The idea of recovery runs might seem counterintuitive to a lot of people, who would probably say that when recovering from a tough run, the last thing they’d plan on doing is any kind of run. However, do stay with us, because once you get into the swing of a running training plan, recovery runs are absolutely essential and highly beneficial.
Any good plan will contain a mix of different types of runs, and most of them should be done at an easy pace. Recovery runs fit in between harder stuff like tempo runs and interval training, and help your body bounce back for your next tough training session. They are a key part of running recovery, alongside things like stretches for runners.
To explain why recovery runs are so important and provide advice on how to go about them, here’s running coach Ross Murray, who is an ambassador for OOFOS (opens in new tab).
What are recovery runs?
It’s a run done to get your heart pumping and keep your legs moving, but at an intensity that doesn’t fatigue you. It’s there to break up more intense sessions.
Why not just rest completely?
There is still a benefit to be had from running. Everybody has different heart rate zones so I’m only going to speak from my own experience, but for an easy run my heart rate would be somewhere between 130 and 150. I’m still training my aerobic system and putting some load through the legs, but at an intensity that’s not going to damage the muscles.
When you do your hard sessions or your long runs, you’re tearing the muscles, and working the tendons and joints. The recovery run should be at such a low intensity that you don’t get that kind of negative effect.
Should you still have rest days with no running at all?
I’m an advocate of having at least one day completely off a week. It’s difficult to talk about how many days off somebody should have because everybody’s at different stages in their running journey, but even the top guys have a day off. That is probably best scheduled the day after your most intense workout.
How do you fit recovery runs into your training schedule?
With the athletes that I coach, we have three hard days a week – an interval session, a tempo session and a long run. Then the rest of the week is made up of recovery runs and rest days.
How long should recovery runs be?
Depending on the runner, it would usually vary from a nice 30-minute shuffle up to around 60 minutes for people doing more miles. But for someone who isn’t doing that many miles, it can be 10 to 15 minutes.
How do you judge the pace of recovery runs?
You shouldn’t be out of breath at the end of your recovery run. Make it around a minute per mile slower than the pace you might do on a Sunday long run. So say on your Sunday run you’re doing 14 miles at seven-minutes-per-mile pace, then I would say your recovery running should be at a pace of around seven minutes 45 seconds to eight minutes per mile.
Can you use your heart rate zones on a running watch to help guide you?
I wouldn’t tell people to follow the zones on their running watches blindly, because I just don’t know how accurate they are. It’s better off working to feel rather than getting too bogged down with looking at the watch. Just run to feel and you’ll figure it out over the weeks.
Is it best to do your recovery runs on certain surfaces?
Grass is fantastic for recovery runs. I often do my recovery run on a grass loop. It’s not the most fun but I think there’s a real benefit to it, especially if you live in an urban area and do a lot of running on the road and pavement – that’s so hard on the joints.
I would actually also recommend doing recovery runs on treadmills. First, because you can set the pace and control how you’re going to be running. And also the surface is not quite as hard on the joints. If you can tolerate it mentally, the treadmill can be really effective.
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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