To Improve in Running: Recover Hard
The most valuable lesson I’ve ever learned about how to enjoy running and how to improve is not about training hard. It’s about recovering hard.
Recovering is not merely the absense of running or training. It's deliberate, planned, and even well—or poorly—executed.
Running author Pete Pfitzinger says, “Improvement for a highly motivated runner is chiefly limited by your ability to recover.” Which means I can bust my hump on the road or track, but if I'm too stubborn or impatient to recover, I might very well be throwing away the benefit of my training from the last few days or weeks.
I don't own a lot of technical running gear, but I do own a heart rate monitor. When I bought it, the sales guy took me aside to explain about HRMs. Nope, he didn’t show me how to operate it; instead he told me when to use it. He explained how the most important time to use the HRM is on easy runs as most runners tend to run way too fast when they should be running slowly on recovery days. In other words, the most overlooked run is the easy run, where highly-motivated runners can get lost in their ambition and miss the benefits of recovery.
The importance of running slow seems to be misunderstood by many runners. We get lost in the land of training hard and often miss the rich benefits of running easy. Instead of running easy, we often pile on too much running at a faster pace than we need to, missing the enjoyment and training benefits of running easy.
The World’s Best Running Coach, Dr. Jack Daniels, says running easy gets shortchanged, yet it has the highest importance in even the most competitive runners' training plan. He refers to running easy as “free from trouble or pain” with substantial benefits and says it’s how runners should spend at least 85 – 90% of our running time. And he’s even given this training intensity a technical name—Easy Runs!
Still, it seems recovering is hard for many runners. We tend to downplay the importance of our easy, short, and slow runs and the benefits they gain. Instead, we see the gritty fast runs and the long runs as the key to getting better. Running easy is the bread and butter of our most intense training. Running easy helps keep us out of the land of overtraining, muscle pulls, and stress fractures.
So how do I use my HRM? Not to ratchet up my pace, but instead I wear it on my shorter easy runs to keep my pace and intensity lower than I would otherwise run. It reminds me to slow down and reap the full benefits of easy running. It’s a shame I sometimes need to strap on a device to aid my recovery. You’d think I’d figure that out with less technology.
Some useful articles on recovery include these by Pete Pfitzinger.
During your training may your mantra be: Recover Hard!