Sunday, March 9, 2014

Avoid the Recovery Run Trap

If you're looking for the Newton III shoe review, you can find in here.
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Whoah, I can hear the objections already. But before you go getting your compression socks in a twist, or head out the door and hammer your easy day, let me explain a bit.

Most weekly run schedules are composed of several 'quality' runs and 'recovery' runs. 'Quality' runs are generally categorized as the meat and potatoes of the schedule with the 'recovery' runs thrown in to boost volume and allow for active recovery.

Let's look at these intentions one at a time:

Volume certainly can help improve running economy. The more you run (or do anything), the more your body will adapt to performing that movement pattern in the most economic way possible. However, for this to happen, the repetition must be coupled with a mindfulness towards proper form and improvement.

Unfortunately, many people simply go out and crank out a few mindless miles as their 'recovery' run. Couple with with the fatigue from the preceding quality session and all you're doing in this case in honing your ability to run with poor form.

The body recovers much better when it's active. Moving around increases blood flow and ups the chemistry in your body that speeds recovery. But many people try to turn their recovery runs into workouts. They end up running them too hard and/or too fast.

In addition - while it's true that many experienced and elite runners can see a recovery benefit from an easy run, many folks just don't have the years and miles on their legs to run with an easy, efficient stride that promotes healing instead of breaking down. Take that noisy stride and couple it with a few extra pounds, and you're most likely doing more harm than good in your recovery run.

So should you ditch the day in favor of lying around on the couch, flipping channels? Not at all. But the next time you want to drop a 'recovery' run on your schedule, take a second look into how to get the most bang for your buck out of that day. In short - every run should be a 'quality' run. Every run should have a purpose. If you see a run that simply says "Easy 5mi" or "Recovery 3mi", then re-think the run. Otherwise, you're just logging junk miles that are probably slowing your fitness gains rather than adding to it.

Here are ways to re-calibrate that ambiguous 'recovery run' on your schedule:

1. Turn it into a skills workout. Here's an example of a run that is easy on your body, but will reap benefits in your form. Do muscle activation exercises, prehab movements, fast feet, grapevines, butt kickers, uphill bounding strides. Run very, very slowly, but with perfect, tall form. Break up the session to focus on where your feet are landing and pushing off. Try to adjust your paw back. Run to some 90 cadence (per foot) music - higher if you have a high cadence already. Check arm position. Run backwards, sidesteps. Run (easily) around cones. Run barefoot on grass. Bound the workout by time, not by miles. If you need help with running skills / drills, do some searching out there. McMillan Running actually has a whole DVD series just on drills (Drills for Distance Runners), or hire a coach.

2. Do an easy bike workout instead. The bike is much easier on your body. Go out for what is known as a 'walk on the bike', where you just roll along without any intensity. This is a great ride to do with your young kids. You should never feel any 'burn' on this ride. Keep it short and remember that the goal of this ride isn't to add fitness, it's to help the body absorb the work you've already done.

3. Do an easy fun run with friends or people that won't push you. We all have folks in our lives that we'd like to run with, that aren't daily runners. Schedule easy runs with them and do a rolling trail run - and keep it easy. If you aren't able to carry on a conversation the whole time, you are running WAY too hard. Make sure you stay mindful of your form. Don't get sloppy.

4. Hit the treadmill with 0% incline and a very easy pace. Try at least 2 minutes (per mile) slower than your Marathon pace.The treadmill can be a great way to keep you honest at a constant slower pace. And it's generally easier on your body. Some people develop niggles and injuries on the treadmill - if that's you, then skip this one.

One last point. If you are a runner that has consistently held 50-60+ miles per week through many years, then the recovery run may work for you - or you are probably already doing one or more of the above in lieu of just cranking out a few more easy miles to boost your weekly totals. Just check to make sure you are creating enough separation between your hard and easy days. When I first started working with a coach years ago, the first thing she had me do was to run my hard runs harder and my easier runs easier. I was running my easier runs too hard and they were compromising the quality of my harder runs.

Let me sum things up again by saying, 'All runs should have a purpose' - so, when I say 'avoid the recovery run' - what I really mean is; 'make all your runs *quality* runs'.

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