Starts With the Most Underrated Run of Them All
Tempo and long runs along with some cross-training tend to get the majority of attention from most runners and their training schedules. It mixes it up and has some of the biggest benefits. Some may even throw in some hills as a strength training workout. It has been normalized in a sense that after a hard workout or that long run, to have a couple of days to recover and allow the body to rest and develop.
For me, after running anything over 15km, I have no intention of running the next day. If it was after a half marathon race, I usually took four days off to ‘recover’. It wasn’t until I read “Running into Yourself” by Jean-Paul Bédard (and fellow Brooks Canada Ambassador), that I learned about recovery runs.
Of course, running will throw out another curve ball when it comes to becoming a better runner. It started with going slowly and incorporating walking breaks to go further.
Then there is cross-training, because of course if you just ‘run’, you can develop muscle imbalances which cause injuries. Many runners incorporate cross-training in the form of other sports (swimming and cycling for example), but also may include HIIT workouts, calisthenics, and other weight training programs. I myself do a HIIT program as part of a strength training program and have seen my running get significantly better (both in the way I feel while running, and as a bonus, in my times).
But again, I would still take a few days off to let my legs recover after a long run. After all that, recovery runs are one of the most valuable runs we can do.
What Is a Recovery Run?
A recovery run is defined as relatively short, easy-paced, run performed within 24 hours after a hard session, usually an interval workout or a long run. Similar to our long runs, running at a relaxed pace can help you develop proper form, build endurance, establish base mileage, and might even, as the name implies, speed up recovery.
With recovery runs being relatively easy, these workouts may flush out lactic acid build-up, which can help prevent delayed onset of muscle soreness and speed up recovery. And while there is no scientific evidence to prove that recovery runs can enhance recovery, from my own experiences, I have noticed a delayed onset of muscle soreness compared to times where I take a couple of days off.
Why Would You Include a Recovery Run Into Your Training?
To which I would ask “well, why not?”…
For starters, recovery runs may increase your fatigue resistance. Plus you get to add another run day to your schedule, and as runners, isn’t that what we want anyway? More run days? As I mentioned before, the best time to schedule a recovery run is after a hard workout. In the first 24 hours after this workout, your legs are in a state of lingering fatigue from previous training.
Since you are at a relaxed pace, you can still put in the extra mileage without putting an increased amount of additional stress on the body. For the more elite (or insane) runners out there, another option is to do what many of us will call a “Double Run Day”. In fact, elite runners will follow a hard morning session with an evening recovery run… because, why not right?
Just keep in mind that recovery is only a must if you run more than three times a week. If you run just two to three times per week, each session should be a “quality workout” followed by a recovery, or cross-training, day.
Recovery Runs Pace
Now with everything running related, an ‘easy pace’ is going to be different for everybody. For me runs that are 7:00+ per km, is a relatively easy pace and one I can keep steady for a longer period of time. For some, their easy pace is 4:30/km, for others, it’s closer to 9:00/km. Depending on your fitness level and your speed, find what works for you. Can you carry a conversation without sounding out of breath?
If you are not able to hold a conversation, then slow down.
So What Actually is an ‘Easy’ Pace?
As a general guideline, your recovery run pace should be done at 65 to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate. In normal speak, this is roughly 60 to 90 seconds slower than normal training pace. For example, if you perform your regular training runs at 6:30/km pace, then use the 7:30 or 8:00/km pace as your guide on a recovery day.
Again, being an individual thing and having so many variables in place (sleep, diet, temperature, etc.), there really isn’t any pace that is deemed ‘too slow’ for a recovery run. Something I’ve usually preached a lot online and through my posts is how it feels rather than focusing on pace times.
As a rule of thumb, if you’re finishing your recovery runs sweating like Niagara Falls and completely spent, then you’re doing it wrong. The goal is to feel better at the end of your workout than you did at the start.
Recovery Run in Practice
In general, recovery runs should last around 30–40 minutes, so a couple to around 8 kilometres at most (give or take on how you feel). Again, this depends on you and your fitness level and training goals. Even for the more experienced runners covering some 50+ km/week, taking it easy for 5 – 8km is more than enough. The mentality of thinking that more is always better can do more harm than good when it comes to your recovery runs.
Another way to determine your recovery pace is to keep your speed steady. There should be no fluctuation in tempo or training intensity, even with the temptation to pick up the pace (guilty as charged). As Admiral Ackbar in Star Wars says:
Don’t get lured into that trap. This will certainly help build your discipline as well.
On the bright side, we all get an extra run day!
David Hampson is a runner from Manchester, England but now resides in Toronto, Canada. He’s been a runner since 2017 and his favourite distance is the 10k. He also represents Brooks Canada as part of their #RunHappy Team as well as supporting mental health initiatives such as Outrun the Dark.