The Art of Running Recovery


With exactly seven weeks to go until the Reading Half Marathon, those of you who have been following the Run JB training plan are looking forward to a recovery week. The concept may not be familiar to anyone new to endurance training, so here is our guide to the art of recovery.

Why is Recovery Important?

Recovery has both a physical and a psychological dimension. Physically, the reason we train is to stimulate a response in the body to adapt to the demands of the training regime. Our skeletal system needs to become stronger to cope with the frequency of impact on the joints. Training runs stimulate the creation of osteoblasts in the bones to form new bone tissue and increase bone density. This means that next time, we are able to run a little bit further. But this repair and strengthening process cannot happen whilst we run. It must occur afterwards whilst we are resting. A similar effect is in play with our muscles. Broken-down muscle tissue needs time to rebuild. Our body has a way of telling us that this needs to happen. Ever felt like you wanted to go straight to bed after a long run? Make sure you get an early night.

The mind needs time to recharge as much as the body does. Psychologically, we need recovery days to prevent boredom and to prepare ourselves mentally for harder sessions. Motivating yourself for a hard tempo run or particularly long continuous run can be a lot easier if you know you have the next day off.

Active Recovery

Recovery is therefore crucial in order to achieve optimum performance. Without adequate recovery, the quality of your training runs will inevitably suffer. In practice, for most of us who work Monday to Friday, the weekend is the ideal time to do a long run. In this case, the following day (Sunday or Monday) is the ideal day to completely rest. If you really struggle with the thought of taking the day off completely, then you can use “active recovery”. Choose an activity with a focus on mobility, such as a short and easy swimming, Pilates or Yoga session. This will give the body a chance to recover whilst easing any sense of restlessness.

During the working week, cross training is a great way to achieve an appropriate balance between training volume and intensity. The principle of specificity very simply dictates that your training needs to be specific to the demands of your goal. In other words, to get better at running you need to run regularly. However, by limiting the number of runs to three per week, you can use other forms of aerobic training to develop your cardiovascular fitness. One of the hugely beneficial aspects of triathlon training is that running, swimming and cycling make different demands on the muscular and skeletal systems. Alternating training sessions between the three disciplines therefore enables adequate recovery whilst maximising overall sustainable cardiovascular training volume.

What is a Recovery Week?

A recovery week is NOT a case of simply sitting on the couch for seven days! It simply involves reducing the overall volume of training for a week. This is relative to the volume to which the body has already become accustomed, so will vary significantly depending on the goal event. During the last recovery week of my ironman training, I swam 3 miles, biked 85 miles and run a total of 24 miles! This may not sound like an easy week, but it this still achieved the desired recovery objective at the time, because the body was already capable of meeting these demands without further adaptation. In general terms, a reduction in the overall volume of training of around a third is recommended to achieve the desired effect. The taper at the end of a training plan is an extension of the recovery week principle. It typically lasts two to three weeks, depending on the nature of the goal event. In the case of a half marathon, a two week taper is recommended

Less is Sometimes More

The main point I want you to take away from this article is that if you try to ignore the need for recovery, it will eventually be forced upon you through either illness or injury. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to recovery, as a particular individual’s capacity for training varies tremendously depending on their exercise background, experience level, work and home demands and lifestyle. However, remember that less is sometimes more. It is not always about training harder, but about training smarter.  

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