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Are You A Fast Trainer or A Slow Trainer?

Determining whether you're a faster or slower trainer is key to solving the jigsaw puzzle that is your optimal training regimen.

Brett Gotcher and Nick Arciniaga are fast runners. Both can run 5:00 pace for the marathon. Both are national champions and both were part of the Olympic Development team I coached a few years ago.

When I set up the team, the idea was to get a group of runners training together on a daily basis—not just on workout days, but every day—on the high altitude trails of Flagstaff, Ariz.

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. Soon though, 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 selection of key workouts and sequencing must be modified based on these traits. Knowing what type of runner you are means you can choose key workouts that best suit your needs, thus allowing you to get more from your training.

RELATED: How Fast Should You Run?

It’s important to recognize there are also individual characteristics that must be taken into account when it comes to easy runs. Runners tend to be either “fast” or “slow” trainers—and both types are okay! Over time, I’ve noticed this “fast” trainer/”slow” trainer phenomenon with professional and amateur age-group runners, males and females, and athletes of all ages. For some, it’s simply in their nature, physically and psychologically, to run at the fast end of the easy run pace range in the McMillan Calculator while others feel better on the slower end.

You may have experienced this amongst your own training partners. Even with runners who race at the same level, there will always be some who want to go a bit faster on easy runs while others always seem to be close to falling off the back of the pack.

It’s easy to think that the faster trainers are getting more benefit than the slower ones, but this isn’t the case at all. The pace you run on your easy days is as unique to you as the signature stride your friends can spot from a mile away.

RELATED: The Benefits of Passive Energy Production For Runners

There is no right or wrong with either approach, but there is a right or wrong for each runner. If you are a faster trainer and forcefully try to slow down on all your easy runs, it’s likely you’ll feel sluggish in upcoming workouts and races. Likewise, if you are a slower trainer and you try to speed up on all your easy runs, you’ll experience growing fatigue which will most certainly affect performance.

As the great running philosopher George Sheehan wrote, “We are each an experiment of one.” Determining whether you’re a “fast” or “slow” trainer is key to solving the jigsaw puzzle that is your optimal training regimen. Know yourself and work with your nature, not against it. If your regular training partner isn’t your “type,” be very mindful of this and don’t always get stuck in a pattern that doesn’t suit your needs.

There will be some days when a faster trainer is really tired and runs slower on an easy run, while a slower trainer might feel good and run a little faster from time to time. There is no problem with either of these scenarios, but on most of your easy days you should stick with the pace that comes most naturally to you.

On paper, Brett and Nick are very similar runners but from a coach’s perspective, the type of training they needed to reach their potential couldn’t have been any more different. Understand yourself and your performances will soar just as Brett and Nick’s did.

RELATED: If You Run Slow, Who Cares?

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About The Author: 

Greg McMillan, M.S. provides training plans and online coaching for runners of all abilities through his website www.mcmillanrunning.com. Outside Magazine calls his McMillan Running Calculator the “Best Running Calculator” and his latest book, YOU (Only Faster), continues to receive rave reviews from runners and coaches.