WHAT THE HECK IS A RECOVERY RUN?
I've always been intrigued by a particular part of my training that is generally referred to as the recovery run. I believe it is more important than most people may think and if you routinely do tempo or interval workouts then you’ve most likely heard about it. A recovery run involves running a few miles at an easy, relaxed pace the day after a hard running workout. Generally I like to do my recovery run within 12-18 hours after my hard workout. I also typically keep my recovery runs between 3-5 miles but if I go longer, I do not exceed 7 miles.
The name itself can be a little confusing. I mean, how is it possible to recover from anything while still running?? There may also be some misunderstanding about the true purpose of such a run. The reason we do recovery runs as part of our training routine is to maximize the aerobic gains of a hard running workout. This is especially effective if you do this type of run within a day after the workout. A good rule of thumb is to keep the pace slightly slower than your long-run pace, even up to 30 seconds slower per mile. Even though the prescribed pace is easy, it can actually feel more challenging (i.e. elevated heart rate) than what your GPS watch or running app is telling you as your pace, because you are running on tired/heavy legs while your muscles are in the process of recovering. Hence the name!
Muscles are generally weaker immediately after a hard workout than before the workout began (counterintuitive, isn't it?) but then they go through a process of rebuilding where they overcompensate in order to withstand a similar stress level or demand in the future. This is how they grow and get stronger. Your heart and lungs are no different. By forcing your aerobic system to do some work while it's in this phase of recovery, you condition it to overcompensate even more, achieving an even higher level of fitness.
A great way to plan a recovery run is to do it with a friend or in a group and to make it FUN! It will most likely feel slightly more uncomfortable than you might expect, so the more enjoyable the run, the view and the conversation is, the easier it will be. Keep it at a conversational pace and you will be doing your legs a big favor!
Get out there. Train hard. Train smart.