The pain train and the recovery run

The pain train is back and it’s taking names. It’s also reintroducing me to the concept of the recovery run.

Friday morning repeated a workout I’ve mentioned before.

1 1/2 miles @ 8:51
1 1/4 miles @ 7:13
1600m @ 5:51
1200m @ 4:23

With 3-4 minutes rest between intervals, this is a workout that challenges not only physically, but mentally as well. The last three intervals got the lactic acid good and pumped and I struggled a bit to get it all done.

Normally after a workout like this I look forward to a full day off. But this week Jim scheduled an easy 5 miler. This looked suspiciously like a “recovery run”, which I’ve always blown off as bullshit code for a run that’s interfering with my rest time. Traditionally I reward myself with a nice day off following a good hard effort. Day after a race? Sit on the couch. Run a crazy hard interval workout? Enjoy a leisurely Saturday morning.

Recovery run

So, it was with some reluctance that I set off for a 5 mile recovery run. I felt a little sore and tired and questioned whether this would do anything aside from exacerbate those qualities. But you know what? As I started running, the soreness and fatigue started to disappear. Keeping the pace easy helped a lot. I maintained a conversation pace the entire way and never felt out of breath. But my legs loosened up and I returned home more energized than I was when I left. This piqued my interest: what’s up with the recovery run?

According to author Matt Fitzgerald on Active.com, the recovery run builds fitness by forcing you to run in a pre-fatigued state.

There is evidence that fitness adaptations occur not so much in proportion to how much time you spend exercising but rather in proportion to how much time you spend exercising beyond the point of initial fatigue in workouts. So-called key workouts (runs that are challenging in their pace or duration) boost fitness by taking your body well beyond the point of initial fatigue.

Recovery workouts, on the other hand, are performed entirely in a fatigued state, and therefore also boost fitness despite being shorter and/or slower than key workouts.

Fitzgerald explains this more in an article on Competitor.com:

In a key workout you experience fatigued running by starting fresh and running hard or far. In a recovery run you start fatigued from your last key workout and therefore experience a healthy dose of fatigued running without having to run hard or far. For this reason, although recovery runs are often referred to as “easy runs,” if they’re planned and executed properly they usually don’t feel very easy.

Elite runners utilize the recovery run throughout their training, as Roy Benson describes in this Runner’s World article. If a 12:48 5k runner trains regularly at 8:00/mile pace, maybe I need to rethink my Saturday mornings. Pancake morning can’t disappear entirely, but maybe it’s worth a little shakeout jog beforehand.

Leave a Reply