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Want To Run Faster? Make Sure You Recover

  • By Mario Fraioli
  • Published Apr. 17, 2013
  • Updated Oct. 1, 2013 at 6:45 AM UTC
Learn more about The Official Rock 'n' Roll Guide To Marathon & Half-Marathon Training at www.velopress.com.

Recovery Blocks Following A Training Cycle

While racing a marathon or half-marathon will definitely necessitate a recovery period of relaxed training in the days and weeks that follow, the long training cycle that culminates in that race also requires a dedicated recovery period before you begin training in earnest again for another key race.

Recovery blocks are two- to four-week periods of what I call “detraining.” The goal is to put your relationship with your training schedule on hold and allow yourself to get a little out of shape. Sounds counterproductive to achieving your future racing goals, right? I assure you it’s not. Look no further than the recovery practices employed by some of the best long-distance runners in the world.

Alberto Salazar, coach to top runners such as Olympic medalists Mo Farah and Galen Rupp and American marathoner Dathan Ritzenhein, has his athletes take two dedicated recovery periods per year, usually following an intense five-month cycle of training and racing. Each recovery period begins with two weeks of no running whatsoever followed by two weeks of unfocused easy running before the resumption of a structured training schedule. It’s also not uncommon for many top Kenyans to take a complete month off from running following a key race before they start training for the next big race on their calendar.

So how should you structure your recovery block following a key race? The answer is going to vary depending on the athlete and the length of the specific buildup before the key event.

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As a general rule, I have my athletes take one week completely off from running for every uninterrupted 12-week block of training they completed before their key race. That’s right: no running. Zero. Does this mean a license to sit on the couch and watch TV all day? Well, you can, but I wouldn’t make a habit of it, especially if you plan on returning to training in a few weeks. Rather, think of your time off from running after a race as an “active” recovery period. While the occasional complete day off from any form of exercise is good for you, I encourage my athletes to aim for at least 30 minutes of non-running activity to keep body and mind engaged while they’re not following a strict training schedule. Cycling, swimming, and weight training are great choices, but even just walking, hiking, playing with your dog, surfing or skiing will do nicely. The key to active recovery is both mental and physical: mental in that it’s free from the stress of training and doesn’t feel like an “obligatory” workout; physical in that active recovery is low-impact activity, but enough that you break a light sweat and feel physically stimulated.

Follow your time off from running with one to two weeks of casual, every-other-day easy runs before reintroducing long runs and focused workouts into your weekly routine. For example, if you trained for 12 straight weeks leading up to your last marathon, you would take the next seven days off from running before lacing your shoes back up again every other day for two weeks of easy running.

The reasons for taking a planned break from training after a key race are as much mental as they are physical. Training is certainly a fun and exciting process, but it’s also hard work, and its cumulative effects are a grind on your mind as well as your body. Aside from letting your body repair itself from weeks and months of hard training, a planned break also gives your mind a rest from the obligatory feeling of needing to get up every morning to put in purposeful, stressful workouts. Use this planned recovery period of time off and unfocused running to rejuvenate your body and renew your enthusiasm to start chasing your next big racing goal!

This was an excerpt from, “The Official Rock ‘n’ Roll Guide Marathon and Half-Marathon Training” — a practical guide aimed at taking runners from sign-up to the finish line. Learn more at www.velopress.com.

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Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli is a senior editor at Competitor magazine. A cross-country All-American at Stonehill College in 2003, he now coaches the Prado Women's Racing Team in San Diego and was the men's marathon coach for Costa Rica's 2012 Olympic team. His first book, The Official Rock 'n' Roll Guide To Marathon & Half-Marathon Training (VeloPress, 2013) is available in bookstores, running shops and online.

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