Recovery Running – Why to Do It and How to Start

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a few people reach out regarding recovery runs. Some have asked what pace to do their own recovery runs at. Others have thanked me for posting these runs and not just focusing on the speed workout days. It got me thinking that we need to celebrate the recovery runs more as they are a big pillar of marathon training!

Recovery runs make up about 20% of my training volume (by mileage). I run 6 days a week with about 2 aerobic paced runs, 1 speed workout, 1 long run (sometimes with speedwork built in), and 2 recovery runs. I posted recently on Instagram that the “secret sauce” to running fast was running slow. I didn’t realize this until the last year when I truly took my recovery runs seriously and slowed things way down. My coach recommended I do these by my heart rate and try to keep it below 150 beats per minute (bpm). There isn’t a set “pace” for these runs but my pace typically falls between 9:00-10:30 pace which is over 60-90 seconds slower than my current marathon pace. It’s a big range but doing things based off of HR makes me be conscious of how much recovery my body actually needs. One day this summer when I was in peak fitness, one of my recovery runs was closer to 11 min pace because my HR was so elevated from the heat and humidity.

Giving into what my body wants and running slower on recovery days has made me a faster runner. Here are the benefits I have noticed by slowing down:

  1. I am generally able to hit my splits in my speed workouts and pace work in long runs. It doesn’t mean it isn’t still tough but my body is more recovered and able to show up to get the job done.
  2. As a result of successfully completing speed workouts, I’m able to translate my speed to races and accomplish the big goals I set for myself.
  3. It’s allowed me to run with friends that I normally don’t get to train with because we run different paces. Recovery running days are great days to go with different pace groups in your running club or with family/friends who don’t normally run with you.
  4. It’s relaxing. I do some of my best thinking on these runs because when I slow down my pace and am not worried about hitting certain times, I have time to think about things that are bothering me, plan my next big move, etc.
  5. It keeps injuries away. Until October of last year when I overdid things with 2 marathons in 3 weeks, I had not experienced an injury for 2018. Through a couple tough training blocks and big PR races, I still remained injury free and a lot of this can be attributed to slowing down and giving my body the recovery time it needs.

There is a lot out there on the internet about the power of recovery runs, but one of the most common questions I’ve been asked lately is, “how can I slow down my pace?” My answer to that is simple. You have to be disciplined and consciously make yourself slow down. It’s not natural to run slower than our everyday pace so we have to force ourselves to slow down. If you aren’t able to do it on the roads then take your recovery runs to the treadmill and let the machine set the pace for you (don’t allow yourself to speed up the pace either). It will take time – it took me a few weeks to get it down after my coach told me I was running these runs too fast, but if you keep practicing, it will become more normal for you just like anything else that you practice!

Still not convinced and need data to back it up? How about the fact that my half marathon in PR was a 1:41:44 in May 2016 and it wasn’t until March 2018 that I set a new PR. By August 2018 I lowered it to 1:35:02. 6 minutes and 42 seconds off (about 30 seconds per mile). Correlation? I didn’t slow down my recovery run paces until February 2018 thanks to the guidance of a running coach.

When I started my blog and my Instagram, one of my promises was to stay real throughout all of my postings. This means posting recovery runs and paces just like my speed workouts and races. While they aren’t as exciting to showcase, having a platform means other people are watching and I want to set a good example for new runners in this community who may not know about the benefits of taking recovery seriously. I also think it makes us more “human”.

One last piece I’ll leave you with – on the Morning Shakeout Podcast, Coach Ben Rosario of NAZ Elite was interviewed and said something that stuck with me about recovery. Talking about elite marathoners after they ran their goal races, he said that if not recovering and keeping going at a hard effort was the best thing for you to do, the elite marathoners would be doing that. Instead they take a couple months off of hard running before building back into another training cycle. If elites are taking the time to recover, we definitely should be! Even Eliud Kipchoge who ran a marathon in 2:01 runs his recovery runs slow (this article in Canadian Running states that he runs up to 9:40 pace/mile for his recovery runs. Note: a 2:01 marathon is about 4:37 pace/mile.) I challenge you to post your recovery runs on social media, too, and to be proud of them because #runslowtorunfast.

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