Practical Guidelines For Recovery Runs
Now that I’ve sold you on the benefits of recovery runs, let’s look at how to do them so that they most effectively serve their purpose of balancing training stress and running volume in your training. There are five specific guidelines I suggest you follow.
1. If you run fewer than five times a week, recovery runs are generally unnecessary. Recovery runs can only serve their purpose of balancing training stress with running volume if you run five or more times per week. If you run just three or four times per week, you’re better off going for a training stress in each run, or at least in three out of four.
2. Whenever you run again within 24 hours of completing a “key” workout (i.e., a workout that has left you severely fatigued or exhausted), the follow-up run should usually be a recovery run.
3. Do key workouts and recovery runs in a 1:1 ratio. There’s seldom a need to insert two easy runs between hard runs, and it’s seldom advisable to do two consecutive hard runs within 24 hours. A good schedule for runners who run six days a week is three key workouts alternating with three recovery runs, as in the following example:
Tuesday: Key Workout (High Intensity)
Wednesday: Recovery Run
Thursday: Key Workout (High Intensity)
Friday: Recovery Run
Saturday: Key Workout (Long Duration)
Saturday: Recovery Run
Most elite runners who train twice a day do a hard run in the morning followed by a recovery run in the afternoon or a hard run in the afternoon followed by a recovery run the next morning. The frequency is twice that of the above example but the ratio of key workouts to recovery runs remains 1:1.
4. Recovery runs are largely unnecessary during base training, when most of your workouts are moderate in both intensity and duration. When you begin doing formal high-intensity workouts and exhaustive long runs, it’s time to begin doing recovery runs in a 1:1 ratio with these key workouts.
5. There are no absolute rules governing the appropriate duration and pace of recovery runs. A recovery run can be as long and fast as you want, provided it does not affect your performance in your next scheduled key workout (which is not particularly long or fast, in most cases). Indeed, because the purpose of recovery runs is to maximize running volume without sacrificing training stress, your recovery runs should generally be as long as you can make them short of affecting your next key workout. A little experimentation is needed to find the recovery run formula that works best for each individual runner.
6. Don’t be too proud to run very slowly in your recovery runs, as Kenya’s runners are famous for doing. Even very slow running counts as practice of the running stride that will yield improvements in your running economy, and running very slowly allows you to run longer (i.e. maximize volume) without sabotaging your next key workout.