The Skinny on Recovery Runs

Source: my treadmill trainer.com

Source: my treadmill trainer.com

You’ve heard about that post-race run that all élite athletes and those in the competitive world of running make much ado about. Sounds like it might be something to get excited about and may even be beneficial to you in some way. But what does it really mean to you the runner? Is it a have-to? Can it have bearing on your future performance and ability? What’s all the hype about? Based on my experience and the information out there, I’ll attempt to shed some light on what is quickly becoming characteristic of runners today.

By definition, a recovery run is that which you do the day after a hard workout (race, long-distance run, speed work etc.)

I haven’t always been an advocate of recovery runs, truth is for much of my running life I’ve more-often-than-not, done my thing. I believe in whatever works for you and not necessarily a one-size-fit-all approach. Granted, there are times it’s necessary to toe the line as happens with particular training techniques and smart training practices but in my opinion, we are all unique and respond differently, adapt at our own pace and acquire different skills and abilities special to us. And so I’ll never be a “Jesse Owens”  but I can be the best me if I’m willing to sift through the crud and embody what really matters.

The Experts

Elite athletes, coaches and avid runners will tell you what we all know to be true, practice makes perfect. You want to get good at something you practice hard, you want to be great, you practice harder. Coaches are big on recovery runs as they believe it enhances training leading to optimal performance and so most of their workouts are designed with this in mind, whether it’s hill repeats, sprints, interval training or others ( key workouts aimed at challenging your body to resist causes of high-intensity fatigue) are usually followed by a period dedicated to recovery. The belief here is that exposing your body to these key workouts simulate adaptations that enable you to resist fatigue better the next time (Matt Fitzgerald, competitor.com). Matt proposes that because recovery runs are gentle enough to not to create a need for additional recovery, they allow you to perform at a high level in your key workouts and therefore get the most out of them. In his words, ‘It is a way of squeezing more out of your key workouts.’ Coach Jeff in an article titled “Maximize Your Running With Planned Recovery Days” on RunnersConnect stresses that the body gets faster and stronger by breaking down muscle (hard training),and then allowing the body to build itself back up faster than before (recovery) and then repeating the process until you’re in shape and ready to race. A slightly different twist but with the same emphasis on allowing the body time to assimilate and recuperate to come back stronger.

My Experience

Two years ago, after running my first marathon, was the first time I gave any real thought to doing a recovery run. Rebel that I am, I felt I didn’t particularly need it and that since I pretty much ran all the time anyway, I had it covered. Then I ran 26.2 miles of joy and sorrow that ended with me in a boot for a month, wishing I could get out a day or two after as that discomfort would be preferable to what I then had to deal with.  See the magic in the recovery run lies in forcing you past your limits to not only embrace pain..you did that with the “hard workout” but it challenges your body to go beyond the point of fatigue, again you already achieved this; to embrace it. The run is done in an entirely fatigued state thereby boosting fitness. That is to say, you’re so doggone tired and hurting, how about 5 miles on top of that. Sounds machochist right?  Don’t worry, there’s a method to the madness; you get to slow down to an easy pace where breathing and carrying a conversation is easily done and the distance could range from anywhere between 3 to 5 miles. Plus it’s a tiny price to pay for you who see an ultra in your future.Thinking about rolling over the next time after a key workout? Think again. Your next race may depend on it.

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