Understanding the Science behind Running Slower to Run Faster

Ask a runner how to run faster, and they will likely say ‘just speed up a bit!’. Whilst this is not inherently wrong – after all the principle of specificity1 does apply – runners often struggle to realise that running slower to run faster is actually the way forward. To comprehend why training slowly can lead to faster running times, it’s essential to delve into the physiological mechanisms at play. When you run at a moderate to high intensity, your body primarily relies on anaerobic metabolism2, which produces energy without oxygen. This type of energy production is effective for short bursts of activity but is not sustainable for longer distances.

On the other hand, running at a slower pace predominantly engages aerobic metabolism, where your muscles utilise oxygen to produce energy. By training at a slower pace, you effectively strengthen your aerobic energy system, enhancing your body’s ability to utilise oxygen more efficiently. This improvement in aerobic capacity lays a solid foundation for faster running speeds over longer distances.

Building Running Endurance

One of the most significant benefits of training slowly is the development of endurance. Endurance is the ability to sustain prolonged physical activity, and it plays a crucial role in improving running speed. When you train at a lower intensity, you can run for longer durations without experiencing fatigue. This extended duration of aerobic exercise gradually builds your endurance, allowing you to cover more ground without tiring as quickly.

Endurance serves as a fundamental building block for speed. By increasing your capacity to maintain a steady pace over extended periods, you create a solid platform from which to launch faster running efforts. Without a strong aerobic base, attempts to run at higher speeds can quickly lead to exhaustion and diminished performance.

Enhancing Running Efficiency

Another advantage of training slowly is the enhancement of running mechanics and efficiency. Running at a slower pace enables you to focus on form and technique without the distraction of pushing your limits. This deliberate practice allows you to fine-tune your stride, cadence, and posture, optimising your running mechanics for maximum efficiency.

Efficient running mechanics are essential for achieving higher speeds while minimising energy expenditure. When you run with proper form, you waste less energy on unnecessary movements, allowing you to maintain faster speeds for longer periods. By ingraining efficient movement patterns through slow-paced training, you set the stage for significant improvements in running speed when you ramp up the intensity.

Preventing Running Injuries

Training slowly also plays a vital role in injury prevention. Running at a moderate to high intensity places significant stress on your muscles, joints, and connective tissues, increasing the risk of overuse injuries such as stress fractures, tendonitis, and muscle strains. Conversely, training at a slower pace reduces the impact forces and stress on your body, giving your muscles and joints time to adapt and strengthen gradually.

In addition, slow-paced training allows for proper recovery between workouts, reducing the likelihood of overtraining and burnout. Adequate rest and recovery are crucial for tissue repair and adaptation, ensuring that you can sustain your training regimen over the long term without succumbing to injury or fatigue.

People running slower to run faster

Implementing Slow-Paced Running Training

Incorporating slow-paced training into your routine doesn’t mean abandoning higher-intensity workouts altogether. Instead, it involves striking a balance between different training intensities to reap the full benefits of both slow and fast running.

A common approach is to use the 80 / 20 rule (guide!) where approximately 80% of your weekly runs are ‘slow’ (think chatty) and 20% are high(er) intensity. This involves incorporating long, steady-state runs at a comfortable pace into your weekly schedule. These runs should be performed at a pace where you can maintain a conversation without gasping for breath. Alongside these slow runs, you should aim to include interval training sessions where you alternate between periods of high-intensity effort and recovery. This combination of slow-paced endurance runs and faster intervals allows you to develop both aerobic capacity and speed.


While the idea of running slower to run faster may seem paradoxical, it’s a scientifically-backed approach that yields significant results. By prioritising slow-paced training to build endurance, enhance efficiency, and prevent injury, you set the stage for substantial improvements in your running speed and overall performance. So, lace up your shoes, embrace the slower pace, and watch as your running speed reaches new heights. Remember, sometimes, the path to faster running lies in taking it slow.

If you’re looking to increase your pace and practice slowing down to speed up, why not join one of our training sessions, or come along to one of our social runs?


  1. Principles of Training Part 1: Specificity
  2. Aerobic vs anaerobic exercise training effects on the cardiovascular system