January 23, 2023

Zipper Team

Why Is My Running Not Improving?

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Everyone wants to run fast! It's flashy, exhilarating and breaking a personal best is always a great feeling. Unfortunately, too many runners spend too much time running fast to actually make significant improvements to their run. It sounds counterintuitive, but one of the best things you can do to run faster ... is run slow!

What is a Recovery Run?

Generally, it's recommended that athletes spend the bulk of their time in low exertion zones. The exact proportions will vary coach-to-coach, but the '80/20' method is one of the most popular training prescriptions, where athletes spend 80% of their time in this lower effort training. While that's not quite a walking pace, it's certainly not a labored run. Often runners neglect key part of training because we've grown up thinking that 'running should be hard' and 'no pain = no gain!' Fortunately, in the world of running, 'no pain' often translates directly to 'great gains!' These recovery miles (or recovery runs) are vital to your body's ability to heal itself to allow you to perform at your best during the 20% of training that is dedicated to key sessions, tempo and speed work. By incorporating recovery runs into your routine, you'll be able to keep your training mileage high, while avoiding overtraining and minimizing risk of injury from overuse of certain muscles and joints.

Why do Recovery Runs Work?

  1. As mentioned above, recovery runs allow your body to recover better. This is vital because you'll be able to train harder and put forth a stronger effort during your key sessions, such as intervals. As an example, a well rested athlete will likely be able to hit his or her target pace and duration during their key interval session for the week. Another athlete, who decided to ignore prescribed recovery paces the prior day, might be sore heading into the interval session. This athlete is likely to either miss the goal paces, come in below the target times or have to drop an interval (or more!) from his or her set. In this example, the first athlete will undoubtedly make more gains during this session because they were able to push their body through the appropriate amount of stress to properly train it and prepare it for the next time in encounters similar stresses.
  2. Recovery runs will allow the body to stay in "Zone 2" or an aerobic effort. We dive into this in much greater detail in our zone 2 training blog, but put basically, this means that the athlete's muscles are able to clear the lactic acid from their muscles faster than it builds up, so they can run longer and feel stronger. Staying in this lower exertion zone during running will allow the body to adapt and become more efficient at this output level. So, with amble zone 2 training, you should find yourself running at faster paces while feeling like you're not working any harder.
  3. Finally, slower runs reduce impact forces from your legs hitting the ground, which reduces the chance of injury. No runner wants to be injured, so why not log responsible miles that not only train your aerobic system, but also are more joint-friendly!

How to Implement Recovery Runs

So now that you know the reasons why some of the worlds best endurance athletes will run slow to run fast, how can you properly implement slow runs into your weekly routine? As mentioned, most coaches will recommend about 80% of your training is done in these lower 'zones' (or in this case, exertion level). How do you know if you're truly running slow enough? Short of tracking heart rate to calculate your zones, our favorite trick is to keep your runs feeling conversational. Imagine you're chatting with a friend. Can you talk without getting winded? If the answer is "no" then slow down! It will feel frustratingly slow at first, but this is all part of the process. Too often runners can't handle the slow miles and find themselves pushing their bodies a bit too hard and minimizing their gains.

As you begin to implement slower pacing into your training regiment to ensure your recovery runs are exactly that, recovery runs, keep an eye on how your body feels. Over time, you'll notice a 'fresher' feeling as you start to clock off miles at the beginning of a run. Have more questions? Reach out to one of our coaches to have a chat on how you can continue to progress and what other efficiencies you can add to your weekly routine to ensure you're setting your body up for success in every training session!

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