Recovery Runs in Endurance Training – Weekly Recap 10.4.20

We moved into our new home!  We’ve gotten about 90% of the unpacking done, and are starting to tackle hanging things up where we want them.  We still need to buy a few bigger pieces of furniture (like our dining table), but we’re focusing on getting what we have set up to see what kind of style we really want to focus on.  I don’t like not having everything in order, but I don’t want to rush anything, since we’re hoping to keep our stuff for the next several years.  Fortunately, most of my training this week was recovery runs, which I was thankful for since unpacking requires a lot more energy that it really should.

Related Post: How Stress Affects Training

One thing that I did want to get completely organized is my bedroom desk. We plan on using a downstairs area as an office with a larger desk, but for conference calls where I need a little extra quiet, my dad built me this great floating desk that is perfect. He got it all hung up in our room, and I set up my metal display that Henry bought me in the same area. Our bedroom is HUGE, and I love having this little area carved out.

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We spent most of the week getting everything out of boxes, and my dad came in on Thursday to bring my nephew to visit with our son for a couple of hours.  The boys played catch in the front yard with my dad, and we had a quick dinner before they drove back to my dads house for the night.  On Friday, we drove up to Austin for the night.  My mom was picking up my nephew in Austin on Saturday, and this was the perfect chance for me to run some new trails and have lunch with my mom.  Since she’s moving out of state next month, I’m glad we had a couple of hours to hang out.  And I definitely never hate running on new trails.

I mentioned earlier that the majority of my runs this week were slow, easy recovery runs.  For a few years, I ran almost all of my runs at close to the same pace.  Once I started incorporating speed workouts into my training, I realized that my body really needed me to include some runs that were an easier pace to keep me from overuse injuries.  I don’t always love easy, steady miles, but they’ve been really great for my training.  Here’s what I’ve learned about recovery runs over the past couple of years.

Recovery Runs in Endurance Training

Recovery runs aren’t all that exciting, so I understand the appeal to think they’re not super useful in training. In fact, I used to think that recovery runs were basically a polite way of saying “lazy” miles at best. It seems like if your body needs to recover from something, running might be counter-productive. But this isn’t the case. Recovery runs can be really useful, especially if you are training hard. If you’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that every run should be a hard effort, here’s why you might want to reconsider.

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Why Have Recovery Runs?

Recovery runs serve a couple of purposes, but before we get too deep into that, let’s make sure we’re on the same page for the definition of a recovery run.  Generally, these are the kinds of runs where you are able to maintain a conversation, your body isn’t overly taxed, and the distance is fairly comfortable.  Your heart rate should be noticeably lower than what it is during hard workouts, and your breathing should be relaxed and even.  The actual pace of your recovery run will vary depending on your overall fitness. 

Now that we have a working definition, let’s talk about why these runs are so useful and important.  When you’re training hard, your body is going to produce, and usually store, some lactic acid.  That acid is largely responsible for the sensation of soreness and muscle fatigue that you experience in the hours and days after tough workouts.  This lactic acid will eventually filter out of your body naturally on its own, but some gentle, easy movement can help get your blood pumping, allowing to flush out more rapidly.  The result?  You might start your recovery feeling heavy and sore, but find yourself feeling less stiff afterwards.  A running miracle!

The second benefit is that recovery runs help your body learn how to run more efficiently.  Because these runs are at a slower pace, your body is able to utilize and improve its ability to burn fat as fuel.  They also help improve your aerobic capacity, where a more intense workout improves anaerobic conditioning.  Increased aerobic capacity will allow you to run further, without feeling so exhausted.  Recovery runs also help your body learn how to keep moving, despite being in a fatigued state.  This ability always comes in handy during those last few race miles that feel like they are never ending.

How are They Different From Junk Miles?

So how are these easy-paced runs different from junk miles? Well, we have to really understand what junk miles are before we can answer that. Junk miles are miles that are run above and beyond what is helpful to improve running ability. So, for example, most first and second time marathon runners build up to a 20 mile long run over the course of their training. 20 miles is long enough to gain some aerobic and strength benefit, without putting the runner at a higher risk for injury.

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Some anxious runners might want to tack on an extra 3 miles at the end of this long run to get closer to the race distance, being concerned that 20 miles is not sufficient to prepare for 26.2.  Those extra 3 miles would be the junk miles.  They serve little to no actual benefit to the runner, and substantially increase the risk of injury.  Another example would be going out for a 5 mile run later in the day after a shorter speed workout in the morning.  Those extra 5 miles don’t make the runner stronger, and have no real benefit.

Related Post: Marathon Training Plan Round Up

So the definition of junk miles are additional miles that have no purpose or benefit, other than soothing the irrational anxiety that even the most confident runner can fall into the trap of experiencing.  They are divergent from recovery runs, because recovery runs have a purpose and multiple benefits, if done correctly.

How to Incorporate Recovery Runs

The most useful way to time recovery runs is to schedule them on the day following a workout.  If you are running a long run, speed workout, or tempo run, plan to run at an easy pace on the following day.  Generally, you don’t need to run easy on consecutive days, but it’s certainly not forbidden.  Here’s a couple of helpful tips for executing recovery runs:

  • Run with a friend so that your speaking naturally helps you maintain a good pace
  • Turn your watch upside down, or put it on a screen that doesn’t show your pace, so you won’t be tempted to try to run faster
  • Don’t be discouraged by feeling sore or heavy in the first couple of warm up miles
  • Listen to something that won’t encourage you to unintentionally speed up, like a podcast as opposed to upbeat music
  • Pick a location that doesn’t include challenging hills or climbs, as this can start to defeat the purpose
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This Weeks Workouts

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Total Miles: 63
Total Workouts: 4
50 Mile Training, Week 20
How the Runs Felt
This week, more of my runs were on the roads than trails, which is different from most of my training.  Sunday and Monday, I hit the greenway that’s closer to our house and focused on easy, recovery runs.  Last weekend was pretty brutal, so having those easy days was much welcomed.  Both runs felt easy and steady.  On Wednesday, my cousin met me on the greenway for my final speed workout of this training block.  I typically follow a 10 day taper, and don’t do any speed work during that time.  It was a good workout to end on.  I felt strong and challenged, but didn’t feel like I was dying at the end of the workout.

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On Thursday, I made it back to the powerlines for 6 miles of hill work.  After just a couple of days on the roads, I was really excited to be back on rocky trails.  The steep climbs actually felt less difficult than most weeks, and I think a big part of that was the extra recovery that I programmed in at the beginning of the week.  Trails are friendlier on the joints, but technical trails are by no means easy, even with slow pacing.  Constantly going up or down is rough, and having a couple extra flat runs gave my legs a nice, little break.

Saturday, I got to run some new trails in Austin, which was so much fun.  Running on new trails is exciting, but when the trails aren’t super well marked, there’s a lot of stopping to check the phone to make sure you haven’t gone off track.  On Saturday, this meant that I had to cut my run short, because we were meeting with my mom for lunch before she drove back to Dallas.  I wish I had more time on the Barton Creek Trail, but I enjoyed the miles I was able to get in.  Running a shorter run on Saturday meant that my longest run would be pushed back to Sunday.  Not a huge deal, but something I haven’t had to tackle since starting my training.

How the WODs Felt
I was back to 4 workouts this week, and I felt pretty good throughout the week.  I can definitely tell that I’m losing some overall strength, and my lifting technique isn’t as clean as it was when I was working out in a CrossFit gym.  My husband and I are hoping to drop in to a couple of gyms over the next week or so, since we’re not just down the street from LifeTime Fitness.  There’s a lot I’ve loved about having the gym membership and working out solo for a little while, but with things seeming to be on a much better track at CrossFit, Inc, I’m looking forward to having more engagement with a fitness community.

What I’ve Been Listening To
True Crime Reporter has been really engaging and interesting, and I’m loving the interviews.  Being from Texas, I don’t usually hear southern accents, but the men in this podcast definitely have a strong southern twang, and it just adds to the vibe.  Lately, I’ve been all about Morbid and That Why We Drink.  They’ve done a couple of spooky episodes about things like exorcisms, the origins or Halloween, and hauntings.  This is definitely the best time of year!

What Went Well
We got almost all of our unpacking done, and I was still able to get in all of my work outs this week.

What Went Shitty
Getting on the trails in the early hours has been trickier.  We don’t live down the street from the nature preserve, and with the sun not coming up until around 7, I don’t have as much time on the trails.  I’m shifting things around to maximize my weekend runs, and hoping I might be able to get out one afternoon per week, depending on the temperatures outside.

Plans to Improve Next Week
Next week, I’ll get in one more hill workout, and then focusing on easy runs until my race!

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