Recovery runs generally don’t get as much recognition as tempo runs, interval runs or long runs. However, if they are properly built into your training program, they can be as equally important and beneficial as the aforementioned runs.
Typically a recovery run is a short and slow run that is done the day after a more strenuous run or race, and the main benefit associated with doing this is to promote recovery from the previous tougher run.
But there is an even greater benefit of recovery runs that is not usually mentioned; they allow a runner to combine the two main components of improving running performance and fitness levels; training stress and running volume.
For runners, training stress will occur when you run high-intensity sessions; such as tempo and interval, and long runs. These type of runs trigger positive adaptations in the body that enable you to reach the same level of performance the next time, without feeling as fatigued.
Running volume on its own, even without high-intensity runs added into your training, will also positively impact performance and fitness. This is because of a direct link between running economy and running volume. Essentially the higher your running volume, the greater improvements in running economy.
In basic terms, running economy is concerned with how much oxygen you can take in and how efficiently its used to improve your performance. An especially important factor for long-distance runners.
As outlined, the components of training stress and running volume will improve running performance and fitness levels on their own. However, if both are combined correctly the benefits will be greater, and this is where recovery runs play the vital role.
By adding a few short, untaxing runs throughout your training schedule, you can reach a higher running volume than if you were just running hard all the time. Because recovery runs are intended to be ‘easy’, minimal stress will be added to muscles worked in the previous day’s key running session. This results in adequate recovery time between your last key session and the next one, but with the added benefit of having ran more miles, increasing your running volume.
For recovery runs to effectively serve the purpose of balancing training stress and running volume, there are a few guidelines you should follow.
1. A recovery run can be as fast and as long as you want as long as it doesn’t impact your performance in your next planned key session. There are no set rules for the pace and duration of recovery runs. Remember the main purpose of recovery runs is to maximise running volume without impacting your key ‘training stress’ sessions. Therefore recovery runs should be as long as possible, without affecting your next key running session.
2. Recovery runs really only bring benefits if you run five or more times per week. If you run between two and four times per week, you would get more benefit going for a training stress run each time.
3. Within 24 hours of finishing a key running session, the next run should be a recovery run.
4. It’s usually unnecessary to perform two easy runs between one harder run, aim to do key running sessions and recovery runs in a 1:1 ratio.
For runners who run six days a week aim to keep a schedule of three key running sessions alternated with three recovery runs.
For example Monday: rest, Tuesday: running session (tempo run), Wednesday: recovery run, Thursday: running session (hill reps), Friday: recovery run, Saturday: running session (long run), and Saturday: recovery run.
Most elite runners who train twice a day, will usually have one hard run in the morning or evening, and an easy recovery run at the alternate time of the day – but still, maintain the 1:1 ratio of key running sessions to recovery runs.
5. If you are only in a base training phase and most runs are moderate in terms of intensity and duration, recovery runs are not really necessary.
However, once you move into more high-intensity sessions and taxing long runs, begin doing recovery runs and key sessions in a 1:1 ratio.