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recovery: how far is too far

Recovery – original photo ©

For many casual runners the idea of a recovery run, following a long run at the weekend can sound like an alien concept. Trying to explain it to a non-runner takes a leap even further than that! Others swear by an almost religious practice of long miles on Saturday followed by some form of recovery run on Sunday. There is no gold standard for what works in this respect but exploring the options gives rise to many opinions.

ask the audience

A while back, I published a poll on Twitter, to gauge people’s opinions towards different recovery options. I seeded the poll with a number of basic options, including one that I have come to firmly believe in. The results were interesting. Of course with Twitter polls the results are also anonymous so I could not tell much about who responded and what level of weekly mileage/background they came from.

part of me was surprised to see a 'no effort' recovery attract so many votes
part of me was surprised to see a ‘no effort’ recovery attract so many votes

A very definite majority of respondents said that they preferred a rest day with no effort, following their long run for the week. In second place, the popular choice of a short recovery run. Least popular was the idea of some cross training. My own personal preference of a long recovery run was in third position.

recovery runs

As said, the concept of a recovery run is sometimes alien to many. For many casual runners, it’s a case of getting the big miles in at the weekend and then resting again. Everyone has their own goals and I certainly judge nobody for their own routine. I can only imagine the horrors of my own routines as viewed by others.

The idea however is not without some sensible basis. You know that feeling after a hard race or even your longest long run for the week when you stop for a while and feel like you’ll seize up if you don’t move soon? Our bodies crave movement after stress. It helps to bring muscles back into a properly cooled down state rather than grinding to an abrupt halt. It helps to regulate our breathing again as panting alone will not help the body to relax as much as gentle movement will.

While many casual runners (by casual I mean non-competitive, myself included – no offence intended to anyone) may opt for complete rest, others follow a pattern of light mileage after a long run. Typically this involves 3-5 miles of slow jogging. You will see this in many training plans across the web – it’s an accepted thing. I did it myself for many years.

long recovery runs

Only in the last year was I exposed to the idea of a ‘long’ recovery run. I term a long recovery as a 10-mile run on the day following a 16-22-mile effort. Immediately, your weekly mileage jumps to that beyond many, in the space of just two days.

That’s crazy! Why would you run so far when you’re already tired from the previous day’s effort? That’s a good question. As often is the case, the answer lies within the question. Yes, I am tired from the previous effort. I am tired from running sub marathon pace splits for long intervals. The last thing I need to do is repeat that – so, I don’t. Instead, I get up the next day and jog; relaxed as can be. Having a chat with the group and letting the stress of everything pass away.

As long as you’re running aerobically and not forcing your body to ignore niggles and other such, there really isn’t much difference in jogging a few extra miles. The long, slow recovery run gives the body a chance to wind down dynamically from the challenges of the previous day. It’s like dynamic stretching – no longer forcing the body to do something under stress but rather gently encouraging it to unwind with relaxed movements.


It is of course personal opinion but I am smitten with the idea of long recovery runs. It’s a significant boost to my weekly mileage stats, helping to build resilience and strength. Also, I have yet to feel bad after a 10-mile jog on the day after a long run. Subjective as that may be!

The further endorsement of the concept for me is yet another qualitative argument but validated by repeated experiments. Over the past year, I have run my long run experiments and posted about them on my blog. Some of these efforts have completely drained me, others have been huge confidence builders. With the exception of a race day at the weekend, they all have one thing in common – every long run is followed by a 10-mile recovery. Not once have I started the week on tired legs as a result. The body is stretched out, flushed, relaxed, and ready to start all over again.

If you’re having issues getting started again at the beginning of the week, following your long run, you should consider adding a recovery run into your routine. As your weekly mileage builds, rather than easing off on recovery miles, increase them instead. It may sound counter intuitive but sacrifice your midweek ‘junk’ miles in favour of a longer recovery run after the big one each week. It’s just my opinion but I believe that you will start to see differences in how your week begins, helping you to get greater quality from the sessions that matter.

I’d love to hear your opinions on this. Any thoughts you have or routines that work for you. Please leave a comment below.

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