A Guide To Different Running Paces And Terminology: Part One – Easy vs Recovery Runs
This is part one of our guide to different running paces and terminology, starting with what easy runs and recovery runs are and which run you should be using and when.
Ever looked at a training plan and felt like you needed a decoder?
Easy runs aren't always easy, steady runs don’t feel steady and what the fark is Farklek?
The harder it is to understand something the harder it is to follow so we’ve written a series of blogs explaining the differences between the types of runs, how they benefit you and how to utilise them in your training.
Our aim is not just to help you follow our plans to become a better runner, but that you understand the principles behind them so that in the future you can build your own plans, turning you into a running Einstein (although granted he was crap at running).What is an Easy Run?
Easy runs (sometimes referred to as long or slow runs) are exactly what they say are on the tin – easy. They’re arguably the most important type of run for all runners as they make up the majority (usually around 80% of weekly mileage) of all well-designed training plans.
Easy runs are run at a conversational pace at an effort level of about 3-4/10. To find your easy pace you can start with running at 60-70% of your maximum heart rate or at a pace 5-10% slower than your marathon pace.
What is a Recovery Run?
Recovery runs (sometimes referred to as slow runs) are very similar to easy runs, however they are – somewhat ironically – easier than easy runs. A key difference being that recovery runs elicit a smaller training stimulus – in other words, you don’t gain as much fitness from recovery runs as you do from easy runs.
Recovery runs are run at a conversational pace at an effort level of about 2-3/10. To find your recovery pace you can start by running at around 60% of your maximum heart rate (try not to go above 60%) or at a pace 10-20% slower than your marathon pace.
It is important to understand that recovery runs DO NOT MAKE YOU RECOVER FASTER THAN REST DAYS. They merely add running volume (measured in either miles or minutes) to your training without adding unnecessary fatigue. Recovery can only be enhanced by proper sleep, nutrition and training load management.
What Are The Similarities Between Easy And Recovery Runs?
Both easy runs and recovery runs are used to improve cardiovascular fitness, number and size of mitochondria, running technique and economy, fat oxidation and both allow you to safely accumulate mileage. They are both excellent for developing tendon and ligament strength which will reduce your chances of becoming injured.
Check out our blog post to learn more about adaptations to running training.
The crucial aspect to both is that they should FEEL easy. It is more important to exert a low amount of effort and feel like the run is easy than to let your fitness watch or HR monitor dictate the intensity for you.
If you’re running within the recommended HR zone or pace and it still feels somewhat difficult then you should aim to run even slower than recommended. For that reason, if you are new to running we advise that you start with the slowest pace calculated to begin with.
What Are The Differences Between Easy Runs And Recovery Runs?
While both easy runs and recovery runs have similar characteristics, the most important difference between them is when and why they should be used.
Easy runs are used to provide a training stimulus that can be adequately recovered from between harder sessions (such as interval sessions or tempo runs) and will make up the majority of your training.
Recovery runs tend to be used more sparingly and are most commonly used on days after very hard runs (e.g. a hard interval session) or as a replacement for a session that you feel too fatigued to complete adequately.
More advanced runners that utilise twice-daily training may use recovery runs in their morning or evening sessions to accumulate more weekly mileage with a lower risk of adding excessive fatigue.
To summarise, easy runs are best used in most situations to fill the gap in your training week between harder sessions, while providing a low-risk training stimulus and will be used in most cases. Whereas, recovery runs are best used in situations where you want to increase or maintain weekly training load/mileage to replace a session you feel under recovered for to reduce the risk of overtraining and injury.
How Should I Use Easy Runs And Recovery Runs?
We recommend being more intentional with recovery runs, ensuring they are at a very easy pace, reducing the likelihood of running too fast. You can do this by setting a heart rate or pace limit for your recovery run and aiming not to exceed either limit, regardless of how good you feel. For example, capping your heart rate at a maximum of 60% of your heart rate max or at a pace 20% slower than marathon pace.
As the primary goal of recovery runs is to not add any additional stress to the body it’s generally best to run on softer surfaces that you might normally run on – this might mean running mostly on grass or a treadmill instead of roads as it will reduce stress placed on the joints.
Recovery runs should not exceed 45 minutes to ensure muscle glycogen is not depleted – which could negatively impact your other training sessions.
Easy runs can be a bit more relaxed and based on feel but you should still aim to stay within the recommended HR and pace ranges to ensure you don’t accidentally run too fast.
What Happens If I Run Too Fast On My Easy Runs?
Over time, consistently running your easy runs too fast or too hard will increase your likelihood of becoming injured as your body is unable to recover sufficiently.
Recovery runs and easy runs are designed to increase or maintain your fitness without adding unnecessary fatigue.
Therefore, there is no benefit to running faster on your easy runs.
How To Get More Out Of Your Easy Runs
1. Take shorter strides – One of the best tips to keep running slow, without feeling too slow, is to run with your normal cadence but with a much shorter stride length. You’ll feel like you’re running faster but the effort exerted will still be lower.
2. Listen to slow music, a podcast, audiobook or chat with your running partner – All of these will give you something else to focus on that won’t give you the temptation to run faster.
3. Use a metronome app – You can set these to a specific BPM/cadence to help you run at a whatever pace suits you.
4. Take walk breaks – New and more experienced runners can benefit from taking walk breaks, these can help you recover if you’ve been running too fast and give you time to reevaluate the pace you should be running at.
5. Practice – At first, running slowly can be difficult and may even require a lot of concentration, but over time you will start to subconsciously know what an easy running pace should feel like.
6. Practice your caffeine strategy on your long easy runs – Consuming a moderate dose of caffeine (3-6 mg/kg body weight) can significantly improve your race performance. This is because Caffeine reduces your perception of pain, effort, and fatigue, so you can run faster for longer. Your long easy runs are the perfect opportunity to perfect your caffeine (and nutrition) strategy for your race. We recommend taking a Caffeine Bullet around 2/3 of the way through your long easy runs so you can finish strong and get a feel for when you think you’ll need a boost on race day.
If you found this blog post helpful then sign up to our newsletter to receive similar, exclusive content and to be notified whenever a new blog post is live. If you’re planning on training for a marathon we’d also recommend reading “How to Avoid Hitting the Wall During Your Marathon” and “When to Take Caffeine During a Marathon.”
About Caffeine Bullet
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