What are the benefits?
While the idea of running at an easy pace might have you fearing you’re time will slow, it actually is beneficial for your body and can even see you progress your fitness level. Even Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge practices numerous recovery runs in the week. The primary benefit of the recovery run is that it helps your muscles and tissues recover from hard workouts by promoting circulation. By increasing blood flow to muscles, recovery runs deliver oxygen and nutrients to your muscles to help them recuperate and flush out metabolic byproducts. If you wake up stiff or sore from a hard interval session the day prior, a recovery run is far better in speeding up the recovery process than spending a day sedentary on the couch (unless of course it’s a scheduled rest day in which case you should most definitely rest).
As well as promoting circulation in the body, recovery runs also minimise the risk of overtraining. It allows you to get mileage in and develop an aerobic base as a runner while reducing the impact and strain on your muscles, tendons, bones, ligaments and cartilage. By moving at an easy pace, the impact forces on the body are lower, reducing the repetitiveness of running the same pace all the time. As well as this, the easy pace reduces the physical burden on the body and will give it the break it needs to not become too overtrained or fatigued.
Another benefit of the recovery run is that it allows you to focus on form. During high-intensity interval workouts or hard runs, form can often come second-place to speed and timing. But when the focus is on simply recovering, it allows you to tune into your body, connect with how you feel, and work on things like running posture and form. By practising these things at an easy pace, it becomes easier to adapt them to your harder efforts.
Recovery runs also help your body to become more efficient at using fat. During low-intensity exercise, the body relies more heavily on fat as fuel which means spending time training in these zones helps the body become more efficient at mobilising and metabolising fat, which can translate to the ability to run longer and at higher intensities without crashing or hitting the infamous “wall” when the body runs out of glycogen stores.
When should you do a recovery run?
Most coaches would suggest that the recovery run be done after every high-intensity workout or hard effort. This includes things like tempo runs, threshold workouts, hill repeats, track intervals or mile repeats, and even races. After these hard workouts, most runners should plan to do a recovery run for the day after. For professional runners or those who “double” or run twice a day, the recovery run is usually the second of their two workouts.
How do you know you’re doing a recovery run?
The idea is to take is slow and easy, and a general rule of thumb is to keep the recovery run at a pace that allows you to have a conversation with say, a running partner. If your run was on a scale of 1 to 10 for effort, the recovery run should be kept between 3 and 5. It’s not so easy so as not to be effective, but also not hard enough that your body can’t recover. If you’re training by heart rate, you want to make sure your heart rate stays below 70 per cent of your maximum during your recovery runs, though even lower (60-65 per cent) is ideal.
How long should a recovery run be?
Duration is critical when it comes to the recovery run. You might think you’re recovering as you’re keeping a conversational pace, but if you’re running a marathon then it’s less likely that you’re recovering. Most runners should aim for 20 to 40 minutes for their run, to ensure they’re not taxing the body. This will also depend on your fitness level, weekly mileage and the race distance you’re training for.