Matt Fitzgerald has a good article on the subject at active.com called, "A Fresh Perspective on Recovery Runs". In this article he says:
“The real benefit of recovery runs is that they increase your fitness — perhaps almost as much as longer, faster runs do — by challenging you to run in a pre-fatigued state (i.e. a state of lingering fatigue from previous training.)”Makes sense, I guess. My issue with recovery runs is that they're called recovery runs. I mean “recovery”? Really? Why not a different adjective like “agony” run, or “really not awesome” run, or “make your feet swell up at 3:00 in the afternoon at work” run? Recovery implies that I should get some positive feeling during or after the run, but that is not the case…it really hurts. Anyway…it is a great article and worth a read:
“Don’t be too proud to run very slowly in your recovery runs, as Kenya’s runners are famous for doing. Even very slow running counts as pre-fatigued running practice that will yield improvements in your running economy, and running very slowly allows you to run longer without sabotaging your next key workout.”While I've completely embraced the concept of the recovery run, they still suck. The worst part, I've found, is that without putting myself into either a "zone" or oxygen debt, my mind has time to think about a lot of things. But what it thinks about mostly is how this isn't much fun.
When I do a tempo run, I don't have time to worry if a dog's on a leash. (If he's not, I'll just out-run him). I don't worry about strange twinges in my knee or shin or foot because all of that will be dealt with only after I've put those marathon pace miles in the bank. But on recovery runs, I feel like an old housewife shuffling through suburbia. It's these feelings, I suppose, that cause such runs to be labeled as "junk" miles by others and it's hard not to agree because that's exactly how I feel on them: like complete and utter refuse.
On the bright side, recovery runs do work. When I get to my next key workout, I find that the shuffling slowpoke has been momentarily replaced by a relatively focused Boston-bound age grouper, ready to take on the day's pain. At least until the next recovery run comes around.