Recovery is a really important part of your training, so much so that I’ll be writing a whole set of posts about the topic soon. Today I’m going to focus on the recovery run, something that often crops up in training plans. What is it for? How do you run one correctly?
A recovery run has no training focus (like improving speed or endurance) it’s sole purpose is to speed up recovery from longer or more intense training sessions. By getting your muscles warm with exercise, your legs moving and increasing circulation, the theory is that this clears by products from your muscles and reduces muscle soreness.
A recovery run should be run at an easy pace. This means you should be around 50% of your maximum effort, and 50% of your maximum heart rate. It should feel weirdly easy. If you were running with someone alongside you you’d be able to have a full on conversation with them without interruptions for breathing. The top mistake many runners make it to run their recovery runs too fast, negating the recovery impact they were looking for. It may involve walking up the hills, that’s allowed to keep in that 50% effort zone.
It’s important to know that 50% effort will change according to terrain, weather, how tired you are from previous runs, what you’ve eaten recently, how much sleep you’ve had, how fit you are etc. So try to get in tune with the effort level as it feels to you, not just focussing on the same recovery run pace stats all the time.
The recovery run should also be pretty short, definitely one of the shortest runs you do in a week. You should return home feeling refreshed and energised and not like it’s taxed your body at all.
I personally like going off road for a recovery run too, a more forgiving surface of grass or springy woodland trail is ideal as it reduces the forces on your joints. Some people even go without the GPS watches on recovery runs, but this is quite personal as it depends how in tune you are with your 50% effort pace.
To get similar benefits to the recovery run, however, I’m a great believer in cross training instead. The same rules still apply about 50% effort and heart rate and a short duration. But getting out for a walk, cycle or swim, or on the cross trainer at the gym can get the same benefits and also reduces the impact on the bones and joints too. So that’s worth considering.
Remember each run in your training plan should have a specific focus, be it recovery, the long run to build endurance, a particular speed session. If you find yourself running at a similar pace in most of your runs consider re visiting your training plans or getting a coach to help you come up with a training structure that give you more bang for your buck!