The Complete Guide To Recovery Runs

couple doing recovery run on a sunday

Recovery runs are one of my favorite running workouts.

I like to do them on an easy day or after a hard run to get my body back in gear and be ready for my next workout.

Over the past few years, I learned that running at a relaxed pace (the essence of recovery runs) has helped me improve my running form, build endurance, establish base mileage, and even speed up my recovery as far as I can tell.

Would you like to reap some of these benefits?

Then you have come to the right place.

In today’s article, I’ll explain what recovery runs are all about, why they’re important, how to do them, and guidelines on making the most out of them.

By the end, you’ll learn:

  • What is a Recovery Run?
  • The Benefits of recovery runs
  • Do really recovery runs help with recovery?
  • How To Find The Right Recovery Run Pace
  • When To Do Recovery Runs?
  • How to Structure a Recovery Run?
  • Race-specific recovery run tips

Sounds great?

Let’s lace up and dig in.

What is a Recovery Run?

Basically, a recovery run is a short, slow run, completed within 24 hours after a hard session, usually an interval workout or a long run.

A recovery run can be of any distance, but as a rule shorter than your base sessions, and performed at a pace 60 to 90 seconds slower than your average run.

The Benefits of Recovery Runs

Recovery runs host a load of benefits. Here are some of the main reasons you need recovery runs in your training program

“Improved” Recovery

First of all, let’s clear up something from the get-go about recovery runs.

Although called recovery runs, research has not yet proven that these runs actually speed up the recovery process in one way or the other.

In theory, recovery runs may help flush the build-up of lactic acid in the muscles.

Once this build-up is gone, the soreness should subside while healing increases.

However, the science behind these claims is still inconclusive.

So why even bother with a recovery run then?

Let’s check some of the actual benefits.

Fatigue resistance

Perhaps one of the most important running skills you can master (besides a sense of pacing) is the ability to run through post-training fatigue.

Since the best time to perform recovery runs is after a hard workout (or in a state of lingering fatigue), they can help improve your endurance and power output, according to research conducted at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Blood Flow

Performing a recovery run after a hard session will get your blood flowing along with loosening up your muscles.

Your muscles will contract and tighten if you do nothing but sit on the couch the whole day.

May Prevent Soreness

A recovery run may keep your legs, especially the muscles of hamstrings and calves, from feeling stale the following day.

Ever take a few weeks off running only to find that you feel sore and tired to run the next day?

Add Volume

Recovery runs can help you increase your weekly training volume, which can also help you improve your aerobic capacity.

The better your base, the faster and farther you can run.

Improve Form

Recover runs help you work on improving the way you run and your biomechanics.

You’ll have enough energy to pay attention to your technique—and not worry about anything else.

couple doing recovery run
sport, people and technology concept – happy couple with headphones and fitness trackers running outdoors

How To Find The Right Recovery Run Pace

This may not be technically true, but you can’t actually run too slow during a recovery run.

Let’s look at two methods to help you nail proper recovery run pace.

Heart Rate Training

If you train with a heart rate monitor, recovery runs fall in the region between 60 to 70 percent—or zone 1-2—of your maximum heart rate.

To err on the side of caution, perform your recovery workouts at the lower end of that range.

In layman’s terms, this is roughly 60 to 90 seconds slower than normal training pace.

So, for example, if you perform your regular training runs at 6:30/mile pace, then use the 7:30 or 8:00/mile pace as your guide on a recovery day.

For an elite runner (you know who you’re), recovery runs are run at roughly a hair slower than your marathon pace.

Just keep in mind that we all have different resting and maximum heart rates—runners are, after all, different people.

The Talk Test

Don’t have a heart rate monitor?

It’s okay. There’s another, simpler, measure you can rely on.

The easiest way to ensure you’re running easy enough during a recovery run is to talk while running.

Talk! Gossip! I know everybody loves it.

You should be running at a pace where you can sustain a conversation without panting.

This means you’re training aerobically, not going into oxygen debt.

No buddy no problem!

Try reciting the alphabets or the pledge of allegiance.

If you can’t speak in complete sentences, then you’re going too hard.

Slow it down.

Pick a Flat Course

Recovery runs are all about slowing down your pace, breathing, and heart rate.

It’s not the time for trails and steep hills.

You don’t want to add more fatigue.

Make sense?

Consider running on grass, flat trail, or gravel to grant your legs a break from the previous day’s pounding.

Concrete and asphalt are a no-no since they’re hard on your feet.

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When To Do Recovery Runs?

The ideal time to do a recovery run is within 24 hours of challenging workout or long run, according to most experts.

In case you’re a hardcore runner, you can complete your hard session in the morning then do a recovery run in the morning.

This is, by the way, how some elite runners can pack in as many miles as possible—by performing doubles, as they’re known in the running circles.

You can also schedule a recovery run if you’re coming down with a sickness or symptoms of over-training, such as insomnia, elevated heart rate, and chronic fatigue.

Just keep in mind that recovery are only a must if you run more than three times a week.

If you run just two to three times per week, each session should be a “quality workout” followed by a recovery, or cross-training, day.

What’s more?

Keep in mind that just because you’re doing a recovery run doesn’t mean you should skimp on other types of recovery.

Stretching, diet, and sleep should be the bread and butter of your recovery routine.

Don’t Overdo Your Recovery Runs

Every time you pound the track, it still counts as running, no matter the label in front of it.

This involves impact stresses on your muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons.

Even the easiest recovery pace may aggravate a stress fracture.

As a rule of thumb, if you’re finishing your recovery runs sweating like hell and completely exhausted, then you’re doing it wrong.

The fact is, you should feel better at the end of your workout than you did at the start.

Sample Workout

In general, recovery runs can last for 3 to 5 miles (or 25 to 40 minutes), preferably on the smaller end of this range.

Again, this depends on you and your fitness level and training goals.

No suit fits all.

A typical park loop may be enough to qualify as a recovery run. Even if you are an established endurance athlete covering 30+ miles a week, I’d still suggest no more than 3 to 4 miles for a recovery run.

Also, keep your speed steady.

Keep things under control.

running at a recoveyr pace

Race-specific Recovery Run Tips…

If you race often, then recovery runs should be a part of your post-race recovery strategy.

How quickly you pick up running again after a race depends on the length of the event you’ve just completed, your conditioning level ad when you plan to compete next.

Nonetheless, here is some general advice on when to plan your return to training.

Recovery Run After a 5K or 10K. Resume normal training within a few days, depending on your fitness level.

The first day after the race examine how your body feels.

Usually, you’ll want to do a recovery run for at least 20 minutes then stretch your body.

Recovery Run After A Half-Marathon. Completing a half marathon pretty much guarantees that you have inflicted some damage to your body.

After three or four days, go for a 20 to 30 minutes recovery run to help you get back into the swing of things as soon as possible.

Recovery Run After A Marathon. The following day following the race, walk around and stretch your body.

Avoid running or any form of intense cross-training.

Then,  two or three days, lightly cross-training.

Next, schedule your recovery run at least a week post-race.

Listen To Your Body

With all of this in mind, the key to making the most out of your recovery runs—and training in general—is paying attention to your body.

Take a few minutes every day to close your eyes, and shift your attention inward to assess how you feel.

Start by performing a full body scan, from the top of your head to the tips of your toes.

My favorite time is in the morning.

Usually, during that time, your body will show its true color, so you can easily decide what to do next.

Pay attention, and why not keep track, of everything you feel.

Your body is your best coach—it knows best.

Train hard when you’re feeling good, and take it down a notch when you feel like you are coming down with something or don’t have enough energy.

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