Hey there everyone. I'm sure a lot of you have trouble with taking recovery days easy and with taking days off every now and then. I'm going to explain why it's important and how these recovery days and off days will make you FASTER.
Let's face it. There was a time in your running career when you felt like in order to get yourself faster, you must run everyday. There was also a time when every runner use to think that running fast everyday is the only way to see improvements. This way of thinking is actually counterproductive and can increase the risk of over-training, burn-out, and injury. I always tell my athletes that the easy days are just as important as the hard days. If you don't allow your body to recovery from your quality sessions, then your following quality session will basically... lose quality. It's as simple as that. Let's get into some further detail.
When you push yourself through an 8 mile threshold at your goal half marathon pace, you're breaking down your muscles throughout your body (but primarily your legs) and creating this build up of lactic acid that causes your muscles to feel "heavy" and "fatigued". Now, if you run your 9 mile recovery run the next day at faster than conversational pace, you're only creating an increase in muscle damage and lactic acid build up. This means that your muscles never had a chance to fully repair the damage that you did to them after your threshold (or other quality session) and your body never had the chance to convert all your lactic acid back into glucose via the Cori Cycle. This will ultimately result in you performing your next quality session with a body that is not up to par. This cycle will continue until your body cannot take it anymore, you burn out mentally, or get injured.
Taking your recovery days seriously will help you become a better, healthier and happier runner. Running your recovery days easy will allow your body to run most of your lactic acid through the Cori Cycle to create more glucose (which is used for muscle energy) without producing any addition lactic acid. This will result in your body having more glucose that can be used during your next quality sessions. Running your recovery days easy will prevent any addition muscle damage from occurring and will allow these muscles to recovery almost fully. WE BREAK DOWN MUSCLES TO ALLOW THEM TO BUILD BACK STRONGER. If you never allow your muscles to build back up, you'll halt the increase in your muscle strength and endurance.
Days off are also very important to incorporate into your training program. Days off have the same benefits as taking your recovery days easy but also has an additional benefit. Many people often forget that your mentality has a huge impact on how well you run and perform. Running everyday may cause you to become mentally exhausted. There come times during a training cycle when you feel like waking up in the morning to get your run in is more of a chore than a pleasure. Granted, this is a normal feeling during an intense training cycle BUT you should not feel like this every single morning. If you do happen to feel like this every morning, you will most likely benefit from a day off. Planned days off gives you something to look forward to and gives you a break from the daily grind that we put our selves through every single day. Resting our mind is just as important as resting our bodies. Days off should be incorporated every 2-4 weeks, depending on the individual and the weekly mileage; and by day off, I mean day off, no cross training. During my athletes days off, I recommend them to sleep in and enjoy their morning without having to worry about getting a workout in. However, foam rolling, light core work and a light hip routine is acceptable.
I hope this shedded some light on why it's important to take days off and to take your recovery days easy. There will be plenty of days during your quality sessions when you can push your body and achieve that "runner's high". For now, I want you to remember: The easy days are just as, if not more, important than the hard days.
Thank you and I hope you enjoyed reading.
- Andres T. De La Cruz, BS, CSCS
Doctor of Chiropractic Candidate, 2018
Southern California University of Health Sciences