Recovery Runs: how easy runs can help you run faster

Tempo runs and speed intervals might get all the glory, but it isn’t just the fast sessions where gains are made. Recovery runs might not look as impressive on Strava but they’re a vital tool in every runner’s training arsenal.

It can feel counterintuitive to run slower than you’re able, but dialling down the intensity has numerous benefits, from boosting your aerobic fitness to cutting your risk of injury. Over time, running slower will even help you run faster.

Here’s why you should be taking your foot off the gas.

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What is a recovery run?

Also known as an easy run, a recovery run is a low-intensity effort over a short to medium distance.

Essentially it’s everything on your training plan that isn’t a hard session like a tempo run, track session, long run, hill workout or intervals.

How fast or long should a recovery run/easy run be?

Slower than you think! One of the biggest mistakes people make is to run their recovery runs, or easy runs, too fast.

A recovery run should be run at conversational pace and you should feel as though you could sustain that pace indefinitely. So, while on faster workouts you’d struggle to get one or two words out, during a recovery run you’d be able to have a comfortable chat with a friend. In fact, going for a run and a catch up with a mate who runs at a slower pace than you is the perfect way to enjoy a recovery run. You can also try running off-road on grass or trail as the softer terrain will naturally slow you down.

If you’re using a heart rate monitor, try and stay in zone 1 or 2, up to 65% of your HRMAX.

What are the benefits of recovery runs/easy runs?

Recovery runs lay the groundwork for all those harder, faster runs, helping your body adapt to the stresses of training and boosting your aerobic and cardiovascular fitness, without the intensity of tougher sessions.

Some of the main benefits of a recovery run include:

They teach your body to burn fat for fuel

When you’re running for more than a few minutes, you’re using your aerobic system to transport oxygen to your working muscles, where it’s used to convert carbohydrates and fat into energy.

The amount of carbohydrate and fat you use changes depending on the intensity of exercise. The faster you run, the greater the ratio tips in carbohydrate’s favour.

This can be a problem if you’re training for a half marathon or marathon, as our body’s supplies of carbohydrates, which are stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen, are finite. After around 90 minutes to two hours, they’re going to be depleted, which leads to that feeling of hitting the wall.

Over time, regular easy runs can help your body become more efficient at using fat for energy, meaning you can delay glycogen depletion and the dreaded ‘bonk’ for longer.

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They train your slow-twitch muscle fibres

Your skeletal muscles are made up of two main fibre types, slow-twitch muscle fibres and fast-twitch. Easy running helps develop your slow-twitch fibres.

While fast-twitch fibres provide short bursts of strength and speed – perfect for that final kick on race day – slow-twitch fibres are essential for endurance events. They’re slow to fatigue and efficient at using fuel, meaning they’ll help you keep your pace over longer distances.

They help tendons, ligaments, joints, and bones adapt to the stress of running

The faster you run, the greater the force travelling through your body as you land. Easy runs allow your body to gradually adapt to impact so it can handle the strain when you do pick up the pace, reducing your chance of injury and overtraining.

They give you time to focus on running technique

During faster runs and workouts, the only thing you can usually think about is getting a breath in. Slow things down and you’ve got time to focus.

Use your recovery runs to work on any technique tweaks you may be aiming at, such as increasing your step length or running at a slightly higher cadence. Working on your technique can help boost your speed and reduce your injury risk.

Not sure what you need to focus on? NURVV monitors your cadence, pronation, step length and footstrike on every run, highlighting any areas you can improve on and providing drills, workouts and technique tips to get you there. The Running Health feature also shows the symmetry between your left and right side, offering actionable guidance to help you address any imbalances.

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They let you enjoy the act of running

Running at a pace that’s uncomfortable, powering round a track or sprinting repeatedly up a hill might have their own sadistic pleasures, but recovery runs give you permission to slow down and enjoy running just for the fun of it. Discover new routes, take in your surroundings, listen to a podcast, catch up with a friend … use these pressure-free runs as a mental reset and a chance to remember just what it is you love about the sport.

How often should you be doing recovery runs?

Exactly how many recovery runs you should be doing depends on how often you’re running but for most of us, the majority of runs should be easy.

If you look at marathon or half marathon training plans, you’ll notice they often have a long run and a speed session interspersed with a number of easy or recovery runs. That’s because hard sessions cause fatigue and require a period of recovery, meaning it’s not advisable to do them back to back or you risk injury.

NURRV Community Manager and Coach James Poole suggests if you’re training five days a week, three of those runs should be easy recovery runs. If you’re running six days, you should have three or four recovery runs in there, and for four day a week runners, at least two should be recovery runs.

How can NURRV help you with recovery runs?

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If you find yourself running too fast on your recovery runs, Pace Coach is the perfect tool for controlling your speed and paying more attention to your technique.

Using a previous run as the basis, all you have to do is set a target pace for your recovery run. Pace Coach then gives you cadence and step length targets to match your chosen pace. As you run, you’ll get in-ear audio coaching through your headphones, and visual coaching and haptic cues (that’s the fancy term for vibrations) via the app to keep you on track. Find out more about using Pace Coach for recovery runs here.

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