The recovery runaholic

It’s been a few days since we’ve been home from vacation. I am back at work now as well. It’s like the start of a new school year (which comes in a few short weeks) where you feel like everything in your body creaks and you are inundated with stimulus as you try to get up on time again and be alert for 90% of the day. Why is actually paying attention so much more tiring than reading on the beach?

It’s not like I was sleeping so much more on vacation. If I slept in even two hours this means I was getting up, at the latest, by 7am. Really, it’s not that late. But the biggest difference is that I didn’t have to do anything all day.  I could lie in bed and read, or eat breakfast really slowly, or really late. Now I am back to getting up at 5am to exercise and then go to work. I’m also back to my full schedule of workouts and the adjustment is tiring.

After I finished our 32km (20 mile) long run on Sunday I was tired. My body felt pretty good, but mostly I just wanted to sleep. I did feel like a bit of zombie. Granted, so did my husband and kids and they all slept in that morning. I think we were all coming down with vacation hangover.

I swam on Monday morning but could not muster up the energy for a run in the evening. I’d also gone to see my physiotherapist that day and sometimes the treatments do end up a bit intense. (I go for IMS needling — it works great but can sometimes flood the parasympathetic nervous system). Instead I decided to lay low for the evening. Turns out the kids were all wound up and exhausted and would not get to bed, resulting in a later than ideal bedtime for me.

Tuesday was strength day.  I did an upper body/core workout at the gym and then off to work. I left before the kids were even up, with a coffee cup in my hand. After I got home I had a quick cat nap and then was out the door for a short, easy 30-40 min run. It was painful to get going – my legs were a bit leaden and my mind was elsewhere. I told myself I just needed to go and do it; I knew I would feel better for it after.

As I ran along, finally feeling better as the lactic acid and some niggling pain worked itself out, I reminded myself that this was my recovery run for the week. Just time on my legs when they are tired and teaching my body how to keep going and rest up along the way. Running at an easy pace can actually speed recovery when compared to just sitting around your house “resting.” There is blood flow being directed to your legs, and motion and energy gently massaging the muscles that need it.

I often wondered what kind of runs people training for longer distances ran and how they could sustain it week over week. Now I know that not every run is a “hard” run, nor is it at a faster pace or a longer distance. Sometimes just getting out and stretching rusty legs is all it is. Sometimes it is just about recovery and if we can teach our bodies to recover as we run, we’ll be that much stronger and faster on the days where we do our harder workouts.

Kilometer 25 on my solo long run. What was I thinking about here? Probably food.

It’s also about allowing your mind to recover. I realized today I wasn’t feeling enthusiastic about the same route that I always run. It only has a few slight hills in it, making it nice and easy for recovery, but my mind knows the route too well.  I know where I feel tired and anticipating that was making me weary before I set out. I managed, but in the future I may need to start mapping out other options just to keep my mind a little fresher for when it needs that recovery as well.

A recovery run is like giving yourself a little cheer. You can talk to yourself about all the workouts you completed that week: how tough the hills felt but how you are getting stronger, how far you’ve run, how dedicated you’ve become.  If you aren’t doing various workouts during the week and are just getting out to run that deserves some recognition. And if you aren’t getting out to run (as often as you’d like or just aren’t getting it done) you are probably thinking about it. And that deserves acknowledgement as well. Having a sense of intention is the first step to getting those laces tied, and I think we all deserve a pat on the back during a recovery run for what we *have* accomplished. Think of it as a chance to show off in your one-person cheering section. You may surprise yourself how good you feel about the next week’s runs.

*It is said that endurance running is 80% mental and 20% physical. How do you rejuvenate your mind on a recovery ‘run’ (literal or otherwise)?

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14 thoughts on “The recovery runaholic

  1. It’s so true about knowing your route too well. I run the same path almost every time I do a run in my neighborhood. I often think about deviating from it, during my run, but something about it gives me a sense of comfort. I haven’t been real good at doing my recovery runs. This has inspired me. 🙂

    • I think getting out of our comfort zone can actually be rejuvenating. When you know how fast you get to a certain corner, or how many more blocks til you finish, it may be time to seek out some new routes. I know I’m overdue.

  2. I agree that a stagnant recovery run route can be problematic. It really depends on the individual. I’m competitive with myself and have a hard time just letting the run be what my body wants it to be if I know how fast a certain loop “should” be.

    During my training for Leadville I adopted a completely new weekly strategy. I was injured less, had more energy, less burnout, and improved faster. I got rid of all recovery/easy runs. Most weeks I ran 4 days per week, sometimes 5. The rule was, if I couldn’t check off one of these boxes (speed, climbing, or endurance) then I wouldn’t do the run. This allowed more time for rest and my weekly mileage went higher than ever before (improving fitness). This worked well for me psychologically because I had a hard time with recovery runs to begin with, I always want to be pushing things in some way when I run. This training strategy allowed for me to challenge myself on every run.

    If you relish your easy/recovery runs, there is an obvious downside to this strategy. It really depends on your lifestyle. I can completely understand wanting to get out and run for the sake of running. A “leave the watch at home” run if you will. I still do that, but if it’s a target workout I just make sure that the run is done in the hills to provide a strength/climbing benefit.

    For me, the real benefit of my new training plan was that every run was taxing, but in turn was followed by a rest day. I wasn’t resting enough in my old training and this new plan forced me to do so. The exception was on weekends when I would often do back to back long runs to provide the stimulus of running on already tired legs. 1 and sometimes 2 days of rest would follow these big weekends.

    One main thing to remember with all training… The cycle has 2 parts. The training stimulus and the recovery stimulus. In order to absorb and come back stronger (this should always be our goal) from say the long run, we need to give our bodies adequate rest to absorb the workout before breaking it down again. The super duper training run means nothing if the body isn’t allowed to recover from it. In fact, if rest isn’t taken, the body will perform poorly in the next workout, creating a downward spiral leading to injury or overtraining symptoms.

    What this means is different for every runner. It depends on how hard you push things in your workouts, how much mileage your body can handle. This is what makes running such a tricky sport. The individual must find what works for them through trial and error (and scouring the internet for hours 😉

    Wooo, long-winded as usual. I like to talk about running.

    • Okay, wow! This is great comment/essay! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. Lots of great info.

      I agree that a recovery run can also be a challenge. There are times when I just want to have a run where I leave the watch at home, but at other times I worry that I am not actually gaining much benefit by going out and plodding along. I struggle with doing enough running to feel faster and stronger, yet balancing that with family life and mental and/or physical burn-out symptoms.

      Rest is so important and I struggle to know when I am rested enough. I find this the most difficult thing to achieve with my lifestyle and still get 4 days of running in (3 days a week just doesn’t seem like enough). It’s definitely a balance and process to learn to gauge what your body can handle. I’ve improved a lot in the last year running less, but smarter, than when I was running very specific, measured and timed runs, and 5-6 days a week. Being inspired and motivated by what others do doesn’t hurt either.

  3. I think of each run as a recovery run for myself. It gives me time to think without the constant requests of children drowning out my thoughts. It’s time just for me and I am a better person for it. As a side note, you running 20 miles makes you Super Woman in my book!

    • Hi Jamie,
      I think getting out and having time for yourself, no matter what kind of run, is pretty priceless. As a mother I think you need the quiet. Good for you for getting out.
      Thanks for the comment on the 20 miles. After a while, you are just running and it’s great fun.

  4. I can’t believe you ran your 20 miler on your own. Congrats! That’s a tough thing to do. Training for the 50K, I run back to backs on the weekend, which is now 10 on Saturday and 20+ on Sunday. Now that I’m in the 20’s, I need more rest than before. I listen to my body. If I’m still too sore on Tuesday, I’ll take an extra day and do no running. This seems to keep me injury-free (so far). On the easier weeks, like Matt, I try to make every run hilly or fast, or sort of long.

    • To be honest, the solo long run was only 18+ miles, but still long enough. I thought of it as 3 x 10km and this made it really do-able. 10 km is not so far, I just had to do it 3 times.
      Doing back-to-back on the weekends I think is key to the longer distances. I just don’t have time, and my Saturday is my only rest day of the week. So I need to keep that day of rest available.
      I’ve also tried to create more of a focus for my runs. I still have recovery runs, but maybe I don’t need to as much as I do. Granted, though, I run them the day after our longest run, so doing two hard runs in a row may just be overdoing it for me, at this time.

  5. I have a regular loop that I run when I just need to get a few miles in that I have been running for at least a year, and I love it. It feels really familiar, and I know it so well I feel like I can zone out and get into a rhythm much quicker. It allows me to pay less attention to my route, and when I struggle I tell myself, “I’ve run this a million times. I know I can do it.” Part of the route is actually the end of my long run. I feel like my legs and feet are old friends with that ground, and it helps me get through the last part of the run!

    • Hi Brookeg20,
      There is definitely something to be said for the benefits of familiarity with a running route. I think it really depends on what you want to get out of a run and your personality type. Certainly knowing you *can* finish a route is great incentive when you need it. Good for you for knowing what works for you. Keep running!

  6. What a wonderful read. I never thought of a run as a recovery exercise. Am fairly new at running and only thought of it as a fat burning exercise. Thanks for educating me!

    • It can certainly be a fat-burning exercise, though once your body adjusts to doing the same thing over and over it ceases to be so effective. Mixing up your runs with speed, distance, hills and recovery is a great way to keep yourself interested, and keep burning fat!
      Thanks for reading!

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