Wrong. Time to step back and relax for a bit. You've been working hard and your body is exceptionally tired right now. Maybe you can realise it with sore legs and each easy run feeling just a little bit harder; or maybe you don't feel it but right now you need to make sure that all of the good progress you've made so far isn't lost to a silly injury or that you lose enthusiasm for your running as the thought of week after week of hard work mounts up.
So, to put it simply, enjoy yourself for a week. It's time to take a quick break, have a look at how far you've come and think about where you're going.
Easy and Recovery Weeks
What Are They?
An easy week is a week that you take off every 3-4 weeks. Generally you cut your mileage by around 25-50% and do less hard sessions and easier paced running.
A recovery week is a week that you take off generally at the end of a season so after a 12 week block of training is generally useful (so 2 easy weeks and then a recovery week). Once a year you'll want to take a longer break. Mileage is cut by 50%-100%.
The theory of both easy and recovery weeks is fairly similar but can be split into two main areas. Psychological; physical.
Physically the process of training is a process of breaking down the body. Then it rebuilds itself back up stronger than before. Each run you do is straining the body and causing microscopic tears in the muscle fibres - obviously an actual tear in the muscle is an injury but these micro-tears are a positive - once they are healed up. It takes time for these to heal up though which is part of the reason why you take time in order to run faster after training as the muscles don't heal up immediately. A rest day allows the muscles to partially recover but the knots and problems that can present themselves in the body with weeks of consistent hard training don't relax in simply a week. Taking an easier week allows the muscles to fully recover and all of the little niggles which are present from day to day are given a chance to ease themselves out of the body. Similarly a recovery week does the same. Think about how long it takes for an injury to heal up. Whilst some injuries are acute (instant) many others are chronic. You are already partially injured! What an easier week does is allow the body to recover from that mini-injury.
Psychologically as much as you enjoy running it is the very rare athlete that never feels tired and constantly stays motivated. Many athletes train for a few months as hard as they can, then lose a bit of focus, maybe have a bit of a niggle and before you know it they've lost a lot of the progress they'd previously made. As athlete's have tired and fatigued muscles it does wear having to go out and run almost every day with little relief. Similarly when you have a niggle the knowing that in a weeks time you have a recovery makes it much more manageable. A week off allows you to regain your focus and get you ready to charge out the door once again.
For an easy week I generally think that you want to reduce mileage by around 25-50%. Many suggest just a 25% decrease but personally I prefer a much more rapid decrease and I really just don't focus at all on running during that week. I usually include a few strides during the week but I wouldn't suggest that at this point for an athlete (yes- you're an athlete now-not a runner!) following this program but it shows how you incorporate more as you raise your training standard. The way to reduce the mileage is by cutting the "sessions" and cutting the number of runs so if you're regularly running 6 times a week for 40 minutes then just do 4 runs of 40 minutes. Sometimes I add some stretching as well more regularly and occasionally a few weights.
For recovery weeks do the same but cut the mileage even further and don't do strides- simply jog and enjoy yourself. If you've got a friend who's not as fast then go for a jog with them or at your running club go with the slow group for a change- sometimes they're just as interesting as the fast runners!
X-training during the week is fine but do it recreationally. Playing tennis or table-tennis or going for a gentle bike ride is fine. Hammering out hard sessions on the bike is bad!
Sometimes going for a sports massage during this week is helpful as you don't need to worry about running on tired muscles.
Finally (and this is perhaps a little counter-intuitive) - whilst a recovery week is always a recovery week if you're running a competitive schedule over the winter or summer then you're probably hoping to race at some point. With a week of very little running you're pretty well tapered for a good race performance. My "easiest" weeks in the past year have been directly before Herts County XC which was a breakthrough for me and the BUCS XC champs. Your muscles recover and you're in great racing shape so why not treat yourself and get into a race and show off your new abilities. Just make sure this is at the end of the week so you've had a good chance to recover. Similarly if you're thinking about racing a half marathon or longer then an easy week immediately afterwards combines recovering from the race and general recovery from training.
So right now we have an easy week schedule that looks like...
4 x 40-60 minute recovery runs
and a recovery week schedule of
2-3 x 40-60 minute recovery runs
Weeks 1-4 - Get used to running 5/6 times a week
Weeks 5-8 - Incorporate threshold running and strides into your schedule.
Week 9 - Easy Week
With the recovery week to come later on! This program still has a lot to go but I would imagine the average athlete as outlined at the start of this programme would already be running perhaps a minute or two faster over 10k already.
In the next part we look at fine-tuning your motor and getting ready for some serious racing (though if you've added a race at the end of the easy week you'll already be seeing benefits). We'll be doing this through 5k/10k Pace Work together with our earlier threshold work and strides.
After this Part 6 will be Mile Pace Work concluding the series.
Catch you on the trails,