Recovery is defined as “the act or process of becoming healthy; a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.”
This definition can be applied to running as well. For a runner, recovery refers to the process of giving your body a break from training, whether it’s between intervals on a track, or between training runs during the week, or after a goal race. By allowing your body time to restore and return to “normal,” you are better prepared for maximal performance.
It is during these recovery phases that many of the adaptations to training are made. By taxing the body during training, we trigger a cascade of physiological responses. However, these responses are not immediate and when we continue to train without recovery days the body is likely to break down with injury or illness because it cannot meet the demand being placed upon it. Given adequate recovery time, muscles can repair and strengthen, connective tissues toughen, hormones and other enzymes are replenished, glycogen is restored and the body is now able to perform better than before. Muscles and bones are stronger, ligaments are tougher, capacity is raised, anaerobic threshold is higher, we can run longer or faster. What was once our ceiling is now our floor. That is the purpose of recovery.
Recovery also gives us a mental break because training without recovery can lead to burnout. For most of us, running is our stress outlet. Even when training for PBs, running should still be fun. Too many times I see runners turning their running into “work” and they lose the joy. When running becomes another stressor in your life, it’s time to re-evaluate your training plan.
Shifting your perspective on recovery can be helpful. If you look at recovery as another form of cross-training, perhaps it can become more palatable. It’s not just “time off.”
Not paying adequate attention to the recovery phase of training is a mistake that too many runners make. Obviously, runners enjoy running, so it’s hard to back off and power down, even when we know we should. Therefore, I suggest making a recovery plan, just like a training plan, so you have something to follow. It’s ok to remain active, but keep the intensity lower.
Tips for your recovery plan:
- One day a week, NO alarm clock. Wake up when you wake up.
- Cross-train activities: swim, do yoga, take a stretching class, spend more time foam rolling. All of these activities should complement your running.
- Do all the chores you put off while training for your goal race.
- Analyse your training diary so you can tailor a training plan specific to your needs. What were your strengths? What were your weaknesses? Where do you want to improve? Write in recovery days and recovery activities to your new plan.
- Monitor your resting heart rate (RHR) daily – if your RHR is elevated, it’s a sign you may need more recovery time.
- Listen to your breathing while exercising – if you are huffing and puffing on an “easy” run, time for recovery.
- Get adequate sleep – this is the time our body restores. Try to get between seven and nine hours a night. Not being able to sleep can be a sign of over-training.
- Adequate nutrition – including plenty of protein, which is necessary for muscle repair, and complex carbohydrates for energy.
- Notice your moods and emotions – feeling irritable or depressed may mean more recovery time is needed. Keep your training enjoyable.