Redefining “Do The Best You Can”

A good while ago, I sat down and started writing. Before I knew it, I had an entire post written on why running easy is so hard. Completely unplanned, but I felt that it was worth sharing. I was shocked to see the response by the end of the day, not just from comments, but from sharing. Seems I am not the only one who struggles to keep my pace easy.

The next day, I decided to run at the horse park on the polo fields. I knew I was gonna be a little tired from my workout the day before, but within about 10 minutes, I could tell this was going to be a struggle run.

I decided this was the time to practice what I had been preaching the day before; running easy. I talked about how subconsciously I always pick up the pace when I see the 8 as the first number of any of my miles, as much as I try not to care, I always end up running much faster the next mile.

However, I now had the perfect opportunity to truly listen to my body, and practice that easy running, even if that did mean 8 minute pace miles.

I struggled my way through the run, feeling tired, and making sure I did not pick up the pace.

Easy Run

A few years ago, I talked about the quote Steve and I use often; “take what your body gives you”….yet as much as I want to listen, we are always told to “do the best you can”, which can be very contradicting.

Maybe on recovery days we need to make that into something different. Ignoring those media images blasted at us day after day, saying that unless we are on the ground, exhausted after every workout, we are not going hard enough.


In running, that is NOT what you want. Actually, not just in running. As long as you exercise on a regular basis, more than a few times a week, you do NEED to ignore those messages.

In the same way we need to learn to love our own bodies for their unique shape and size, and ignore the airbrushed images of “perfection”. We also need to ignore the images of the “athletes” dripping with sweat, perfectly chiseled, claiming that they go hard every day.

If you think professional runners/athletes work out hard every single day, you could not be more wrong. The higher you climb up the professional ladder, the more attention you have to pay to your body; the closer you push your body to the limit; the more you dance over that injury line.

Easy/recovery running is the main thing saving professional runners from being hurt all the time.

[Tweet “Time to change the way we see training; run easy, run faster. Elite runner Tina Muir shares why “]

Back to the point; “do the best you can” needs another meaning on easy days.

Maybe, rather than meaning run as fast as you can……digging yourself further into a tired/fragile/injury risking state, you take it another way.

Maybe we take it to mean that we do the best we can to keep our ego in check, and stay with the pace where you are NOT breathing hard, and you are relaxed and can feel your body recovering.

I know that is easier said than done, so how about we break it down a little more into words we can try to understand….

When I was in college, I was a 16 minute 5k girl, and I thought I needed to do my recovery runs around 7:10 per mile; thats about 2 minutes slower than my race pace. Sounds like it should be plenty slow enough right? WRONG! That was WAY too fast for me, and was the reason I ended up injured.

Tina Muir collegiate athlete

Now, I am definitely stronger, and I think if I did go back to the 5k, I would be faster, but my recovery pace falls between 7:30-8:10 per mile. If we make it easy, and take 5:30 as my average pace for a 5k at my current fitness (17:00 pace), that means I am running between 27%-33% slower than I would race at. My tempo pace is 5:45 per mile (26% faster).

I have always taken long runs as somewhat of a second workout because of the time on your feet, and the tiredness by the end. Most of the time, those end up around 7:15 per mile (excluding progression runs).

Using that same logic, that means if you race at 11 minutes per mile, your recovery pace should be at least 14:00 per mile. I am not sure if this really can be applied in the way I am using it, but what i am trying to say is that your recovery pace should be SIGNIFICANTLY slower than your race pace, tempo pace, and even long run pace.

If your body is to recover, you should be able to hold a conversation with a friend, without puffing and panting, and if you listen to music, you should switch it off for a minute or so every few miles to make sure you are not breathing hard. That is the danger with music, it is too easy to get carried away, and not realize until you slow to a walk, and you realize how exhausted you are.

To summarize, what are some pointers to help you know a run is easy enough?

  • You should be significantly slower (25-35% slower than your 5k pace)
  • You should NOT be breathing hard, able to hold a conversation
  • You should finish feeling like you could have kept going at that pace for another run without a problem
  • You should be able to notice things going on around you; I find when I am running too hard, I get tunnel vision and do not notice anything going on

Elite runner Tina Muir talks about how "doing the best you can" does not always mean going hard. Sometimes going easy is what your body needs, and this post explains how to run easy, no matter what level you run at.

These are the runs to enjoy the most. Even though they are often the days when you feel crappy, they are the days where you can run along and chat non-stop to a friend, or take in the beauty all around you.

So, take on the challenge with me, and keep your recovery runs easy. Who cares if people you will never see again think you are slow; chances are, they are not even paying attention….or if they are, they are feeling bad about themselves, thinking that they should be out there running…..especially other runners! Am I the only one who feels that way?

I am going to do the best I can….to run easy, are you?

[Tweet “Read this post from Elite runner Tina Muir about the true meaning of “do the best you can” .”]
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  • carla birnberg
    April 1, 2015 5:09 am

    YES YES YES I know I say it all the time now 😉 BUT IT IS MY WAY OF LIFE and has been for decades. I do what I can and I know it is enough because it’s all Ive got.

  • I often run easy and I really think that’s what keeps me running (knock on wood!)…I don’t enjoy seeing the higher paces but I know I am running slower because it’s a recovery run/easy run after running faster the day before. And lately, if my easy run starts to feel more dead-legged than usual, I cut the run short in favor of rest for a super run the following day. Works really well these days 🙂

  • Oh this is something my coach has been trying to pound into my brain and it’s finally sticking!!! I want to end my workouts feeling like I COULD DO MORE. They are supposed to build you up and not tear you down. Like you said in your last post – have the courage to go easy!! I’ll be thinking of this on my 8 mile “easy” run today…after my swim of course 🙂

  • jillconyers
    April 1, 2015 6:34 am

    I’m working on making doing the best I can as being good enough. You inspire me Tina and your posts always make me think. Love that!

  • You know I’m on board! I love my easy days and if I happen to be running them w/ friends, will even hold back from them to ensure they stay easy. It really is time we change the mindset and realize that being our best includes easy and includes rest! Great post.

  • the higher the climb the more cautious you need to be, yes! it’s all about detail

  • The best you can is the only thing you CAN do and the only way to sustain anything in life. Running, sleeping, eating, working, everything!

  • Heather @fitncookies
    April 1, 2015 7:55 am

    I read this as I was struggling on the treadmill this morning. It was just what I needed! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Michele Rosen
    April 1, 2015 7:56 am

    Yup, I have come to many of the same realizations and I’ve come to them the hard way, from pushing too hard and burning out! There is a cultural misconception that if we’re not killing ourselves we can always do more, reframing this in my head for all aspects of my life has been a big challenge and I’m still working on it.

  • happyfitmama
    April 1, 2015 8:15 am

    I’m all about keeping it easy. I’ve learned that pushing the pace for every single run does nothing but injure me. Thanks for the reminder to be smart!

  • Love this. I think it should be “do the best for you”. That can be read in different ways: run a PB for YOU and don’t compare to others – it’s a PERSONAL best for a reason. They’ll always be people faster out there. But do the best for you can also mean, the best for you right now is to take a recovery day and run easy. It’s exactly what your body needs.

  • I am such a big proponent of the “take what your body gives you” sentiment/advice. It has been my guiding principle for a long time–particularly when it comes to running. You can’t force magic when there is nothing left to give, but must importantly, if you push to hard you have nothing to give for the next time. Smart training makes all the difference–you recover faster, and you have more for when you do have those really hard workouts!

  • Thank you, Tina, for emphasizing this! Running easy is tough, but I am slowly, with the help of Runners Connect, getting it I think! Most days, I feel ready to keep on running. If I don’t, it is usually due to an extenuating circumstance. Keep it up and I will try to do the same!

    April 1, 2015 9:03 am

    Convicting for sure!!! I think in this case doing our best means being confident enough to make easy runs as slow as they need to be. I am SO guilty of doing easy runs too fast which is why I need to wear a Garmin for them otherwise I end up settling into an 8 min pace. My best MP is 7:34…I try to make one recovery run a week at 8:20-8:30..which after looking at yours probably still is not slow enough.

  • This has always been a hard concept for me. Even biking or spin I always want to push it as hard as I can even though I know I should have easier days. Why is it so hard? Nice post

  • My normal long runs leave me feeling I could keep running because my aerobic system is still going alive, am I doing it right then? Because that’s not my recovery run.(the only thing that stops me is blisters on my feet/and or the amount of time I spend on my feet, not my energy levels going down)

  • I know I need to do some easy runs, but I haven’t been. I’ve been using running to burn off some angst, some mama drama, and my runs have been hard and fast. So satisfying too, but my body is telling me I need to take it easy. Glad to hear that you struggle with that too!

  • I read that post and I have been trying to take it to heart to keep my easy runs easy. I have dealt with some piriformis and TFL issues lately so running easy, especially starting out slow, helps it big time. Listening to slower paced music or podcasts helps big time because I have to concentrate on something besides running.

    For what it’s worth (probably not even 2 cents as this is my own experiment), I’ve been doing my easy days effort based and whatever feels easy. Lately, around a 9:30 pace rather than trying to keep it below 9. Well, my 9:30 easy runs paid off on Saturday when I PRed my 10K (45:48). I think I was paying more attention to the numbers and paces and trying to be “better than yesterday” every day, and I wasn’t really recovered for races, couldn’t give 100% when it counted.

  • Love it. You know how I make sure I run easy on some days? I bring my phone with me. Because on any given day, I get a zillion texts from my kids, husband, ex-husband, friends, family, etc and stopping to reply to them keeps my pace slow. But yes, I am always surprised whenever I see a training plan for my race goals and it shows just how slow my recovery runs should be. It’s hard not to panic, but we need to trust in the training process because the smart people know what they’re talking about!

  • This exactly the article I needed to read today! I had to scrape a tempo run midway through and settle for an easy run, but you’re so right that we need to do what is right for our bodies! It is better to be undertrained than overtrained. I hate it when you read advice that you should try to finish each run faster than the next, it’s so wrong and is a one-way street to overtraining.

  • I’m probably injured because of this– running my recovery runs too fast. For me it is sometimes a time thing. I am so busy with my kids, I am thinking, “I’ve got to get this run done” instead of slowing down and not worrying about my “to do” list. I have learned so much from Runner’s Connect and although I thought I was doing the right thing in the past– I now know I was wrong. I learn so much from you! Now I know I could do my tempo run on your recovery day- haha! Love you!

  • Heather Balogh
    April 1, 2015 2:15 pm

    I sometimes remember that I don’t need to return home, gasping and dripping sweat, totally spent. Sometimes a nice run/walk with the dog is good enough!

  • My paces aren’t even close to yours but for years I ran every run hard and harder. And, for years I struggled with stress fractures. Sunday I ran 25 miles at the slowest pace I have ever let myself run and could tell a huge difference! (I have taken the week off because I needed a break but my legs haven’t been sore at all.)

  • Great reminders, Tina! And of course, you’re experience and expertise is so helpful. While I’m not a regular runner, I agree that not all workouts need to be killer. I don’t think our bodies want to be pushed to the limit every single time. And wow, your 5ks are still so fast! Speedy!!!

  • Julie Wunder
    April 1, 2015 5:46 pm

    Great tips Tina! I go out to fast on easy runs as well!

  • Lisa@runningoutofwine
    April 1, 2015 6:13 pm

    This is so true! There are so many problems with the typical mindset of always giving 100%…its all about balance! It is definitely hard for me to take my easy days as slow as I should, but I have gotten alot better about taking rest days. It’s very humbling to be coming back to running from an injury and I am already planning how I can do things differently so that I don’t find myself in this same situation again. Great post!

  • Amber Finlay
    April 1, 2015 6:27 pm

    Wise words as always Tina! It’s so easy for forget that doing your best doesn’t necessarily mean pushing your hardest whether it’s in the amount of miles or the pace. I had to remind myself in yoga yesterday when I was struggling with a few poses that it’s ok – I didn’t have to do the hardest version of every pose. Yoga is cross training, and I need to treat it as such. Wearing myself out on an easy day, regardless of the activity, won’t benefit my running.

  • YES YES YES to this…Great post Tina and I have take more time these days to listen to my body; embrace the rest days; the easier days…Lately my easier days will involve a easy run and a long walk with the pup. Screw those images on social media that are constantly blasted in our faces. They’re annoying and harmful. Be the best you can be and listen to those who have your best interest at heart and do what you can and what makes you feel good! XOXO

  • Great post. This is REALLY hard for me. To run an 11 min mile recovery run seems tortureous to me. Seriously, running over a 10 min mile causes me to lose my form and THAT is when I start to physically feel things I shouldn’t. Isn’t that weird?

  • Running easy for me is always the case 😉 BUT I like to take this same approach with yoga (which is my main form of fitness). Somedays, after a really hard, power yoga class, I just need to do something more gentle and slow. And if feels AWESOME!

  • There were so many times last summer when I would wonder “is this the correct pace for an easy run?” I was worried about going too slow sometimes. Ugh. Although there were times I would let myself run how I felt, too many times I thought about pace. This post is so on point Tina! So many runners need this and this is why I am a big fan of having a coach (for me). At this point, I know so much of what to do, but I have to continue to have the discipline to do it. Slow down more…

  • I know I sometimes feel disappointed on those days when I’m running as slow as a snail (after a hard workout the day before). Thanks for the reminder that those recovery runs are important for my fitness and well-being, too!

  • The “do the best you can” mantra certainly contradicts “take what your body gives you” in some ways, until you apply it to the long term. Which is basically what you’re saying with redefining it anyway.

    I tend to run by the phrase “the only thing that matters is race day”, because it’s a reminder not to feel the need to prove myself in training runs. They’re just training runs.

    What you’re saying about recovery is exactly what Matt Fitzgerald’s 80/20 running is trying to champion to age group runners – that elites actually run about 80% of their runs at low intensity. It’s encouraging seeing it in action with an elite like yourself putting it into practise. Why it hasn’t been well known until recently, I don’t know. Probably because of the media like you say, always encouraging that dripping in sweat image.

    I’ve been running 80/20 style since the end of the summer now, we’ll see if it pays of for the marathon in just over a week (eek!) 😐

  • Since I started working with a coach and he made me train by heart rate, I’ve been learning this. What I thought was my earlier easy wasn’t easy at all. So my “easy” was actually medium and my medium was medium-hard. Now my easy are really really easy and hards are wipe out hard.

  • Nicole@Thegirlwhoraneverywhere
    April 3, 2015 8:43 pm

    This is a wonderful post!! I was reminded a few weeks ago from my coach to keep the easy runs easy…sometimes I find it hard to Hold back! Thanks for your words of wisdom!

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