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The importance of modulation in marathon training - Part 2 Recovery Running

by Elite Running Coach
Thursday 20th February 2014
Tags  Elite Running Coach   |   Gavin Smith   |   Recovery

Gavin Smith from 'Elite Running Coach' stresses the importance of recovery runs in his second article about modulation in marathon training

As a coach you are constantly thinking about workouts, about your athletes and how they perform them – will they hit the correct splits on the track intervals? Will the tempo run be fast enough? But this morning my thoughts on two of my elite athletes were quite the opposite. As I enjoyed my own early morning run my mind was occupied with the thought “I hope Chris and John run slowly enough this morning” – and I decided that this was an important enough topic to require it’s own blog.

To put my above thoughts into context, both of the athletes I mentioned had run hard workouts the day before. I wanted both to run very easily and very slowly the next day but this is a skill that many runners struggle with.

Anyone who has been lucky enough to visit Iten - Kenya’s ‘Home of Champions’ - will have seen world class runners such as David Rudisha, Florence Kiplagat and New Zealand’s Robertson twins running at what seems a painfully slow speed. Florence is coached by Renato Canova and I was her Assistant Coach from 2011 -13. We would occasionally run together but her afternoon recovery runs were too slow even for me and I would eventually loose patience and run away from her (Florence is a 2xWorld Champion, 2xBerlin Marathon winner and has a 66minute half marathon time – much faster than I)

Recovery running is a skill that needs to be learned just as any other skill. It is a mental challenge as much as a physical challenge to accept that running slowly is going to benefit you. You have to have extreme confidence in your program and yourself to allow yourself to run slowly when you might otherwise try to run faster – this is especially true if you live in an area with other runners and ‘local pride’ comes into play!

As I discussed in my previous article (HERE), I am a huge believer in the importance of modulation in a distance runners program, with a big variation in the intensities you train at. Now I will explain where I feel recovery running falls into that spectrum and why you should incorporate it into your routine.

The clue is in the name – it is a method of active recovery following a harder workout and will allow your body to adapt to the stimulus you provided during that harder workout. As distance runners we need a high level of basic endurance and basic fitness (I call this ‘General Resistance’), to which we can then add more specific and more intense workouts – so we need to run – a lot. Therefore taking days of complete rest after every intense workout is not feasible. In order to maintain our levels of General Resistance we need to maintain our over all volume of training but on occasions, such as after an intense workout, we also need to recover.

Recovery running (I prefer the term ‘Recovery Jogging’, or Renato’s term  ‘Regeneration’, in order to help get the athlete's mind focused on exactly what the purpose of this run is) also promotes blood flow which helps to remove toxins and other waste products from the muscles which complete rest will not always acheive.

You will actually feel better after this type of training not worse, and this is exactly the purpose of the run.

So how slow are we talking here?

Well my opinion is that ‘too slow’ does not exist. A regeneration recovery jog should be a short run, ideally on a soft surface to help reduce muscle tension, and you should be running it as slowly as you need to in order to aid recovery. I like to use an ‘effortless’ feeling, but the exact pace will vary from runner to runner and only trial and error will teach you how to run these. A good method is to run a few times a week with a much slower runner than yourself or to encourage a non running friend/partner out and to jog at their pace.

The benefits of recovery runs are numerous and go beyond the obvious of simply feeling better faster after a hard workout. By incorporating recovery running into your program you will be reducing your injury risk as you will not be ‘running tired’ and placing unnecessary stress on muscles and joints.

Most runners utilise the ‘Hard/Easy’ principle in their training but in my opinion this is too simplistic and does not allow runners to cover all the bases necessary for optimal endurance performance. Many runners do all their running at only a few speeds and have too much gap between these speeds (ie. hard workouts and ‘easy’ runs’ which might not be all that easy!) This means missing out on important types of runs and potential fitness gains. I like my runners to learn to run at many different intensities and recovery running is an important part of this process

This will be covered in further detail in a future article on Modulation of Intensities and ‘Aerobic Support’ training, but on a methodological level, the reduced intensity on some runs simply allows an increased intensity on other runs. If one of my runners had two non workout days between harder workouts then my preference would be that one day was very easy and one was therefore able to be moderately hard rather than that both were at the same easy (but not very easy) intensity.

With an elite athlete this might be the difference between running both days at six minute mile pace or running one day at eight minute mile pace and the second day at five-thirty minute mile pace. (This is a very simplistic example but gives an idea of the practicalities.) It is my strong opinion that many runners run too slowly outside of their hard workouts and have too big a gap between their hard runs and their easy runs. By introducing very slow recovery runs, you can also introduce faster ‘moderate’ running which will develop your Aerobic Support (see next article) and improve your distance running performance.

So the humble and oft over looked Recovery Run has a vital role to play in the training of both world class elite runners and competitive recreational runners a-like. Improving both recovery from hard workouts and indirectly allowing the development of Aerobic Support, Recovery and Regeneration workouts are something which every runner should be including in their program.


About The Author

Elite Running Coach

To read more from Gavin and John please visit www.eliterunningcoach.com where they host their performance running blogs and race reports. 

John is a GB international athlete having competed in the 10000m in the Commonwealth Games, as well as World and European XC Championships. He has a Marathon PB of 2hr 16 finishing as second British runner at the 2012 London Marathon.
Gavin has coached both British and Kenyan elite runners and was Assistant Coach to famed Renato Canova from 2011-2013 where he helped coach Abel Kirui to London Olympic Silver Medal. He coached Gladys Kipkemoi to the World Championships in 2013 and is the coach to John Beattie and fellow British elite runner Chris Powner.


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