Two steps forward, one step back. This old saying has much merit in a well-thought training plan for a race. How one achieves the two steps forward progress is predicated upon making sure you have recovery runs built into your weekly running regimen.
Recovery runs become even more important if you run high mileage (6-7 days a week), do one or two speed workouts a week and have one long run per week. Most training plans incorporate some or all of these components. Perhaps, what can often be overlooked are the recovery runs, which for me is really an extension of all the harder efforts. The need for some recovery runs usually start 10-12 weeks out from a goal race. The timing of the mileage ramp up, addition of speed and the long run is also determined by your current fitness level and skill level. To get stronger and faster one must do some tearing down (one step back) through the speed work and long runs. Building in recovery runs or cross training days is how you achieve the two steps forward, so you are ready for the next hard effort. Recovery running is not to be confused with rest days. Sometimes you do need to build in a day or two off of no exercise but recovery running is a way to keep your mileage up, while prepping for the next hard effort.
I’m speaking about this through my own trial and error and having been coached to understand the importance of recovery running. I have often learned the hard way that each day of running has its own purpose. Recovery runs are just as important as the speed workouts and long runs. Unfortunately they are over looked because they are usually boring and not as glamorous. A recovery run does not make great water cooler talk or Facebook posts. Much too often runners run by feel. If they feel good even the day after running hard, they then push the pace on the next day’s recovery run because everything seems great. This can come back to bite you rather quickly usually though an injury. Once you have incorporated all the necessary core run elements in your training plan, you are walking a balance beam. Once you fall off, it is hard to get back on that beam. Bottom line don’t get suckered into someone else’s pace or think faster recovery runs equals getting in bonus shape.