Easy days running feeling hard

Why aren’t my easy days feeling easy?

More specifically, the question was,

“Once well into the plan do your easy runs truly feel easy?”

This was asked by one of our Facebook group members and I believe that he was hinting that his workouts were ok, but the easy runs were now an issue of being stiff, sore, and sluggish. As others noted in their response, they felt like it took miles to warm up and shake these feelings, at least to an extent. These are big concerns, for sure, especially if you’ve never been in this situation before. It could be easy to confuse hard training with going overboard. Is feeling like this normal with marathon training?

The short answer is, YES! This is completely normal. Those easy days following a big workout can be brutal. If you were to look at my training logs, it would be common to see an easy day following a workout day that looked like: 8:00/mile, 7:45, 7:30, then 7:00 pace or faster the rest of the way. When I was at peak training volume, there’d be about a 6 week block that could be really tough for the psyche if I were to judge my marathon capabilities by the drop in pace of my easy runs.

Some noted that the easy days were harder than the workout days. I can definitely attest to that. We are more likely to be “in the zone” for the workouts. We may pay a little more attention to diet, hydration, and fueling during the workouts. Our adrenaline is higher and it’s a bigger deal, right? Meanwhile, we often just go through the motions of the easy days. If you find yourself in this position, then I can only say one thing- Welcome to cumulative fatigue! This is where the magic happens, but it’s also a time to be diligent and not drift into overtraining. Easy runs slowing down is one thing, but workouts taking a hit are another.

So, how do we combat this?

Unfortunately, there is no magic pill here, but we can address the symptoms a little bit.

  1. Be on point with recovery nutrition/hydration. That stiffness and soreness means that there is tissue damage. It can’t repair without the right fuel in the right volumes.
  2. If I do a workout in the morning, then in the evening I’ll do some foam rolling. The hours between should be sent making sure you are getting the fluids and fuel you need to stimulate that recovery process. The work being done won’t lead to adaptations- it’s the recovery between the work that leads to the adaptations. My foam rolling won’t be super hard, but we’ll flush things out and work on trouble spots. For me, it’s calves, quads, and hip flexors.
  3. I’ll do a dynamic warm up before my run. This might be as simple as a few bodyweight squats and leg swings. Just something to open up the range of motion and bridge the gap between rolling out of bed and going for a run. That’s a big shock to the body. Check out the complete routines in the book. These don’t have to be long- just a couple minutes. Don’t expect a miracle here, but it can shorten up the warm up period to maybe a mile instead of 2-3 miles.

The last thing I will say about this is that being in this space isn’t bad. To me, it means you are in a place where you are challenging yourself beyond your normal comfort zone. This is where growth happens, if monitored correctly. You do need to be diligent here and not drift past this zone and into an overtraining zone. Again, your biggest indicator here would be decreased performances across the board. Also, being stiff and sore is fine and we can lessen these. However, if you are in a position where you have sharp pains, limp, or pain gets worse as you run, then it’s time to take a step back and get some answers. These signs are all classic of an actual injury. Overall, welcome to the hard training club. Recognize the differences between this and the signs of being hurt to ease your fears. Don’t let the details be an afterthought as these will help you strive during the weeks of hard workouts. The payoff, when kept into the are of cumulative fatigue, is resilience, toughness, and ability to grind it out if need be during tough spots. Those are the things that lead to big breakthroughs. Hope that helps!