Avoid the gray area

Save the speed for races and speedwork days

Save the speed for races and speedwork days

My training lately has had far more quality miles in it than what I have done in the past. I’m adjusting to this change, though, and I look at that as progress. If you break down my week, you’ll see that I am either running a particular prescribed pace–usually tempo or marathonish pace–or I’m going easy. What am I not doing? Running in that murky area in between–let’s call it medium pace.

Why is medium pace not a good place to be? Because it doesn’t deliver benefits. Speedwork does. Easy efforts do. But not that in between zone. What that in between zone does is sabotage your other, more important, quality workouts. Go too hard on an easy day and you might not have enough in your legs to reach the paces you need on a speed day. Go too easy on a speed day and you’re not going to see the gains you want from the session. Can you see the vicious cycle that starts?

I wrote last week about running with a group and how it takes discipline. This is especially true when it comes to that in between pace. It can be very easy in a group to get swept up into a pace that isn’t doing you any good. If you need to drop to the back of the group (I do this) to keep your pace easy, swallow your ego and do it. You’re only hurting yourself on race day by running too fast on a training day.

Is there such a thing as too easy on an easy run? My coach, Jeff Gaudette, has told me no, and I agree with this. An easy run has lots of benefits, whereas a medium pace run does not. Quite simply, I would not be able to do as many quality miles as I have of late if I were going even a bit too hard on those easier paced runs.

One final note on pace. When it comes to speed work, if you have a particular pace you are aiming for, stick to it. While an easy run can’t be too easy, speedwork can be too speedy. I totally get that it feels good to blow through a prescribed pace and think you are therefore making bigger gains. You’re not. Jeff wrote an excellent article on this topic if you want the whys behind it.

So tell me–do you spend too much time in the gray zone? 

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  1. says

    Last weekend I promised I’d stick with a friend who was coming back from injury and I did. It was a really slow long, slow run and I finished knowing I could have done more. Come Tuesday’s speed session and I ran better than I’d run all year (and all last year). Pretty sure it was because of Saturday’s run.
    Char recently posted..Best Wife BackfireMy Profile

  2. says

    I read a lot of blogs and I feel to many of the blogger out there are alway worried about what pace they are running their runs at…. I run easy, and as long as it’s easy I don’t care what the pace is… then I am normally doing 3 session a week when I run fast, Short reps really fast longer reps at 3-5km pace and a tempo run…

    Running to fast in training just makes you tired and the next days training surffers.

    Good luck in the days to come as you aim at getting it right and see the PR at the races!!!
    Coach Dion recently posted..HARD WORKMy Profile

  3. says

    I love this reminder because it’s so hard for me to stick to! I’ve promised myself that I will stick to my plan this time, and I’ve already seen improvements in my speedwork times. And it’s nice to hear that you let yourself slip to the back of group runs, that’s something I need to make sure I do, too :)
    GreenGirlRunning recently posted..And Bob’s Your UncleMy Profile

  4. says

    I am definitely guilty of spending too much time in the gray zone. I don’t think I run my long runs slow enough and the fast runs fast enough. I need to learn that certain paces are OK in the training log. Such a good reminder!
    Kimberly @ Healthy Strides recently posted..En plein airMy Profile

  5. says

    This is the hardest thing for me the gray area of running, probably my slow running should be at least a couple of minutes slower than my race pace, but I tend to stay around a minute to minute and a half slower on my recovery runs. Oh well, I have to really start looking at training smarter – again. Thanks for the reminder :-).
    Harold recently posted..A Veteran Runnah Blog SiteMy Profile

  6. says

    I love when bloggers write about hitting correct paces because more people will benefit from knowing this. My training has turned into lots of quality miles and then cross training instead of recovery runs, therefore less running days. While mentally I didn’t see how this would help, I trusted my coach and saw huge gains. I absolutely believe in slow days whether it be running or cross training to get your legs ready for the hard workouts which is where you will see all the improvements.
    Robin recently posted..Getting Used to Training AGAIN + Giveaway WinnerMy Profile

  7. says

    I can’t wait to see your results from this training!
    I was cringing a little as a read on, as I think all my runs are in the gray zone! I know I should be running faster and slower, but I just enjoy my medium effort. Lol.
    I always say that ‘next training session’ I’ll train right, but it hasn’t happened yet!
    Perhaps for my first solo marathon after this summer’s events…
    Abby @ Change of Pace recently posted..Strike a pose – my foray into Pose RunningMy Profile

  8. says

    I needed this reminder. I find myself pushing the speed up and up on my easy runs especially on the treadmill. I get bored and need variety. This past week, I consciously made myself slow down. I actually feel a lot better already. The reminder about running with a group applies to me too. I like to keep up with my speedy friends. It feels good at the time so I go with it. Next time, I’ll try to check my ego!
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted..Roasted Corn Black Bean SoupMy Profile

  9. says

    I found this interesting and I am confused, maybe it is because I am still on the newer side of running and concentrate my training on triathlons. I was thinking about this in terms of HR, maybe I am wrong. But easy runs, to me, means Z1 and Z2, speed work is anything over LTHR meaning Z4 and occasionally drifitng into Z5, but most races are raced in Z3 (they grey area) I keep reading to not trainin in the grey, but to race in the grey….. I may have just answered my own question, while typing this out, HA, ok I got it….
    Scott recently posted..Weekly RamblingsMy Profile

  10. says

    Ever since I started to work with my coach there has be no gray area for me. My training plans and workouts have very precise times for each run. Some people comment on how much more disciplined my training is, but it really isn’t. It is just sticking to a pace. My weekly paces are threshold, easy, and mp. Even the easy paces can feel super tough!
    Tasha @ Healthy Diva recently posted..You asked! Healthy Diva’s training questions are answered!My Profile

  11. says

    Great topic for a post! My favorite part is: “Is there such a thing as too easy on an easy run? No.” I have my own general pace range for easy days and I know what McMillan says that range is. Still, there are days when I need to take it even easier. I have some friends I get to run with who run about 1 minute per mile slower than my easy pace. I try to run with them once a week on an easy/ recovery day for me. It keeps me from wanting to speed up which I tend to do when I’m on my own and I think it has helped me.
    Tia @ Arkansas Runner Mom recently posted..River Trail 15K Race Report (…and the 60 minute club!!)My Profile

  12. Holly says

    My question is always – what should my pace be for my speedwork + tempo runs. Do you think the McMillan calculator is good to use? My training plan uses zones and I am guessing at what a zone 4-5 is, for example. Any other good resources for figuring this out?

  13. says

    I needed to read this post. I trained for my whole marathon in the medium gray area, and it didn’t serve me that well. I hired a coach after that to see some gains for my half training, and I’m seeing exactly what you are talking about in my training plan. I hate going “easy” because I think of it as not helping, but my coach has been very clear that if I push it too much on those days then the speed days won’t be what they need to. It’s a novel idea to me, really, when I have spent so long wanting to be right at that medium effort on most of my runs! Thanks for sharing this. Yesterday I had 6 easier miles after a harder tempo on Tuesday, and it was so hard for me to not still want to bring the pace down a bit. I think the more people tell me this stuff the more I’m going to have to just believe them. Thanks!
    meghan @ little girl in the big world recently posted..What I’m Wearing…Thursday?My Profile

  14. says

    I’m really struggling with a happy pace right now. My runs with my running partner have become my tempo runs b/c she’s crazy fast and I’m fending for my life (ok not that bad, but she’s definitely making me faster). When I run on my own and am trying to force a slower, easier run, I still end up creeping into a faster-than-necessary pace. I have no slow down speed, one that I can use to increase miles not injuries.
    Heather (Where’s the Beach) recently posted..New Spin Workout and Way to Go WednesdayMy Profile

  15. says

    Fantastic post! The first few years I ran, as a very casual runner, I would spend all of my time in the medium zone. As I got more interested in racing and building speed, I’ve learned these lessons- but I can still get sucked into a medium pace on an “easy” day, especially because I don’t run 5-6 days per week… when I’m only running 3, I want them all to count. When it’s 4-5, I have to re-learn how to add in the easy days. it takes intention and practice.
    Laura @ Mommy Run Fast recently posted..February 5 by the 5th Winners and Link upMy Profile

  16. says

    It’s so good that you point out not to take the speed too fast. My heart rate monitor, combined with some pace calculator comparisons helps me tremendously.

    Love that you point out that for recovery running you can go as slow as you want. I tested this out with a friend running 3 1/2 minutes a mile slower than my calculator recovery pace, but was still in the recovery heart rate zone. She got a good easy run AND I got a recovery run :)
    Raina recently posted..New Sponsors, training, and a GiveawayMy Profile

  17. says

    I used to spend way too much time in the grey zone, but then I learned about it and have made a conscious effort to avoid it. I’m either running either and recovering or running with a purpose and it’s made a big difference
    Amanda recently posted..Now or LaterMy Profile

  18. says

    This is a constant struggle for me. I have a hard time accepting the easy. I need to learn to just go out and run without a watch and not worry about the distance – just run.
    When I’m on the treadmill, I play with the speed to entertain myself and the next thing I know…not an easy run.
    Thanks for the reminder and the reasons behind why it is important to do the easy runs!
    Kim recently posted..Kale Recipes, Anyone???My Profile

  19. Kim says

    For me, this post is perfectly timed. I spent half of last year over-tired, half-injured, and frustrated. This year I decided I had to try something different. -I’m actually building a base (by running “easy). and then will add speed workouts and races. To help me stick with “easy” I started using a heart rate monitor because once I start to sweat I forget about sticking with easy and am not even really sure what easy is.

  20. says

    In the past month or so I’ve learned to appreciate easy runs so much more and in the past couple of weeks tried to spend less time in this “gray” zone you’ve laid out. I’ve learned that easy is also a mindframe, not just physically running easy, and I’ve started leaving my watch at home to listen to my body on the easy runs rather than worry about pace. Whether “easy” is 9-minute or 11-minute miles, it no longer matters as much.
    David H. recently posted..Why I keep going IIMy Profile

  21. says

    Really good read and I agree! I spent all last year in that “gray area” and while my last half marathon time was good and I improved over the course of the year, I always knew I wasn’t running paces I needed to be running. I also wasn’t pacing well overall. Since Erin has taken over I’m really seeing SO MUCH improvement and she has me running much slower but now the tempo runs are coming back. But, she’s not having me run that “gray” zone pace I was stuck in all last year. And my runs are so much better now :)
    Christina recently posted..Why hiring a running coach is a good ideaMy Profile

  22. says

    A lot of times I believe runners are in that gray zone and dont realize it. I recently started using hrm and was surprised at how too fast i was going on easy days. Now my legs can handle the speedier workouts better and my fitness is improving. Thanks for this post.
    kenley jones recently posted..Running Easy so you can Run Hard!My Profile

  23. says

    I have to admit that this is probably the hardest thing for me. I have a hard time regulating pace sometimes. I think that it’s the competitive side of me – that I always want to complete my run in the same time as last or beat my last time. Thanks for this reminder. So important I know as I get back into running and training.
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  24. says

    I think is something a lot of runners do. I know I used to. Almost all of my runs were in a comfortably hard pace. Every day. I wasn’t pushing myself super hard and I wasn’t going super easy. I was happy with running that pace but realized I wasn’t improving.
    I still have a hard time keeping easy/recovery runs slow – I have the urge to speed up – treadmill recovery runs are best for me b/c I set the pace and do not change it =)
    Michele @ Nycrunningmama recently posted..Go Big or Go HomeMy Profile

  25. says

    Couldn’t agree with you more on everything here! Hard workouts can only be hard when easy runs are easy, and some days need to be easier than others to allow for the proper recovery. I really have to bite my tounge when I hear people say that their recovery run needs to be a certain pace over feeling. It took quite a few missteps myself with my own training to realize how beneficial those easy miles are when they are really taken easy and those in between miles are avoided.

    I blame the garmin revolution! It’s a useful tool that is way overused!
    Britt @ Chicago Runner Girl recently posted..all those other runs…My Profile

  26. says

    I am liking your coach’s style! Hard/Easy, Hard/Easy, Hard/Easy … do the work, see the results. Overload, adapt. It really is so simple.

    that grey zone is a killer. I hate the term “junk miles” so i will just say that running in the middle really serves no tangible purpose (-:
    Jeff Irvin recently posted..Racing Weight …My Profile

  27. Terzah says

    I’ve been really good about avoiding the grey area since I started HR monitor training last summer–but the truth of what you write was brought home to me on a long run where I exceeded my usual easy pace by 30 or 40 seconds a mile in order to run with a faster male friend (who doesn’t get it about the grey area being bad). Three days later I had the crappiest speed session I’ve had since I started training this way. Coincidence? I think not.

  28. says

    You are a training guru. Adjusting paces is something I need to do more of. Most of my runs are by “feel” and I don’t do too many with planned adjustments. Except “easy” days. I definitely know when those are in order. I’m trying to stay more consistent and not have my pace jump 30 seconds one way or the other.
    Pavement Runner recently posted..Playlist Thursday: Speed SongsMy Profile

  29. says

    Thank you for writing about this!! I spent 2 marathon training cycles doing what I thought were quality workouts only: tempos, interval workouts and long runs. What I didn’t realize was that although I was crushing my speedwork, I was running my long runs at this “medium pace,” which was too fast. I was never fully recovered! This time around, I am putting in full effort on speed days and running the long runs at a very easy pace and although it has only been 5 weeks, I can already see a huge difference AND an improvement! I cannot wait to see how it transforms come race day in May!
    Ashley @ Running Bun recently posted..Pocono Marathon Training: Week 2My Profile

  30. says

    I am guilty of being in the gray zone quite often as well. My problem is that in the name of logging enough miles, I get into the “lazy, comfortable” zone. You are absolutely that no good comes out of that. Also, I was laughing so hard when you wrote about forcing oneself to keep up the pace with a fast paced group: guilty as charged! Thanks for the food for thought for my running.