The Fitness Run and the Real Meaning of an Easy Run

“Easy Run” is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied terms in running, and not for the reasons you’d think.

Yes, people often do go too hard on their “easy” runs. But to me the issue is the broad over-application of the term “easy run” to most training runs.

Most runs beyond 30 minutes aren’t necessarily easy. The effort and intensity desired may be “easy”, but beyond the 30-40 minute mark the body is now being stressed beyond the comfort zone. Your body isn’t going to come down from that effort as easily as, say, hurrying across a street, or doing a simple 20 minute workout that leaves you refreshed. The oxidative stress is higher over a longer period, and markers like your heart rate variability will remain abnormal for some time afterward.

Related: This is a reason the Pete Magills of the world strongly recommend you never go on a recovery run lasting more than 40 minutes. You’re defeating the “shakeout” purpose of such a run.

Some wisely avoid the term for base training runs (referring to them by training zones, e.g. a Zone 1-2 run, for example), or use a different term entirely (as Matt Fitzgerald does when he calls them Foundation Runs).

I consider recovery runs the true Easy Runs. They’re short. They’re not done to stimulate an endurance training effect. Usually, they’re done for circulation or to activate hormone production that will further drive recovery. Or, like a “shakeout run” the day before a marathon, it’s done to expend some energy as it feels better than just resting entirely.

I posit that what coaches call Easy Runs should instead be dubbed Fitness Runs. The difference is that the terminology makes the intention of the workout clear. Any run done at an easy effort, but for longer than 30 minutes, or at more than a 75%-max average heart rate, is by my definition a Fitness Run.

By my definition the recovery runs are the only ones that should be labeled Easy Runs.

And since it will come up, any run longer than 90 minutes, or longer than the longest run I can do during the workweek, is by my definition a Long Run. It’s fairly hard for me to do more than two of these a week, since I work full-time and on those days I can’t by this definition do a long run.

(In my case, the longest workweek training run I can manage to do is basically 90 minutes. If my workweek limit was 60 minutes, then any weekend run lasting 61 minutes or longer would be in my case a Long Run.)

I decided to label my training runs this way, and it’s way more useful and less confusing for workout tracking than the old Easy/Recovery/Long labels.

Some examples (all of these examples are what most would call an “easy run”):

  • I go on a training run after work that lasts 45 minutes, and my HR averages 71% of max. This is a Fitness Run.
  • I go on a work break run lasting 12 minutes at 74% HR. This is an Easy Run. It lasts less than 30 minutes, and the average heart rate is below 75%. I should bounce back pretty quickly from this.
  • I go on another work break run that lasts 10 minutes at a 79% HR. This is actually a Fitness Run, because my heart rate went beyond the 75% threshold, meaning this run was a bit harder. Though it was very short, the effort will impact my fitness.
  • I go on a training run after work that I have to cut short at 28 minutes, and average a 73% HR. This is an Easy Run, even though I intended it to be a Fitness workout, because the run did not hit the 30 minute threshold.
  • On a Monday holiday, two days after a Saturday 2 hour Long Run, I go out for a lengthy easy run that lasts an hour and 35 minutes (95 minutes). This is also a Long Run, even though I just ran one on Saturday. Many will only label their longest run of the week the long run, but again I have a clear threshold of 90 minutes for long runs, and this one qualified.
  • And of course, if on a subsequent weekend I go for a long run, but I have to to cut it short at 80 minutes, this run is only a Fitness Run, as it did not reach my 90 minute threshold. (Side note: If I run farther than 8.1 miles on this or any other non-long run, Runalyze will classify this as a long run for Marathon Shape calculations, whether or not I label it as such, since that’s their default threshold for long run calculations.)

A couple of added finer points:

  • If I have to drop out of a race, I don’t label this as a race. I’ll give it the appropriate label, whether a Long Run or a Pace Run (I lump all my under-90 minute tempo and marathon-pace runs, or Zone 3+ runs, anything steady and harder than “easy”, in as Pace Runs). For example, when I DNF’d the Vancouver Marathon this year at mile 19, I labeled that a Long Run. Only races I complete are labeled as a Race.
  • If I decide randomly on a Fitness or Easy Run to run hard, whether intervals or a time trial or a fartlek, it gets labeled accordingly to what I ended up doing. Regardless of intent, the run is labeled based on what I ended up doing.

So now I label my regular runs as Fitness Runs and my recovery-type runs as Easy Runs. I like this definition of Easy Run far better than what everyone else uses.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: