Why do we have recovery periods in a workout? ‘To catch our breath or course!’. There as much purpose in the recovery interval as there is in the effort interval itself. Take it for granted and lose focus and you can miss the intention of a workout or worse, derail a workout entirely. Many new runners learn this the hard way just as much as experienced runners hurt their progress by minimizing its importance.

Types of Recovery: Complete Rest or Active Recovery

Running utilizes two kinds of recovery intervals, complete rest and active recovery.

Complete rest you stand and do not move between intervals. It is typically reserved for the shortest intervals at top speed. The interval distance is 100-200m at most. For distance runners this is most often seen in a variation of running strides or beginning attempts at intervals targeting speed development – running as fast as you can go perfectly.

Active recovery there is either walking for jogging between intervals. Active recover between intervals promotes lactate clearance and allows your breathing to return to normal. Running at a low intensity for recovery intervals also increases the aerobic demand – useful to distances of 5k and beyond.

OK coach, but what about walking vs. jogging. It depends. But a good general rule of thumb is walking should be reserved for short top speed intervals just like complete rest. If walking helps you maintain speed and form on strides, 100m or 200m intervals stick with walking until your running economy has improved and those efforts start to feel sustainable.

And then there is living in FL and running in the hot summer months. Walking and maintaining recovery time are a strategy to get the hard work in. Moving is the key component to keep your muscles ‘warm’ and ready to respond for the next hard interval. As your fitness and heat adaptation improve you can combine the two by first walking and then resuming with jogging as you feel ready during the recovery.

Pacing Recovery Intervals

Let’s cut to the chase – like most things involving running – runners tend to go too hard and too fast. If you struggle to complete your intervals, your reps slow down as you go, or your HR or breathing continue to escalate past the target for the day overextending the demand of the workout – you need to slow down. On a scale of 1-10 your effort should feel like a 1-2.

Seriously. Slow. Down.

Like for real. When in doubt, slow down.

Cool, Now What?

Well, this is the first part of recovery that a lot of runners struggle with. Slowing it down. Master this, and when you start seeing consistent performance across your intervals during workouts – check out Part 2 where we start to discuss the magic of how recovery time affects building and refining your fitness.

Recovery Intervals: The Forgotten Half of the Workout Part 1