When you are focusing on speed work the body is going to take a battering. As most sprinters will tell you, you need a lot of recovery from speed sessions. Conversely most distance runners will tell you something different because when they finish a session focusing on shorter reps, they tend to ask "what's next?"
The reality is there needs to be a middle group when it comes to recovering from speed or other hard sessions because they need to be treated like any other session you would do — and this is where recovery runs come in.
Run to recover
When you hear athletes say they are going out for a "recovery run" you might think that makes no sense at all. If you want to recover just sit on the sofa, running isn't recovery! Again, there needs to be a middle ground here and the run really does need to be about recovery.
The idea is you want to feel better at the end of the run than you did at the start of it, in order to get the most from it. You don't want to go out the door, start running faster and faster until you reach the end of the run, hands on your knees, and you're knackered. Remember that doesn't sound like a recovery run and that’s because it certainly isn't.
If you have had a hard work out, a tough race, or it’s just the day after a long run, when you take the first steps of your run the following day, you are going to feel stiff. You're not going to be your usual bouncy self and you just can’t launch straight into sub-6-minute miles.
So start off slow, let the legs warm up and you'll be surprised by how quickly you can be back to a good pace. It is all about running how you feel, and by doing it this way, you will feel better towards the end of the recovery run.
Listen to your body
I have said many times before that recovery is all about listening to your body and running how you feel. Recovery runs are not about how many miles you cover, or how quick you can run the route.
Instead it is all about recovering from the previous work and getting ready for the next set of work. All you are looking to do is to loosen up your legs and clear any lactic acid, stiffness and general tightness you might have from the previous day.
Ditch your GPS watch
With that in mind it might be an idea to ditch the GPS watch for these runs because you really shouldn’t have any need for it. If you take it with you, you could be tempted to run a bit quicker because the watch is telling you that you're 30 seconds slower per mile. But that wouldn't be listening to your body — that would be listening to a watch. That watch doesn't know that you ran a hard 20 miler the day before, or you set a new PB in a 10km road race.
Recovery runs should help you to recover
Remember recovery runs are just that, for recovery. These are not the runs that are going to make you fitter, they are not going to make you any faster.
They will add to your weekly mileage and they will get you ready for those sessions that will have much more benefit to getting fitter and stronger. So don't ignore them, make sure you do them and you'll find each week you'll feel better. Just remember, take off your watch, listen to your body, take in your surroundings and enjoy the run!