As these success stories show, your body needs some time off from structured training—but that doesn’t mean you can’t work out at all.
It doesn’t take us too many late nights or early wakeups before we understand the importance of getting enough quality sleep. I wish it were that clear and easy to comprehend the importance of taking a recovery phase after your goal races each year. We often have to learn this valuable lesson the hard way.
Rather than write a column on the value of the recovery phase, I thought I’d share some inspiring stories instead. The names of these fine runners have been changed.
Meet Jeff, the world traveler:
Jeff is tackling the fun challenge of running a half marathon in all fifty states and on all seven continents of America. He came to me after he’d run his 29th race with a series of aches, pains, and a calf strain that wouldn’t let up. He was running a race every one or two weeks and traveling for work during the week.
Jeff’s Recovery Plan: Two Months
Jeff invested in eight weeks off from racing. I had him focus on strength and flexibility to release the muscle tension and balance his weak spots. The first week I had him use the elliptical and do some cycling at an easy effort. The second week we re-introduced a small amount of running into his regimen. He would use the elliptical for 20 minutes and run for 10 minutes. He was able to run without pain, so we gradually increased his time over the next two weeks.
This recovery plan allowed him to maintain fitness, improve his weaknesses, and start to train in two months. He was racing after three. Now he only runs three times per week, he cross-trains with low-impact and strength workouts twice per week, and he follows an online yoga class while traveling. The overall stress in his lifestyle plus the combination of his running and racing was causing all his issues. He is still racing half marathons all over the world, but now he races one every four to six weeks and includes a six-week active recovery phase at the end of the year.
Meet Sara, who’s looking for her running mojo:
Sara started running four years ago and went from her first 5K to a marathon in year’s time. Since then, she’s run five half marathons and six marathons. She came to me because she had lost her motivation to run. Her times were slowing and she struggled to get out the door.
Sara’s Recovery Plan: Eight Weeks
Just because she lost her mojo didn’t mean she needed to take a break from running entirely, especially because she wasn’t injured—she was just bored and burnt out. This is one of the greatest myths: A recovery season simply means taking a break from the progression of training. And that is what I had Sara do for eight weeks. I created a two-week plan that she repeated four times.
It alternated a six to eight kilometre long run one week with a 9km run the next. In addition, she did another running workout—speedwork—during the week. She took one Bikram yoga class to develop her focus and flexibility, a cycling class to work on stamina without impact, and two strength classes at her gym. Her routine shifted from running five days a week to running two days, cycling one day, yoga, strength, and a rest day. I had her take more rest days if she didn’t feel up to the workout of the day and she did.
The plan was eight weeks long, but she extended it through twelve, because she was enjoying the routine so much. Her running mojo came back and she ultimately modified her training to include only three days of running. Her goals shifted to trying to set a personal record in a 10K, finish a marathon, and try a trail race. Recovery for her meant a shift in focus, and it changed her running life for the better.
Recovery is the process of the body healing, rejuvenating, and setting the stage for stronger performances to come. A recovery season can take on many shapes and forms, and the challenge is in embracing it and weaving it into your running life so you can set yourself up for success.