Here's an example, my experience last week.
AN UPTEMPO LONG RUN AND MORE
I ran 17 miles two Saturday mornings ago, picking it up after an easy first four miles to near marathon pace, which my workout schedule said I should maintain throughout the rest of the run. (The long MRP - marathon race pace - effort is designed to help me "dial in" a faster pace after several months of slower long runs.) Indeed, the first 9 plus miles of MRP were fine - but then the unseasonal heat and my behind-the-curve fitness, the after effect of what was an injured tendon, caught up with me. I had to slow back to normal long run training pace to finish.
Then, a few hours later, I followed up my long run with a slow three-mile charity walk for suicide prevention, in the hot sun, pushing a stroller carrying my rambunctious two-year-old grandson. (Before the walk we danced in the sun to the DJ playing at the pre-walk ceremonies and lolled on the grass at Navy Stadium listening to an emotional talk by a trans suicide survivor.)
Needless to say, I had trouble staying awake later in the evening.
RECOVERY DAY #1
Sunday, as expected, I was still tired, stiff and more than a little sore. No matter, because Sunday's run was designated an easy 4.15 mile recovery run around the Naval Academy. (I recommend this cool course for views of the Severn River and Chesapeake Bay, as well of the Academy itself. Just be ready to come to a halt when the bugle blows, signifying flag raising: The National Anthem is then played over loudspeakers, echoing across the Yard and off nearby buildings.)
I felt good enough that the young runner who had just engaged me as her coach and I picked it up to a full sprint to the finish. (I won!)
RECOVERY DAY #2
Monday was an off day. I still was sore, but delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), typically felt two days after a hard effort, was to be expected.
More sleep and no workout in theory would help me recover.
TOO MUCH TOO SOON!
Tuesday morning I felt more spring in my step. I got in the pool to swim a masters workout, after a three-week hiatus because the pool had been closed for refurbishment and then due to my schedule. I cut back the workout a little and was happy to see my lap times had not regressed. However, about two-thirds of the way through the workout I swam some of the laps with a pull buoy because I did not want to overwork my legs and I felt signs of impending cramping.
I did not cramp, thank goodness. That evening I ran a tough track workout ahead of coaching the same workout for 10 Annapolis Striders' track runners. (The workout was a ladder down that Jim Spivey's runners in Wheaton, IL, and Nashville, TN, had run the previous Thursday: It included 1 mile at conversational pace, 1000 meters and 800 meters at lactate threshold pace, 400 meters at 5K race pace, and 3 X 200 meters at mixed paces.) My times were not stellar and I felt a little flat, but I ran the full 6.6 miles in the hot late afternoon sun. (I made sure to hydrate before, during and after the workout.)
That night I felt pretty depleted, and when I was falling asleep was beset with cramps in both calves, something that I had not previously experienced in this four-month training cycle. That hurt! After on-and-off cramping over about 15 minutes, the cramps finally abated.
LIKE A ZOMBIE
Wednesday I was dragging, Zombie like: I even found it taxing to stand for five hours for my usual Wednesday afternoon shift at Annapolis Running Shop. That's why, combined with another hot evening, I cut back what was to be a 6 mile run to 3.5 miles and took it easier than I would have otherwise. I was tired that evening and wondered how my Thursday night run, with intervals, would go.
But I need not have worried.
Fickle though recovery might be, it does happen over time. Thursday morning I had the same spring in my step that I felt on Tuesday morning. That evening I was scheduled for a VO2 max workout - a long warm-up and then 3 X 1200 meters at a pace faster than my lactate threshold pace with 2 minutes easy recovery in between, ending with a warm down. I converted the 1200s to 6 minutes for running on the road, and took off from Maryland Hall ahead of my beloved social but generally slower Thursday night running group.
Soon, a triathlete friend joined me and we ran at a comfortable pace down to City Dock, a 20+ minutes cruise, talking all the while. After a turn around the dock, with the always stunning view of the waterfront, I announced that I was going to run intervals going back. Game on! My friend wanted to join in the fun. She was depleted from a hard strength workout earlier in the day, but loved the challenge, not normally running intervals in her training.
Of course we started the fast running with five blocks uphill, up Prince George Street! But then we ran shoulder-to-shoulder on flat College Avenue past the state capitol and around Church Circle. We turned at Reynolds Tavern. (Normally as a Maryland newbie I would have been reveling at running through Colonial history and by the halls of power, but the hard pace left me more concerned about maintaining.) We ended the interval downhill on Franklin Street. Hey, I felt great doing that over-lactate-threshold uptempo six-minute interval!
Recovery jog and inventory: How do I feel? Actually, terrific! I thought of all the similar intervals that I had run with my Illinois buddy Jerry, and concluded that this was very much like what we had run so many times when we were both feeling good. Near max effort on the interval, enough slow pace to recover, and then ready to go again. Wonderful!
The next two intervals went great for me, but were a real challenge for my companion. Twice mid interval we halted, to give her a moment to recover. Our pace by the third interval had slowed a little, so while I encouraged her on, I took off ahead of her to get my heart rate back up. She did finish the interval, I am sure at a high heart rate, and I got back into the appropriate heart rate zone.
Lost in my singular focus on the intervals was recognizing that I had finally recovered from my long run, track workout and all my other activities.
THE LESSON I NEED TO RELEARN
So it goes with run training: Raise the bar, do the work, pay the price, recover and build fitness. Yet, despite this linear description, recovery, with so many factors in play, is a non-linear process, not subject to a simple prescription.
The lesson that I have to periodically relearn is that whatever recovery is built into the training schedule, be ready to adjust the schedule based on what your body is telling you. If the message you are getting is that you need more rest, active or passive, take it!*
* I plan on devoting a future post on options for recovery, what type of recovery to choose when, and when to schedule recovery. To set the stage for that deeper dive, here are definitions of active recovery and passive recovery:
Active recovery: Easy-to-moderate intensity activity—running, biking, swimming or any cross-training — that gets blood flowing to your muscles to flush lactic acid and help them recover but that neither exacerbates soreness nor contributes to tiredness.
Passive recovery: Rest - no exercise.