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Slow running is trending – here’s why

Running is all about getting faster. From the apps and trackers that encourage us to log our pace to social media posts proudly proclaiming our latest 5k time, it’s clear that the point of running is to increase our speed.

Or is it?

Enter slow running – an approach that sees a moderate pace as a good thing.

Now, we’re certainly not out to shame the speed merchants. There’s nothing wrong with working to increase your speed and improve your times. But there are some excellent reasons why searches for slow running on Google have been steadily increasing over the last couple of years.

The thing about slow running is that it can have benefits for every kind of runner, whether you’re training for a sub-45 minute 10k or are happy sticking to a moderate pace every time. We’ll take you through what slow running is and how it can help with everything from overall fitness to mental wellbeing.

What is slow running?

The slow running movement is, as the name suggests, about running slowly – deliberately. Of course, one person’s ‘slow’ is another person’s ‘wait, this is insanely fast’. Slow running is individual. To find the right tempo, try to follow a pace where you could still have a conversation or sing a song.

Slow running is actually nothing new; it’s been used by elite athletes as part of their training for a long time. A running research group in Norway found that world-class distance runners do most of their training runs at low intensity. This is known as zone 1, where your heart rate is at about 50-60% of your heart rate maximum, or HR Max, the fastest rate at which your heart can beat. The study revealed that multiple marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge favours a comfortable pace for more than 80% of his training.

What is new is that slow running has started to filter down to us non-elite athletes. Check out slow running on Instagram and Tiktok, and you’ll discover a whole community of people who are keeping to a comfortable pace – and loving it. You can also find slow running clubs, where personal bests are as good as banned.

Ready to see how you can benefit from taking it slow?

Benefit 1: Fuel fast runs

As mentioned above, elite athletes include plenty of slow runs in their training. If’s good enough for them, surely it’s worth a try for us mere mortals! By running slowly, you’re building up your fitness and endurance while minimising the amount of stress on your body. Think of slow runs as building a strong base for your faster sessions.

But if you have no interest in increasing your pace, you’ll still see lots of benefits from slow running. For starters, a study in the Journal of American College of Cardiology found that running at a relatively slow pace decreases the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease – and that running faster doesn’t decrease that risk any further.

“I started running this year and ended up getting a Personal Trainer to help me put together a training plan to increase strength and speed. The first thing he said was to include plenty of long, slow runs.”

Steve, 34

Benefit 2: Improve your form and reduce injury

Running slowly means you can really focus on how you’re running. Give yourself a full-body scan as you go, thinking about your cadence, foot placement, arm swing, neck position – all the little details that are easy to forget on fast runs.

Improving your running technique can be incredibly effective when it comes to preventing injury, so it’s worth getting this right.

“I was getting terrible headaches on the days when I ran, and eventually I worked out that I’d got into the habit of tipping my head back slightly, which was crunching my neck. It was a really difficult habit to stop because I’d clearly been doing it for a long time without noticing. On my fast runs, I’d forget and automatically tilt my head – it was on my slow runs that I managed to stop doing it because I had more mental space.”

Bob, 41

Benefit 3: Get social

Running at conversation pace means – of course – that you can have a conversation! There’s nothing wrong with being a solo runner, but if you would like to make running a more social activity, you might find it easier when you’re keeping the pace slower.

What’s more, if you have kids, sticking to a reduced pace means you can share the experience together.

“My 6-year-old son has recently started doing a 2km Parkrun on a Sunday morning. It’s a lovely route through the woods on our local common and a great way to spend time together doing something active. Running alongside him means I have to go slower than I usually would and it’s nice to just be able to enjoy the run without the pressure to achieve a quick time or go further than is comfortable.”

Lauren, 40

Benefit 4: Keep it mindful

Slow running makes it easier to try out another major fitness trend: mindful running. This involves focusing on the present during your run, tuning into the sensations and strengthening your mind-body connection.

“Every now and then, I like to leave my headphones behind when I run. I listen to the sounds around me, listen to my breathing and really get lost in the moment. It’s refreshing!”

Zoe, 27

Benefit 5: Reduce the pressure

There’s no doubt that tracking your times can help you improve your running performance. But it’s also possible to enjoy running in and of itself without paying any attention to the idea of improvement, and the potential pressure thereof.

If it makes you feel good to go at a comfortable pace, whether that’s outdoors or on the treadmill, that’s your choice – it’s one of the main myths about running that you have to work towards any goal other than happiness if you don’t want to.

“I’ve always run slowly. I used to feel embarrassed about plodding along the pavement, as if I wasn’t doing it properly, but I find that the older I get, the less I care. For me, running is a mental health thing – it’s how I regulate my mood, and I don’t have to run fast for that.”

Georgie, 54.
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