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 – 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.
Sa – 30 minute run with Tommy(!!!!!!), 9:03 pace
Su – 45 recovery run, including 3.5 miles with Tommy, 8:40 pace
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.
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! 😉
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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