Easy Means Easy

Since I’ve been hung up on the topic of recovery this week and the areas I’d like to focus on for improvement and injury prevention, I want to discuss the importance of recovery runs and understanding how to pace them. I get the term “recovery” from Pete Pfitzinger, the author of Advanced Marathoning. He’s pretty much a genius and I highly recommend his book. His definition of a recovery run:

“Recovery runs are relatively short runs done at a relaxed pace to enhance recovery for your next hard workout. These runs aren’t necessarily jogs, but they should be noticeably slower than your other workouts of the week. The optimal intensity for recovery runs for most marathoners is to stay below 76 percent of the maximal heart rate or 70 percent of heart rate reserve. On a subjective basis, on recovery runs you should feel as if you’re storing up energy rather than slowly leaking it. You should finish the run feeling refreshed. Going too hard on recovery days – when your body is most tired – means you’ll be more tired than you should when it counts later in the week.”

I don’t really know anything about heart rate training and only recently started using a Fitbit to see that data, so those numbers make a little sense to me these days. But I do understand pace. Before I began training with my coach, I read this statement and went right to the McMillan Pace Calculator, and ran it based on my current marathon PR (3:06) and my goal marathon time (sub-3:00) came up with this:

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What? I could train for a sub-3 hour marathon and log nine minute miles? Sign me UP! The calculator also comes up with paces for track workouts/tempo runs/etc. I was skeptical, but I wanted to remain injury free and try something new so I went with it. Slowing down is how I went from my marathon PR being a 3:31 in June 2013 to a 3:06 in June 2014. I kid you not. If you run the calculator and feel like your recovery pace is unreasonably slow, don’t be turned off. Just try it! And really try it – like give yourself a whole training cycle and just see what happens. It might feel weird or even uncomfortable at first but soon you’ll find that you have more left to push on your hard days and can net more overall miles.

Rewinding to my pre-McMillan days, I would just go out and run whatever pace felt good on any given day and never saw any consistency. I started slowing down my easy runs to the slower end of my recovery range, and found that I made huge gains on the days that mattered (speed work, hills, etc). It was also a time in my life where I remained relatively injury free.

Fast-forward to August 2014, when I met my coach and started working with him. He didn’t encourage me to run my recovery runs “fast”, but now I was following his plan and his workouts were worded differently. My coach calls easy runs “aerobic runs”. See, Pfitzinger also uses the term “aerobic” to describe a type of run. To Pfitz, a general aerobic run is a type of an easy run. It’s a bit harder paced than a recovery run, but not completely killing it. I’d use the “easy run” range for my general aerobic runs when I trained myself, and never cared when my runs were closer to the slower end of that range. Now that I had a coach and he called my easy runs “aerobic”, I was using that easy run range for my recovery days. Not too much of a problem if I’m sticking closer to the 8:14 end of things, but I wasn’t. I wanted to impress my new coach, so what did I start to shoot for every time? Closer to that 7:14. Ouch. I may try to train like an elite athlete, but I am the furthest thing from an elite athlete. So why did I think it was okay to be logging “easy” miles in that range?

I know I keep talking about my dumb Achilles, but it still isn’t completely healed. There’s still that nag that shows up after a few miles and lasts until after I run and stretch. I’m really committing to developing/revisiting habits that will support healing my current issue and promote longevity in the sport. In doing so, a factor to consider is how I went from having these easy run days built in my schedule to everything being race pace, all the time. I know better. I’ve done better, and I’ve gotten better results. It usually takes an injury for me to realize that I’ve developed some poor habits, and trying to kill it on every run is one that I need to break – now. It isn’t necessary, beneficial, or healthy. The biggest key to success in this sport is consistency and you can’t have that if you’re always sidelined. It’s like you’re constantly taking two steps forward and one step back. If you’re lucky enough to train this way and remain injury free, it’s likely that you’ll either plateau or burn out very quickly.

As I move forward with my theme from yesterday and re-evaluate habits  that have gone to the wayside, I’m going to take an honest look at my running paces. My mantra for my recovery days? Easy means easy. It’s as simple as that.

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17 Replies to “Easy Means Easy”

  1. Great reminder.! I am soo bad about running my “easy” runs easy” it takes me feeling too tired or missing a day to remember that I have to slow it down. And you are such a great runner.! definitely should listen to your advice. but I also plan to reevaluate my paces after I run a more recent race. Than I’ll try the Mcmillan Pace calculator again

  2. I always feel so slow on easy runs and a little embarrassed to be running those paces. I guess I need to get over that. It’s interesting to hear how they have helped your times. I’ve always heard that saying to make your easy days super easy so you can go really hard on hard days. I just haven’t quite had that sink in properly.

    1. I was just running on a local trail yesterday and I was conscious of using recovery paces. It actually felt pretty good since I’m still sort of in marathon recovery mode, but it does feel soooo slow sometimes. But it really does work! I don’t care too much about what anyone thinks but if I start to feel self-conscious, I always tell myself that I’ll probably never see them again. Or I’m in my own world when I run, so they probably are too. Most times, I stick to some flat, cinder trails for these runs so I don’t have to be around lots of traffic and people!

  3. I am DEFINITELY guilty of not running my easy/recovery runs easy enough. I need to work on that. Sometimes the only way I can force myself to keep my pace really easy is running on the treadmill…but it gets so boring!
    I’m going to try real hard to learn to slow my body down for those easy runs because I’d love to see those amazing improvements in my running too!! 😀 You are always so helpful!!

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