lite coach Mike Caldwell believes recovery is a crucial but undervalued piece of the training jigsaw. ‘Our recovery days are vital. We’re able to run hard on our hard days because we only ran 45 minutes on Wednesdays and Fridays.’
The key to Caldwell’s system is a delineation between tough workout days and recovery days. During hard interval sessions – 5K pace, for example – his runners cover five to six miles, as opposed to the more traditional three or four miles. For his runners to handle that volume of quality, Caldwell says they must be fresh heading into the sessions.
Higher mileage means higher fitness, so you may find it mentally challenging to lower mileage on easy days to recover properly. Training volume is certainly a big factor in performance, and lowering it too much on your recovery days can be detrimental if the total aerobic stimulus is too low. Runners who are hesitant about significantly lowering their recovery-day mileage should consider slowing the pace. This reduces stress on the body while still allowing for the added volume, says Rosario. Fitness gains occur during recovery, so it’s critical to find a personal balance between the volume and intensity of hard days and easy days.
Some may opt to go longer or even to run twice on easy days. Research suggests doing two runs on easy days will increase growth hormone production and so speed recovery. There’s no one answer that works for all runners, so get in the mindset of asking yourself whether you are recovering adequately, and making changes to ensure you are.
Adequate recovery is about much more than just distance and pace, however. Eating a nutrient-rich diet, training on a variety of surfaces and wearing proper shoes can all reduce the wear and tear on your body, and speed your recovery from harder sessions. And Rosario says there’s one other ingredient that runners of all levels neglect: sleep.
It’s not just tired muscles that need rest. According to a study review in Sleepscience, sleep deprivation reduces your ability to maintain attention and increases perceived exertion. It also affects your ability to control your body temperature, making it harder to run in adverse conditions, and increases cardiac effort. In this state your central nervous system is too depleted to produce the effort needed to run fast. Generally, if you’re not getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night, you’ll be hard-pressed to run well.
CHANGE THIS Lower your recovery-day mileage and/or slow your recovery pace. Get more sleep.
WHY Failing to recover sets you up for injury and burnout.
THE CHALLENGE Cutting back on recovery-day mileage seems counterintuitive if your goal is to become faster.
THE RISK You can lose fitness if you cut back too much; it can be tough to balance volume and recovery.