Marathon Training/ Running

The benefits of recovery runs + how slow to go

One of the first things I noticed after I started working with a running coach was the number of recovery runs on the schedule. And the first thing I started hearing repeatedly from my coach was to slow down on those recovery runs.

Most weeks, my marathon training schedule has 3-4 recovery runs. Between those and my long run, it’s running at slower paces that makes up the bulk of my weekly miles. Hard workouts are a much smaller amount of the work.

But, in order to nail the hard workouts, it’s so important to run easy the other days, e.g. run at a conversational pace, so your body isn’t constantly being pushed. You should feel fresh on your hard days so you can REALLY push hard. If you’re worn out by your day-to-day training, you won’t make improvements in speed or endurance.

Benefits of an Easy Recovery Run

I asked my coach Enoch Nadler to explain the benefits of recovery runs since I’m more likely to do something if I understand why. He outlined three reasons for me and I thought I’d share!

The number one mistake that runners make is going too fast on their easy days. Most runners think that you need lots of speed work, tempos, fartleks or even hills to run faster. And don’t get me wrong, these are important. But in reality, developing the aerobic system is the single most important factor for long-term development and improvement. Here are a few of the reasons that you should be running your easy days easy!

1: Capillary and Mitochondria Development

Recovery Runs should be completed at a pace of around 55-75% of your 5k race pace (think 2-2.5 min slower than 5k race pace). This pace is ideal for Mitochondria and Capillary Development.

Recovery runs increase both the number and the size of your mitochondria in your muscle fibers. Mitochondria is directly responsible for creating energy for your muscles.

Next, Capillaries are responsible for delivering oxygen to your muscles and clearing out waste that is produced from exercise. Running at this easy pace increases the number of capillaries per muscle fiber. This directly correlates to how efficiently you deliver oxygen and clear out waste.

When you run faster than this ideal range, your development of the aerobic system is greatly diminished.

2. Aerobic Development

Aerobic development is important from the mile to the marathon. The marathon is around 97% aerobic, which comes as no surprise. But even the mile is 80% aerobic, making slow runs vital for running fast.

All these easy runs add up to running faster across all race distances!

3. Avoiding Injury and Overtraining

Recovery runs make up the majority of the time we spend running. All this time adds stress to your bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. When you run faster, not only do you decrease aerobic development, you also increase the strain on your body, leading to more injuries.

Recovery runs also serve as active recovery from hard workouts and races. If you run too fast on these runs, you won’t recover and you will soon fatigue and break down.

The stress and fatigue compound so we often think a certain workout or race causes injury. In reality, it’s often the cumulative effect of not recovering on our easy days.

Big thanks to Enoch for providing all that!!! Let’s all re-read that last sentence shall we? (If you have questions on any of it, leave a comment and I’ll ask him!)

Last week’s marathon training — note all the recovery runs!

M – Double Run Day, 11.3 total miles

  • 8-12 x 400 @ V.O2Max pace, 4 x 30 seconds FAST + warm-up & cool down
  • Afternoon recovery run, 28 minutes + 45 minutes strength

T – 65 min recovery run + strides, average 8:08 pace

W – 95 minutes, recovery, average 8:30ish pace

  • 35 minutes on treadmill, finished the rest outside in the cold rain, yuck

Th – 55 minute recovery run, 9:07 pace –Β  on the treadmill

  • It was cold and rainy and I just couldn’t handle it, especially considering we were flying to Palm Beach that afternoon!

F – 3 x 7 min with 2 min jog, then 6 x :15 hills + warm-up & cool down

  • I did this workout in Palm Beach and it was SO hot and I did not feel well starting out. In the warm-up, I was already thinking that I was just going to have to make it an easy run and tell my coach I couldn’t do it. But, as soon as I started the first pick-up, things kicked into gear. My paces were a little slower than I wanted but I still hit 6:50s on all the repeats.
  • The Palm Beach lake trail is super flat and shady (which I LOVE) so for the hills, I ran up and down the bridge that goes over the intercoastal.

recovery day running

Sa – 30 minute run with Tommy(!!!!!!), 9:03 pace

recovery run

Su – 45 recovery run, including 3.5 miles with Tommy, 8:40 pace

marathon training in the heat

M – 21 miles, 8:22 pace

  • This is another run where I just felt TERRIBLE. The first two miles were miserable and after mile 6, I had to find a restroom since I had some major GI distress. The run finished okay and I felt strong by the end, but it was another workout where I just had to take the first little bit mile by mile.

marathon training schedule

Total Miles: 75.4 / 64.1

Typically I “reset” my weeks on Sundays, the day after my long run. But since I asked my coach, Enoch, to move my long run to post-vacation, the last week of training was a little longer than normal. The past 7 days totaled 64.1 miles, which is still my highest weekly mileage ever!

How I’m feeling

I had a couple runs this week where I just did NOT feel well. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but they both fell the day after flying, which is helpful to keep in mind when I’m flying for races.

Usually, if I don’t start to feel better by mile 4, I know that I need to adjust the workout mid-run. But, 9 times out of 10, I start to feel better after about 20 minutes.

Running easy made easier with Tommy

Last Saturday marks the second time Tommy has run since I’ve known him, outside of the runs in WODs at CrossFit…which is never more than a mile and usually more like 200-400m. (I’ll do another post about why Tommy picked up running if you’re interested!! Or, you can read how it unfolded on Twitter.)

On Sunday, Tommy ran 35 minutes and I did 45 and then we walked back to our hotel together. It was seriously so lovely to have that time together. And my coach sent me the comment below on Strava, and re-iterated it again via text that he really likes that I’m going slower on my recovery runs. Thanks Tommy! πŸ˜‰

recovery run pace

 

Do you struggle with recovery runs? Do you even have set recovery days? I’d love to hear what your weekly training is like!

One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the 20+ years I’ve been running is listening to my body and knowing what it’s telling me. Some days my recovery runs feel great at an 8:00 pace. Other days, I’m closer to a 9:00 min pace.

For me, the biggest thing I focus on is effort. It should feel like recovery with nothing being forced. It’s one of the reasons I like doing my recovery runs solo since it lets me listen to my body and adjust as necessary. The first few miles are generally a slog and it’s important to let my body have that. And if I don’t, Enoch lets me know. ha!

 

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  • Alison Dancy
    at

    So helpful to read this!! I am amidst training for a half marathon. Not my first but definitely my most focused training season. I never put much thought into recovery runs! It’s such a HUGE challenge to slow myself down. Switching up shoes after reading one of your previous posts was super helpful. I accidentally wore the wrong shoes for a recovery run recently and really struggled slowing my pace in them. My current schedule includes about two recovery runs per week. Thanks for helpful advice and info! So glad I found your blog ?

  • Alison Dancy
    at

    So helpful to read this!! I am amidst training for a half marathon. Not my first but definitely my most focused training season. I never put much thought into recovery runs! It’s such a HUGE challenge to slow myself down. Switching up shoes after reading one of your previous posts was super helpful. I accidentally wore the wrong shoes for a recovery run recently and really struggled slowing my pace in them. My current schedule includes about two recovery runs per week. Thanks for helpful advice and info! So glad I found your blog

  • Beth
    at

    Great info!! Do you look at your heart rate for recovery paces at all? I struggle with having my heart rate get kind of high when I run and I always wonder what othe runners average!

    • Teri [a foodie stays fit]
      at

      I check it sometimes but I don’t do specific heart rate training! I think on my recovery runs it’s somewhere between 130-150!

  • Lindsay
    at

    I am the worst about taking it easy on my runs, and now I’m injured of course. It’s just hard because I only have a limited amount of time (before the kids are up), so I feel like I need to maximize the distance. Guess I’ve learned my lesson now though. Hearing why it is important is very helpful, thank you! And yes, definitely interested in the Tommy story!

  • Allie
    at

    Teri, I would love to hear you talk more about GI distress. If I drink too much water, I sometimes have issues, but then I’ll also have issues for half a day on Saturdays when I do my long runs. It’s GI distress roulette. I never know when and why I’ll get it. πŸ™‚ A blog post on this topic would be awesome!

    • Teri [a foodie stays fit]
      at

      I used to have issues ALL the time and it’s more rare these days — usually gluten and dairy trigger it. But I’ll add it to my to-blog list!! My best friend is also a sports nutritionist (getting his Ph.D!) – I’ll hit him up for some info on it too!!

      • Allie
        at

        That would be awesome! Also, LOVED the Tommy Twitter timeline. He definitely needs to guest post on here with his running updates. After reading that, I feel very committed to his training now haha.

  • Diana
    at

    I just read the twitter thread about your husband’s running and it is hilarious. Please do a full post about this! Also it reminds me of when my non-runner husband trained for a 10K and insisted in buying a variety of Gu’s even though I insisted they were not necessary for a 10K. He never used them in actual running but would eat them around the house as a snack. LOL men…

    • Teri [a foodie stays fit]
      at

      omg hahahaha that’s HILARIOUS. If Tommy knew that GU’s were a thing, he’d do the same thing. And the Skratch chews taste just like candy. I need to get Tommy to do guest blog post for us. πŸ˜‰

  • Chelsey
    at

    Hi Teri! I read your blog all the time – and totally relate to your topic of keeping easy days easy. I tend to go just a liiiittle too hard, and end up fatigued. I’m also curious as to whether that type of training lends towards anemia more than the recovery-focused running. Does Enoch have anything to say about that? (Fellow FL and Gator grad here – love Enoch! He is great).

    I actually wanted to ask you if it would be possible for you to share a quick survey. I am working with a baby startup that is creating a marketplace platform to better connect runners with coaches, and other secondary healthcare providers that have running-specific expertise. We are starting with some market research, and would love for any help I can get. The link is https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/9DKWNLW and anyone who takes it, shares on social media, and adds hashtag #arrowrun19 can win one of four $10 Amazon giftcards. Any help would be appreciated so much πŸ™‚

  • Ed W - Smart Fitness Edge
    at

    I use a fitness tracker to measure my heart rate on runs. It’s so important to slow down and listen to your body for recovery runs. Great tips, thanks!