How to Implement Active Recovery
You can do this by running a few miles at an easy pace the day after your long run or riding 10 miles on your bike at a leisurely pace. If you're struggling with reoccurring soreness or a minor injury, cross-training is a great way to enhance your aerobic fitness without stressing the body in the same way that running does. Cournane adds, "cross-training can also work different muscle groups, which aids the runner in his or her running performance."
Active recovery is about getting your legs moving, shaking out the stiffness, and keeping yourself primed and ready for the next workout, while still resting to allow muscle repair to occur. The microtears in your muscles inherently caused by running need time to heal. While a short jog won't interrupt this process, another hard workout will only serve to cause more damage and delay the healing process. By balancing rest and active recovery, you give your body and mind the opportunity to be ready on race day.
Active Recovery Can Improve Efficiency
In addition to muscle recovery, some light exercise can also assist in teaching your body to adequately burn fuel. "Running mileage builds endurance and maintains aerobic fitness. During recovery runs, the body's able to do two things—first, it rejuvenates itself as there's less pounding with an easier pace; second, the body learns to burn fuel more efficiently," says Cournane. By keeping your body moving on those active recovery days, it continues to adapt to burn glycogen more slowly, in order to preserve those stores for the latter stages of a race. While rest allows for all-out recovery, it will not assist with prompting fuel efficiency.
When it comes to the amount of rest versus active recovery, Cournane says it depends on the runner. "A very experienced marathoner, for example, may be running five days a week with one cross-training day and one complete rest day for recovery," he explains. "A first time marathoner or new runner, however, may be running or run/walking three days a week, with two cross-training days and two rest days."
While the use of active recovery will vary between individuals in the thick of training, all runners should use it similarly during the taper phase. "Running during the taper phase of training is important to prepare for the race," says Cournane. "Total rest with no running whatsoever will undo some, if not most, of the training benefits gained during the season." With that said, doing too much in the weeks leading up to a race can spell disaster on the big day.
If you continue to do some light jogging and short pacing workouts, you'll avoid both being overtrained from too much work and feeling sluggish from too little. As with many aspects of training, it's all about finding a healthy balance when it comes to rest and recovery.Search for a race.