Recovery Run: 6 Chill-Out Tips for Easy Running Days

Is it time for a recovery run?

If you sense it's time to dial back your training...

  • But you still want to lace up and go...
  • What should you do?

Too many runners go hard...every day...every run. 

It's a recipe for burnout and injury, and there's a better way: 

Chill out. 

Here are SIX tips to help you plan your next recovery run.

Running is HARD.

Running is hard. There’s no way around it. 

The challenge is a huge part of the appeal, and most runners would agree that there’s really no better feeling than:

  • Finishing up a tough workout full of satisfaction for a job well done
  • Gasping for breath at the top of a hill sprint
  • Rounding the corner home after a long run, or...
  • Crossing the finish line with a new PR under your belt...

These are the moments that fuel the fire and keep us coming back for more of that "good hurt."

But not all running should be HARD.

Working at your limit on every run, day in and day out, will undoubtedly hurt more than help. 

Running puts stress on your body, which eventually turns into growth as your body learns how to adapt to that stress and up the ante even further from there. 

Those adaptations can’t happen without adequate rest and recovery, though.

The body needs time to process the stress first.

  • Every long run and grueling workout takes a toll that typically requires multiple days to recover from. 
  • Even if you’re feeling ok on the outside, your internal systems operate on a slower timeline. 
  • Muscles, tendons, and ligaments take longer to heal than it takes for your energy to come back. 
  • Be patient with them, or they’ll come back to bite you with a slew of injuries that seem to come right out of the blue. 

Rest days & how runners fill in the gaps

Full rest days are definitely important to include on a regular basis, but kicking back once or twice a week does the trick for most runners. 

In that case, though, the numbers don’t quite add up. 

  • We already know that quality trumps quantity when it comes to long runs and intense workouts. 
  • But one good long run plus a day or two of speed training leaves more than half the week unaccounted for. 

How do runners fill in the gaps? 

Well, some runners don’t stick to the guidelines. Don’t let their back-to-back HIIT sessions or daily sweaty selfies tempt you. 

  • Overdoing the hard efforts will eventually catch up to them, even if they seem to be doing just fine right now. 
  • Smart runners know that there’s no point in tearing their bodies down that often. They’re able to put the ego aside and take it easy. 

How?

Enter the recovery run

Recovery runs consist of no-frills, low-effort days that let runners add mileage but not stress. 

  • Think easy jogs at a comfortable pace
  • Slow enough to keep up a whole conversation without ever pausing to catch a breath. 
  • These types of runs actually facilitate faster recovery from hard efforts, even more so than complete rest. 

Running at an easy pace increases:

  • Blood circulation...
  • ...which sends more oxygen throughout your body
  • ...to facilitate muscular repair. 

Gentle movement also helps stretch out your:

  • Tendons
  • Ligaments, and...
  • Muscles to prevent stiffness from setting in. 

And mentally, easy runs take the pressure off so that you get the chance to run for running’s sake—no strings or expectations attached. 

The ironic thing about recovery runs

Ironically, recovery runs are often harder for runners to do right than their longest runs and hardest workouts.

Why?

  • Many runners mess up their training by taking their easy runs too fast. 
  • They want to see a certain pace on their watch
  • They have trouble allowing themselves to rein it in. 
  • Slowing down requires a lot of patience, discipline, and letting go of the ego. 

Sound familiar?

If you're trying to build your own recovery run practice...

These aren’t the days to feel like you’re flying.

Even if you come into a recovery run with enough gas in the tank to go faster than pure easy pace, it’s not necessarily a question of “can” you but “should” you.

Going too fast on days when you’re supposed to be taking it slow...

  • Dampens your future running potential
  • You won’t recover as quickly from the last hard run
  • You’ll take energy away from the next one
  • Greater fatigue on long runs
  • Heavy legs on speed runs

Think about it this way: You’re not able to run your best when it counts if you don’t hold back in between. 

Chill out: 6 tips to plan your next recovery run

 To make the most of your hard days, go easy on the rest.

Master the recovery run with these SIX tips on embracing an easy pace. 

1. Get chatty

1. Get chatty

“Easy” feels different depending on the day. 

  • One day, a nine minute pace might feel like a breeze.
  • The next, it might feel just as hard as a hill sprint. 
  • So, your actual pace isn’t the best measure of effort. 

A more reliable way to make sure you’re running at a sufficiently easy pace on a recovery run is by talking.

That makes a recovery run the perfect opportunity for: 

  • Running with friends
  • Tagging along with a run club
  • Or even talking on the phone if you don’t have anyone to physically run with that day

Note: I often spend easy runs catching up with my family. Most of the time, they don’t even know I’m running because I’m talking so smoothly!

Keeping the pace slow enough to maintain a conversation will hold you in the right effort zone for a recovery run.

  • The quality of your speech becomes a gauge of your effort level. 
  • You should be able to breathe easily and steadily while forming complete sentences. 
  • If you start to have trouble speaking clearly, dial it back even further to keep the conversation flowing.
2. Use the RPE scale

2. Use the RPE scale

Another way to keep yourself in check during recovery runs is to rely on the RPE scale. 

RPE = Rate of Perceived Effort

You can evaluate your effort on a scale from 1-10.

  •  1 = EASY. You could almost take a nap.
  • 10 = HARD. Every single fiber of your being is working at maximum capacity. 

If workouts and long runs creep up toward an 8 or 9 on that scale, recovery runs should stick to around a 3 to 5. 

Check in with yourself frequently throughout the run to make sure you’re not going above and beyond. 

Now’s not the time to chase any Strava segments.

3. Watch your form

3. Watch your form

Runners tend to get a bit sloppy with their form during recovery runs.

Why? They’re not paying as much attention.

But this defeats much of the purpose for a recovery run.

Easy days are supposed to give your body time to repair and restore itself...

  • NOT get into bad habits that throw your stride out of whack. 

Don’t let your feet simply plod along while your mind drifts elsewhere. 

  • Keep tabs on the directionality of your hips, knees, and feet to avoid imbalances. 
  • Watch where your foot lands on the ground, and how that aligns with the rest of your leg. 
  • Maintain good posture and a spring in your step. Roll your shoulders back and swing your arms forward, not side to side across your body. 

Recovery runs can actually be the perfect time to work on your form, since you have more mental capacity on these runs compared to hard days. 

Use this time wisely to both prevent injuries and cement good form in your mind for when you don’t have as much bandwidth to spare. 

4. Alternate intensity

4. Alternate intensity

Long runs, speed workouts, and races all deserve an easy day (or more) on the back end.

Try to schedule your training such that the day after a hard run is reserved for an easy run.

  • This way, you’ll be able to recover from the work you put in while also rebuilding energy for the next difficult day. 
  • Your body isn’t made to hit it hard day in and day out. 
  • Show it respect by decreasing the intensity after demanding so much before. 
  • Knowing that you have an easy run on the schedule the next day will likely make it easier to lay it all on the line in the moment. 
5. Run hard + easy days

5. Run hard + easy days

Don’t get stuck in the gray zone.

The gray zone is that awkward middle ground between hard and easy...

  • Where too many runners find themselves on a daily basis...
  • When they go too hard on easy days and...
  • Don’t have it in them to ramp it up on hard days. 

Think about it this way:

  • Every extra ounce of energy that you use on an easy day gets siphoned away from what you have left to give on the next hard day.

Go HAM on long runs and workouts, then listen to your body in the aftermath:

  • Don’t fight through the fatigue. 
  • Use it as a cue to slow down.
  • Remind yourself that it’s all part of the process.
  • Before those hard days, keep your goal in mind. 
  • Mantras, intentions, and accountability measures (like running with a friend) can help hold you back now in the name of all the hard work on the docket tomorrow. 

The gray zone simply won’t do you any favors. 

6. Have fun

6. Have fun

This one’s the most important rule of all. 

Long runs and speed workouts tend to be more Type II fun:

  • The kind you enjoy after it’s over. 

But recovery runs?

They’re allowed to be chock-full of pure Type I fun:

  • Laugh
  • Joke
  • Skip
  • Take pictures
  • Stop to pet cute dogs
  • Don’t stress about how far you go or how fast you get there. 
  • Enjoy the feeling of just moving your body through space in your favorite way. Come what may, because you have no agenda!

Chill out & go for a recovery run

As much as we love running, it can easily start to feel like a second job if we forget to relax a bit with it too.

Recovery runs are your time to just be and embrace the easy.

Are recovery runs part of your training? Tell us about it.

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Lucie Hanes
Ambassador
Eagle, CO

Ultrarunner, rock climber, occasional artist, fond of good wordplay. Small human on big adventures with big goals and big feelings.

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