often we look at numbers as the only benchmarks for success. How fast did I go? How far? In what amount of time? Don’t get me wrong. I love numbers; I’m a run-nerd. But the real reason I’ve been able to run as long as I have and still love it is because I measure the success of a run in as many ways as possible.

Since the Easy Run is the run you will do more than any other, it is also where you have the most opportunities to find success. Did you enjoy your Easy Run after a really tough day at work? Were you able to get through an Easy Run that was mentally difficult? Did you have fun trying a new route on an Easy Run day? Each of those questions holds the potential for success. And none of those answers rely on the numbers on your watch. We sabotage our Easy Runs when we attach specific numbers to them. The pace that feels easy one day may not feel quite as easy on another. All goals for Easy Runs (and training plans in general) should not be set in stone; they should be flexible.

[Smash your goals with a Runner’s World Training Plan, designed for any speed and any distance.]

Few people—especially new or haughty runners—truly grasp this, but better Easy Running actually leads to better hard running. How do you feel? How does this feel? How did that feel? These are the most important questions you can ask yourself before, during, and after your runs. We can sometimes forget that great running is dependent first and foremost on great recovery. And your Easy Runs are when you can both increase your fitness and still recover, so you can take on that next hard effort. You won’t be able to run hard when you want to unless you run easy when you need to.

This is extra important during marathon training, when your mileage sharply increases, while your motivation can wane. As your totals creep up, it’s easy to push too hard. But 70 to 80 percent of your mileage should end with you not struggling. Seventy to 80 percent of your mileage should be done easy.

As for my struggle through that damp 5-miler? Well, I worked up from feeling sluggish to merely heavy. I finished the run. I looked at my watch. The average pace was slower than I thought it would be. The distance covered was less than planned. It ended just as it started: sucky. And yet, I smiled. I knew what I was supposed to do. I knew the purpose of my run. I didn’t run slow even though the run felt like it took forever. I didn’t run hard even though the run was hard to do. I ran Easy. I nailed that run! And I realized: It’s not always easy to finish a run…but it always feels good to finish an Easy Run.

Quality Over Quantity

Coach Jerry Schumacher once gave me some powerful advice: One of the best ways to measure improvement in your fitness is to see if you can run faster easy days. But he stressed that higher-quality easy days should not come at the expense of recovery. If you’re not recovering, you’re running too hard. One way to approach it: Don’t set minimum distances or paces for your Easy Runs. Sometimes, a shorter run at a more relaxed pace is what you need to achieve the real purpose of the run. And sometimes, no run just happens to be the best run.

Plus, research backs up the case for the Easy Run: One study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that runners’ performance improved more when they incorporated very relaxed-pace runs—you might even call them “junk miles”—compared with when they performed more training at a higher intensity—near lactate threshold—over five months.

This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
More From Start Running