Now that marathon training is in full swing again and my long runs have reached 30km, I am religious about recovery runs on the days after.
I used to think that recovery runs help your legs to recover from the hard session, that they somehow repair the muscle fibers damaged (increased blood flow maybe, etc.). It turns out that this is not the case at all, recovery runs do not actually fix your muscles.
They do something else though that’s quite fascinating and very beneficial – they make your body use the muscle fibers that were not used to their maximum limit during the long run (or the high intensity run as recovery runs can be done after those as well).
This means that your overall fitness improves as your body learns to use the normally less used muscle fibers.
As the brain tries to avoid using the worn-out muscle fibers and instead involves fresher muscle fibers that are less worn out precisely because they are less preferred under normal conditions.
When your brain is forced out of its normal muscle recruitment patterns in this manner, it finds neuromuscular “shortcuts” that enable you to run more efficiently (using less energy at any given speed) in the future.
Scientifically it’s all a bit complicated but I feel that I don’t need to get my head around exactly what happens when in the muscles and the brain, and how there are different muscle fiber types and how they’re used differently depending on the type of work-out you do – what makes me keep to my recovery runs is this:
- they add to my weekly running volume in a relaxed way – in marathon training both volume and intensity is important but no one can run all the runs in high intensity so a slow long run and an easy recovery run added to the mix is great
- they feel good – the first few kms with sore legs are not comfortable but after that the soreness eases up
What do you tend to do? Do you rest the day after long or very hard runs or do you do a recovery run?