Given the importance of your weight in your race performance, every bit of calorie burn you can muster helps. Furthermore, the easy, low heart-rate pace at which you should be running your recovery outings helps (if only in a small way) teach the body to better utilize fat—an especially important attribute for marathon runners.
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With these benefits in mind, there are several steps you can take to make your recovery workouts more meaningful.
- Extend their length to the extent possible, lengthen the time spent on your recovery runs by five or 10 minutes. And later in the season, extend them again. Obviously, these length increases should keep you within the mileage limits you or your coach have set for your training. But most runners will have room to step these runs up a bit, especially since these are the least burdensome ones in your program in terms of the demand on your body.
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- Keep it easy. Think in terms of time on your feet, not miles or pace. In fact, to avoid feeling any pressure regarding your pace, leave your GPS watch at home or leave it set on time of day. Such easy running maximizes aerobic and metabolic gains as well, and you need to be careful not to "steal" from the quality of your more important workouts.
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- Focus on your form and be mindful as you run: these runs may be the easiest ones to "zone out" on and let your mind wander. But at least every once in a while, when you catch yourself drifting away, bring the focus back, and choose one element of form each time to concentrate on getting right. Maybe it's your arm swing, maybe it's standing tall, maybe it's a quick cadence and short stride.
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Recovery runs aren't necessary if you are running four times per week or less, or if you are in a base-building phase where all your runs are easy. However, any running sessions beyond four per week during your training season should be recovery runs. These should be scheduled between your harder workouts, and can range anywhere from 30 minutes to 60 minutes in length, though more experienced runners capable of handling high mileage may go as long as 10 miles. These are also good candidates for doubles, where you run one (usually a little longer) recovery workout in the morning and a second later in the day.
By learning to treat your recovery runs with a little more reverence, you too can view them with anticipation, helping to set you up for bigger gains to come.
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