Over the last few years, we run coaches have finally gotten many of you to believe us when we say running easy is the key to your success. Now we’re throwing in a new even EASIER type of workout called recovery runs.
Before you run away, let’s really talk about why these are yet another great type of run to include in your training.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a brand new runner or an experienced one, they have their place and benefits. In fact, experienced runners with higher mileage weeks will often benefit even more from these relaxed workouts.
Trust me once you throw ego out the door, you’ll start to embrace the power of these days for making you a stronger, fitter, more resilient runner.
In fact, I think it’s often easier to go for a recovery run than an “easy” run because you mentally know the 100% absolute goal of this run isn’t building new fitness, but improving what you have built.
What is a Recovery Run?
A recovery run is a run that is done even slower than your normal easy days with a focus on encouraging the recovery process. It’s about really keeping the effort level low and getting in some movement to help your legs work through any soreness.
Recovery runs are usually done the following day after a hard workout. Which could mean a long run during marathon training or even a hard track workout session that requires extra recovery.
You’ll want to seek out a flat course, no super technical trails or group runs that might lead to an intense workout.
During a recovery run you’re getting time on feet to help continue building endurance, but also a few other things are happening in your body.
Working Through Muscle Soreness
The thrown around idea is that these runs helps to clear lactic acid, but that’s not exactly right. Instead, we’re going on decades of experience from both runners and lifters that often movement helps us to reduce soreness.
Sometimes this is because we become tight and tense after a hard workout. Our muscles are fatigued and often dehydrated, so the next day we feel stiff.
Getting out for a run warms up those muscles, increases blood flow and seems to help alleviate some soreness.
Of course there is always a caveat here. If your soreness is changing your stride or making you miserable, stop.
Building Running Endurance
Long distance running is all about mentally getting yourself to continue moving forward when you’re tired and it’s hard.
Recovery runs are a very low risk way to increase time on feet and help train that brain and the muscles to know they have more in them when race day comes and you ask them to keep going.
Your joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments are building up a tolerance for the pounding of long distance. By keeping some runs much easier, you’re allowing that progress without increasing your risk injury
Preventing Heavy Legs
One of the issues with old marathon training plans was they had a 3 week taper instead of 2. The result was many runners getting to the starting line and just feeling bleh.
Their energy was lacking, their legs had no spring.
Recovery runs often have the same effect as shortening that taper. Getting in a little movement allows the next run to feel better, instead of starting on legs that feel heavy and sluggish.
Recovery runs are a great time to remember that runs should be enjoyable.
Not every run should leave you feeling crushed. In fact, only 20% of your week should be super tough.
These are a day to just let it go, listen to a podcast and move your body. It’s not a good time to think about form because you likely aren’t picking your feet up as much or even focused on a high cadence.
On a day where you only need a short time to run, you can instead make sure the other pieces of your routine are working.
Are you doing a dynamic warm up that preps your body? Are you incorporating core stability workouts which will help ensure you maintain good form, even on days where you’re running tired?
What are you doing post run to further boost your recovery?
How fast should I run a recovery run?
Now is the time to let go of thinking about pace and really dial in to how your legs and lungs are feeling. In fact, one of the biggest benefits you might find is simply learning to truly listen to your body over your watch!
But here are some ways to measure recovery runs:
- A recovery run could be 1-2 minutes slower than an easy run, in fact it might be a day for run/walk (yes Boston Qualifying runners often use this on recovery days)
- Thinking about the RPE in running an easy run might be around a 4-5, so your recovery run is even lower on the scale. We often call easy runs a conversational pace, and I think a recovery run is more like you can hold up more of the conversation.
- Using HR Zones, you are likely at the very low end of Zone 2 or even high end of Zone 1. The heart rate monitor on your watch may or may not be accurate, so if using HR make sure to wear a chest strap or know your watch.
Let’s look at one of the fastest elite runners many of us know, Meb Keflezighi and his different paces.
- Marathon pace: 4:54 minutes per mile
- Easy run pace: 6:30 ish minutes per mile
- Recovery run pace: 8-9 minutes per mile
You know you are training correctly when there is a big change from your speed workout pace to your recovery pace.
These runs teach you how to keep hard days HARD and keep recovery days at a slow pace.
How long should a recovery run be?
Most recovery runs are 30 minutes maximum and often more like a short 20 minutes.
That doesn’t mean you get to skip the warm up, in fact it means you have a little additional time to make sure it happens.
If you’re running longer than that, then it’s probably an easy run and not specifically a recovery run.
Is a recovery run better than rest?
Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. Which means it’s important for you to know the difference in what your body needs.
A recovery run is useful when you have been training hard and need a day to help your body and mind reset.
You should opt for a rest day if you are having any of these issues:
- Pain – not a little sore, but pain or an ache that won’t go away
- Fatigue – more than wow that was a good workout
- Sleep issues – a sign you are trending towards overtraining (read that and understand the signs!)
- Burnout – if you’re not enjoying your runs or really dreading your runs, take the day off
You will NOT lose fitness from missing a day of running. And if your body is begging for additional recovery then you will likely see more improvements from a day off than a recovery run.
Do you fully understand the other types of runs in your schedule?
Make sure you’re doing them right:
- How to do tempo runs correctly
- Why running strides are not sprints
- Can you split the long run?
- How to effectively run twice a day
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