Running to Recover

So why should you do a recovery run and when you do, how? Intuition might suggest that the why is to ‘fix’ your legs after a hard run. But science now seems to debunk this as there is apparently no evidence that light exercise promotes any physiological response that is relevant to muscle repair. According to sports scientists the real benefit of the ‘recovery’ run is that they improve your fitness by making you run whilst still fatigued. The idea is that the main benefits from training come when you get past the initial level of fatigue. In a recovery run you start at this level, so it’s all good. You can read more about this here. It all makes perfect sense from a scientific point of view.

However I never really liked science! I believe that the ‘getting your legs back’ benefit of the recovery run is real. Anecdotal evidence from runners of all speeds & experience demonstrates that a light jog the day after a hard effort lets your legs stretch out and get moving without putting them under any more stress and this sets you up for the next hard session. Maybe this is just psychosomatic but my own anecdotal evidence (which makes it empirical) tells me that a recovery run is an essential part of a schedule that has more than 2 hard sessions each week – I know I perform better in my key sessions (especially a Tuesday interval session after a long weekend run) when I’ve added a gentle jog in between. What’s more, if I’m also getting the benefit of training while pre-fatigued (thereby teaching the body to perform well when fatigued – crucial for marathons and half marathons), then all the better. And on top of that it’s miles in the bank without stressing the body unduly. Triple whammy!

So, if you’re now convinced the recovery run is a good thing, what about the how? Well, let’s start with the blindingly obvious – it should be slow, 60-90 seconds slower than marathon pace or about 2-3 on the Borg 10-point RPE scale (see below). It should also be not too long – I go for 4-5 miles or 30-40 minutes. But here is the key thing; it should be run well. By this I mean with the best form you can manage. It’s really easy to go into ‘shuffle’ mode when you are running at a slow pace. This is not a good plan as you risking injury by not running with your usual gait and not engaging your support muscles. Use the run as a chance to focus on being nice and upright, having a good forward direction in your limbs (think of our funny walking drills!!), and having a bit of spring in you stride. It’s actually easier to do this when you are not also battling the increasing fatigue that occurs in hard sessions.

So there we have it, the recovery run –not junk miles but a very useful element of training. Go out and give it a go!

Borg’s 10-point scale:

RPE 1–2: Very easy; you can converse with no effort
RPE 3: Easy; you can converse with almost no effort
RPE 4: Moderately easy; you can converse comfortably with little effort
RPE 5: Moderate; conversation requires some effort
RPE 6: Moderately hard; conversation requires quite a bit of effort
RPE 7: Difficult; conversation requires a lot of effort
RPE 8: Very difficult; conversation requires maximum effort
RPE 9–10: Peak effort; no-talking zone