A little bit about… recovery weeks

[Disclaimer: I am not a qualified coach, and this post is only based on advice I have received, and my own experience. What works well for me might not necessarily work well for you.]

This week, I can’t rave about a successful tempo run, or setting a new elevation record. I won’t be extending my long run, or running a set of intervals. In fact, this week my running is extremely dull. That’s because I’m on my recovery week. A few people have asked me what this is and why I’m doing it, so I thought I’d write a bit more about it here.

Maui, Hawaii

Unfortunately a recovery week is NOT all about relaxing on the beach…

Essentially, a recovery week is exactly what it sounds like: a whole week of recovery! Unfortunately though, this doesn’t mean that I’m sat on the sofa the whole time. (Or at least, I’m not meant to be…) Much as after a particularly tough race you might want to take a few days to recover, probably including a low intensity workout, a recovery week comes after a tough few weeks.

For my own training, I tend to include a recovery week every fourth week. After three tough weeks of training, normally including the full variety of hills, speed and distance, the body is fatigued. To continue to train at the same level increases the risk of injury or illness, so I scale everything back for the following week. Normally, this would be a total distance drop of around 30%, so if I’ve been totalling 25 miles a week, I’ll drop down to around 17 or 18 miles. Within that, each run will be easier. That’s not to say that every workout will be at a “recovery pace”, but I won’t be conciously pushing myself to run fast: just comfortably.

In addition to the lighter workload, I try to include more “mat work” – core exercises, stretching and foam roller sessions. It is also a great time to get a deep tissue massage, as it’s best not to get these shortly before harder workouts.

Recovery is not just important for injury prevention though; it is while the body is not exercising that it strengthens; without effective recovery exercise sessions and training plans will only make the body weaker, not stronger. Personally, I hate recovery weeks: I feel like I’m not achieving anything. But I know that it is helping my body improve from the last three weeks of pushing myself, and will leave me rested and better able to push myself over the next three weeks.

So, how can you incorporate recovery weeks into your own running? Firstly, don’t feel you have to do exactly what I do! That’s just what I’ve found works best for me. In fact, at the moment while I’m still essentially in rehabilitation for my knee injury, I’m dropping about 40%. You might want to cut back more often, but by less (maybe every third week, but only drop about 20%), or less often, and by more (perhaps every sixth week, but cut back 50%).

Sticking to recovery for a whole week isn’t always very easy, particularly if, like me, you enjoy parkrun on a Saturday: sticking to a slightly gentler pace rather than chasing a PB on rested legs can be tough. But, for me at least, it’s worth it over all!

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