A recovery run will, however, enhance fitness, according to Matt Fitzgerald. And in a very clever way:
[R]esearch has shown that when athletes begin a workout with energy-depleted muscle fibers and lingering muscle damage from previous training, the brain alters the muscle recruitment patterns used to produce movement. Essentially, the brain tries to avoid using the worn-out muscle fibers and instead involves fresher muscle fibers that are less worn out precisely because they are less preferred under normal conditions.With FIRST there are no recovery runs, and I missed them—not for the physiological benefits (though when I did begin to add them back into the program I could tell they were making me fitter). No, what I missed about recovery runs was what they are not: not driven, not focused, not fast.
When your brain is forced out of its normal muscle recruitment patterns in this manner, it finds neuromuscular "shortcuts" that enable you to run more efficiently (using less energy at any given speed) in the future. [This] "pre-fatigued" running is sort of like a flash flood that forces you to alter your normal morning commute route. The detour seems a setback at first, but in searching for an alternative way to reach the office, you might find a faster way—or at least a way that's faster under conditions that negatively affect your normal route.
Yes, I love driven and focused and fast—but not all the time! Every five or six runs, I want to stumble out the door, study the cloud formations, talk to the neighbor’s cat, pull a weed from our stupid lawn and then slowly take off, doing nothing more mindful than picking my feet up and putting them down at a rate faster than a walk.
Today I wore the Garmin on my recovery run but didn’t look at it until I got home. Turned out an hour and 10 minutes had passed and I’d traveled 8.3 miles. What’s that, just a little under 8:30 pace? Whatever. Meanwhile, during this run I came up with a great idea for some new writing to do, didn’t curse at any drivers, by smiling induced a passing pedestrian to respond to my “hello” and marveled that the shorts worn by the young soccer players on the pitch in the middle of the Grant track are even bigger and baggier than ever. I thought to myself while doing a couple of laps: wear them on a backpacking trip and you don’t have to carry a tent.
But I digress (which is what happens on a recovery run).
What I was recovering from: A tempo run. I think. Reading No Meat the other day I remembered that I had never done the longest of the prescribed FIRST tempo runs, a 10-miler at 7:15/mile. Since I was due for a tempo run, I thought I’d do that. But then I started thinking and wondered how a run at 7:15 is a tempo run for me.
Stay with me here: The definition pretty much everyone gives for a tempo run is "at or just a little faster than lactate threshold pace." OK. And lactate threshold pace is defined as that pace you can steadily maintain for one hour. That's generally said to be somewhere between your 10K and half-marathon race pace—or, better yet, around your 15K race pace (a distance rarely done, though I have in fact raced it). My 15K pace—from a race in October 2007, I'm surely faster now—was 6:58. So 7:15? I see why FIRST tells me to do a five-mile tempo run at 6:49. That's in the LT-pace ballpark. But just because the run is longer why would you do it slower? You’d still want to do it near LT, right? Or are they making it slower so you don’t kill yourself for your next workout?
Anyway, after pondering all this I got it in my head to run pretty much as hard as I could (sustainably) for an hour. Seemed to me that met the very definition of a tempo run.
I went out to the bike path along the Columbia River. It was a beautiful morning, heading into the 80s after a chilly, 51-degree dawn; beginning to feel just a little bit like fall here. Warmed up with a mile of jogging and two or three short sprints mixed. Then I was off.
Lord, I went out way too fast! My first half mile was in 3:02. Dialed it down slightly, but I think the damage was done. Splits:
1 - 6:11
2 - 6:29
3 - 6:34
4 - 6:48
5 - 6:49
6 - 6:54
7 - 6:57
8 - 6:49
9 - 6:25 (actual distance 0.97 miles; 6:37/mile pace)
Total: 8.97 miles in 1:00:00; average pace: 6:41
I didn't realize I was that close to nine miles in the hour. If I had, I'd have pushed and gotten it, though, I gotta say, I was already working hard.
It was nice to see that I could pull myself together over the last nearly two miles and turn the pace trend away from 7:00/mile.
One thing that would be very interesting would be to try this workout aiming to nail every mile at, say, 6:35. Could I maintain that for an hour? I bet I could—which would verify the efficacy of steady-pace running.
Anyway, it was fun. Hard. Which I why I did a recovery run the next day.