Monday, January 20, 2014

Understanding The Recovery Run and Why You're Probably Doing It Wrong

For any runner looking to improve, whether that means to get faster, run more consistently, log more miles, etc., recovery runs are a critical part of a training cycle.

"10 mile recovery run in the books! #trainhardrecoverharder"

Ever seen someone post anything like that on social media?  My response - You're doing it wrong.  And that is part of the reason why I am inspired to write this.  Too many people are putting their health at risk by failing to understand the recovery run and how it fits into the bigger picture.  And worse yet, logging miles of useless running doesn't lead a runner any closer to achieving a given goal. So let me lay it out for you to understand the what, why, and how.

But before I get there, let's take a look into better understanding some basic terminology before jumping into the specifics.  When we speak about run training in general, there are really two key terms to think about: stress workouts and recovery runs.
  • Stress workouts: These are what we think about as the hard part of training - tempos, intervals, long runs.  These workouts target different energy systems to directly stress you and ultimately increase your fitness.  The specific stress workout to do, largely depends on what race you are training for and where in your training cycle you are in relation to your goal race.
  • Recovery runs: As noted above, these are the "other" runs you do that support the work you do when you execute a stress workout.  All training programs (regardless of race distance) should incorporate recovery runs.  More about recovery runs can be found below.
The stress response model for general adaptation is a concept familiar to any sport.  The simple explanation is that in order to improve, we must first stress the system, followed by a period of recovery, followed by supercompensation, which makes us more fit. Following a stress workout, the body needs to recovery prior to adding another new stress, otherwise one would continue to build fatigue.  The result of too much of this fatigue is typically injury.  If you're lucky, your body shows signs before injury hits, but those that push beyond their body's signals often end up with some sort of injury.  Therefore, this cycle teaches us that when we place a stress upon our system, we need to allow adequate recovery so that we can continue to build up stronger and reach new levels of fitness as we train toward our goal race.

You might be wondering, well if recovery is so important, why not just take every day after a stress workout off instead of a recovery run?  Well there are multiple reasons why one should not necessarily take a day completely off after a stress workout.  I'll cover them in a moment below. 

So with those two general concepts clear, its important to understand why recovery runs are still important to every runner and how you should customize your recovery runs to meet your specific needs.  No matter what distance race you are training for, recovery runs serve the same purpose:
  • To build volume of your running program and increase aerobic efficiency: Easy runs provide a safe means of adding volume to a runner's weekly mileage.  Running higher volume enables the ability to increase ones aerobic efficiency.  If you only ran stress workouts and took off every other day, it would only lead to 2-3 days of running per week, thus minimizing your ability to increase your aerobic efficiency (ie via too low volume).  Lots of easy running provides a safer means of accomplishing this and the more efficient you can become, the faster you can run at given intensities.  Further, the increased volume often provides a greater base of support to handle higher stress workouts, which can lead to even greater adaptations.  In other words, it allows you do to more, which can make you more fit.  
  • Promote moderate bloodflow: While we hopefully all recognize now that the lactate, commonly associated with stress workouts, isn't the evil it was once thought to be, we also know that movement heals through bloodflow throughout the body to help remove toxins in the blodstream.  This is one of the benefits of massage and other similar therapies - to encourage bloodflow, which aids in recovery. Easy recovery runs enable you to promote bloodflow without causing much added stress.  The key here is to limit the amount of stress by keeping the run easy and relatively short (more on that in a bit). 
  • Allow your body to adapt to the stress placed upon it through workouts: As noted in the adaptation diagram above, if you don't allow for sufficient recovery, you'll never reap the benefits of supercompensation to achieve higher levels of fitness.  Simply put, you'll be digging a hole you can't get out of through higher and higher levels of breakdown and fatigue.  So we do recovery runs to provide the limited stimulus, while still allowing our bodies to adapt.
So for all of these reasons (and probably many more I didn't include), it should be clear what recovery runs are, and why we should incorporate recovery runs.  But let's talk about how.

Like every recommendation/training principle, these are general guidelines.  However, the vast majority of runners could benefit from following them.  If injury statistics of runners are any indication, runners simply don't follow enough of these general guidelines.  So my advice is to simply follow it if you want to be able to train consistently.  So you want to know what the rule is?  Its pretty simple:

Each recovery run should be no longer than 10% of your weekly volume

Lastly, we all know that recovery runs should be done at a slower pace, but by how much?  I typically leave this up to how I'm feeling, but in general, it should be no more than 65-75% of your max heart rate or about 90 - 120 seconds slower than your 5k pace.  So combine the two guidelines of distance and pace and you've got a recipe for success.

Putting this all into context, this means that someone who runs 40 miles/week and has a 5k time of 25:00 (8:00/mi pace) should run no more than 4 miles per recovery run at between 9:30 - 10:00/mi.  So that 8-10 mile "recovery run" you just did wasn't much of a recovery at all.  In fact, you just created new stress on your body, which will carry over into your next stress workout and could potentially spin you down through the fatigue back hole.
Am I being a bit over dramatic about the impact?  Possibly, but consistently breaking this guideline will not lead you in the most direct form of progression and may very well result in injury.  So while doing this every once and a while isn't likely to have this impact, it may.  So take this advice for what its worth - another guideline to keep you injury free and constantly progressing as a runner, no matter what your goals are.   

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013 Year in Review

2013 will certainly go down as a great year - both for running and in life.  While the days, weeks, and months seemed to fly by, a lot happened over the course of that time.  Taking a look back allows for a review of  the year and a chance to decide what's next for 2014.  Here's a brief look back:

January - March: Training was in full force for the Shamrock marathon, where I set my eyes on a new PR.  During that time, I reached new mileage highs, topping out in the low 70s for a few weeks.  Never did I think I'd be able to handle that kind of volume, but I proved myself capable of it through consistent training and a gradual build up over time.  Many of those long runs were joined by an awesome crew of running buddies.  Seriously don't know how I would have gotten through all of the training without the company.
The best running buddies
With Shamrock in sight, I relentlessly checked the weather - partially because I have always been obsessed with the weather as I get closer to any race, but more so because the outlook was less than ideal.  Despite by best mind tricks and anti-bad weather dances, the weather man did not change his forecast and we were dealt with 20-30 mph headwinds for the race.  However, I ran a strong race resulting in a PR and met some cool people along the way.  Nothing to complain about there!
Leading our unofficial pace crew

April - May: With my race in the books, it was time to focus on Rebecca, who was training for the Nike Women's Half.  I spent a number of weekends logging some stroller miles with her on her long runs.  To this day, her longest run of that training cycle remains our longest stroller run - 13 miles.
The view from the stroller
 As expected, Rebecca rocked her race and threw down a 30+ minute PR!  Watching the crew I coached all run great races was such a fun experience.  Sometimes life as a coach/sherpa can be even more rewarding than racing yourself.  This was one of those days.
The support crew
With Rebecca's race in the past, it was time to hop back into focus on another goal race of mine - the Brooklyn Half.  Fresh off Shamrock, I wanted to race the half distance to set a PR, but I wasn't quite ready to go all in on the training front yet.  And while I didn't train for it quite as well, I still managed to PR in the distance. 

June - August: After a few weeks of downtime following Brooklyn, it was time to get back into the swing of things with training for the NYC Marathon.  To my shock and amazement, I managed to get into the race through the lottery after trying for a number of years.  I was both excited for another go at the marathon distance, but also intimidated by the huge spectacle of the race.  As a result, I got caught up in the minutia of it all and felt stuck in my training.  However, I resolved it all by just taking things one day at a time and by focusing on the little things to get me through.

It was also during this time than Jamie reached out to me about being included in an article about running blogs in an upcoming edition of Run Washington.  I happily accepted and couldn't wait to get my copy when it was finally published.  Have a read - lots of great blogs to read from!

September - November: With NYC nearing, I raced the Perfect 10 Miler as a tune up and fitness indicator of where I was before heading into the final few weeks of training.  Similar to those races before, it resulted in another PR and clear sign that I was ready to rock NYC.

Jess and I crushing the hilly 10 miler course
Before I knew it, it was time to race NYC, so we made the trip up and I embraced the whole experience.  And despite similar weather conditions as Shamrock (ie terrible winds), I made the best of the race and PR'd again at the marathon, while meeting some more fun people along the way.

My favorite shoe and my favorite marathon
December: While there were no planned races (yet), my training has continued, since I am working on the foundation for a Spring race.  During this time, I realized that I'd come painfully close (but likely short) to 2500 miles on the year.  Well in the closing weeks, I noticed that I happened to be running a few more miles than planned.  And slowly, I got it in my head that I had a shot at getting to 2500.  With 180 miles over the last three weeks of the year, I managed to squeeze by 2500 to finish at 2503.  This set a new lifetime high by approximately 500 miles.  And while I don't place much emphasis on raw mileage numbers, I know that this included tons of quality miles in there.  Most of those miles were spread over two marathon cycles, which always included speedwork and tempos.

This month also brought me a first - my first time being featured in an article through (also written by Jamie), an online resource I've been reading for years since I started runner.  It was pretty cool to see the final product and I couldn't be more proud.

So what is my takeaway from 2013?  Consistency is the name of the game.  Always has been and will hopefully continue to be in 2014.  I don't have many specific goals for 2014 other than to enjoy running as much as possible and keep inspiring others to do the same, whether through coaching, writing, and/or doing.  If I do that, then I can pretty much guarantee success everywhere else.  And in order for that to happen, I just need to keep running and set the example.  And I'll do just that - for 2014 and beyond.


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