"i am both poles and the equator, with no temperate zones in-between." ~ e.k. hornbeck in inherit the wind
coaches and good training plans all mark out various types of runs that you can and should complete in preparation for a race. terms like "aerobic", "tempo", "long run", "race pace", "fartlek", "intervals", "recovery", "hill work" and others usually help to describe variations in duration, intensity and sometimes terrain that contribute to improved conditioning. while this may all come across as elitist jargon or technical mumbo-jumbo, one of the important takeaways is that for a runner who is focused on making real gains there has to be attention given to specific types of training.
like many runners, my ego has gotten in the way of properly strategizing my training runs and for too many training cycles i believe i've fallen into the trap of running mainly in the mediocre (or medium effort) zone instead of making 75-80% of my runs easy and the remainder medium-hard to hard. every easy run that i took i felt like i was losing ground - or at least speed - and convinced myself ever-so-subtly that i needed to push it just a bit faster. i figured that if somehow i could increase my baseline speed for an easy run to something faster, then that would naturally make my hard runs even more impressive.
as logical as that may (or may not) sound to you, i should have paid attention to the fact that even the best runners in the world know the importance of taking it really easy on their easy runs. i recall reading sara hall's blog entries while training in kenya about just how slow these kenyan running machines take their runs - a pace that would even seem über-relaxed to a hack like me!
the main idea is to log your easy miles easy so that when it comes to logging the hard workouts you can really put forth a high-investment effort. when the easy runs drift toward the faster side, your body's fatigue levels can act like a magnet and pull your hard runs toward the slower side, reducing the magnitude of super-compensation.
there are all sorts of good articles out there about the 'hard-easy principle' of training, and two that i found interesting are here and here. there's also a very good article that addresses how to fine tune the spectrum of training runs here.
so how easy do you take it on your easy runs? for me right now it's about 5:45-6:00/km, and that's counterbalanced with race pace runs at 4:27/km and speed intervals at around 3:40-3:45/km. would love to hear back from you!