A question many runners ask themselves is: "At what pace should I be running?" This is a difficult question because the answer differs depending on a runner's experience level.
For beginners, running at any pace will generally yield improvement, as long as you're consistent about getting out the door and logging time on your feet. In fact, for newer runners, pace should be an afterthought. While you may hear talk about running easy, it can be hard to call any speed easy at this stage in your development, and that's fine (in fact, easy may sound almost like an insult).
As you progress as a runner, you may hit a running plateau, where it becomes more difficult to increase your volume to see further improvements if you continually run the same distance at the same pace.
At this point, running at the same effort will no longer provide the same benefits as when you first started because you're not stimulating growth in your muscles or improvements in your endurance. This can affect your performance and running may become a bit monotonous. If you race, you may notice your performance starting to flat-line. Experienced runners may experience this if they keep their training approach constant from season to season.
Many runners make the mistake of spending too much time running at a medium effort and don't introduce enough variety in their training. They spend too much time running at a pace that is too fast for maximum aerobic gains (or to recover from harder workouts), but not hard enough to sufficiently spark the development of their anaerobic energy systems (a factor for racing at nearly any distance).
There are a number of factors that can cause this "medium-effort trap." First, if you're always eager to beat your time for a given route or distance, you're likely treading in medium-effort territory. This can also occur when you repeat your routes regularly, and constantly check your time in order to reach certain milestones.
Additionally, if you track your running using any of the myriad of social media tools, you may have a tendency to avoid running too slow.
Perpetual medium efforts can also make their way into your routine if you run with a friend who is a bit faster than you. Your friend's easy isn't necessarily your easy, so you put in a harder effort in order to keep up.
Finally, you may have lost your sense of what easy feels like (or never discovered it), since running was always somewhat hard—you may expect that this should always be how it feels.
Fortunately, there are six ways you can fight the "medium-effort trap" (specifically on days you should be running easier) and find the right pace to enhance your development as a runner.
Adopt a Hard/Easy Approach
Nothing will force you to slow down on your easy days like running hard 2 or 3 days per week. Doing quality workouts such as fartleks, tempo runs, or hill repeats will help you develop as a runner, and force you to slow down during your workouts in the days that follow. Your hard efforts don't have to be complex; run a minute hard, and then run a minute easy at an easier pace. Repeat this sequence 8 to 10 times. Your hard pace should leave you a bit winded, but by the end of the workout you should feel like you could complete another repeat or two. The good news is you will feel like you have earned an easy day after your effort on your hard days.