Types of Runs: Easy and Recovery
This is the first of a mini series of blog posts going over the different types of runs you’ll find in a standard training program. To kick things off, we are going to go over the easy run. When I assign runs to athletes, I like them to go into each run with a ‘goal’. Some people like to refer to easy miles as ‘junk’ miles, but I think it’s very important to define their purpose so that you can execute them properly. To start, I’m going to go over three major coaches/scientist’s definitions of easy and recovery runs.
Daniels defines an easy run as 65-78% of one’s max heart rate. He has VDot tables where you can calculate a precise range of paces for an easy run based on a previous race performance. Per Daniels, the goal of the easy run is to build injury resistance and specificity of training without overly taxing the runner either physically or mentally. His suggested minimum length for an easy run is 30 minutes and the majority of his prescribed miles are easy miles. It should be noted that while he has very clearly prescribed paces, he also allows for slower or faster on easy days so long as effort is made to maintain form and one is still prepared for workout days.
Pfitzinger, in his book “Faster Road Racing” describes a similar definition, at 76% or less of max heart rate OR 2 minutes per mile slower than half marathon pace. He describes easy runs as a means of maintaining higher volume while recovering from or preparing for harder workouts. They should ideally be run on flat terrain, as uphills overwork your heart rate and downhills pound the legs.
Magness splits easier days into ‘distance’ and ‘recovery’ runs, Distance runs create aerobic and fuel adaptations and are used to establish general aerobic endurance. They can be up to 5% slower than marathon pace and as slow as 25% of marathon pace. One should be able to hold a conversation, although one may be slightly short of breath. Recovery runs are described as being as slow as necessary without loss of form. They should be long enough to enhance recovery but short enough to not hinder workout performance. This can be accomplished by splitting mileage into two runs for the day.
In general, easy days are intended to improve aerobic endurance without overly stressing the body. With that in mind, my personal approach to easy days is that how you feel matters more than any metric used to measure pace or HR. That’s not to say that neither metric is valuable information, but more that one shouldn’t be married to either as their primary means of measuring performance in training runs, especially since there are so many factors that can impact your pace. Stress at work. Minor bugs. Eating the wrong thing. They all come into play and can make what SHOULD be an easy day hard. And then, occasionally, you’ll have days where a speedier pace feels like an easier effort, and there’s nothing wrong with rolling with a faster speed if that’s the case. I personally like the idea of slower easy runs, if only from a mental standpoint. Having dealt with heavy burnout myself, I think it’s important for easy runs to be built in days to enjoy yourself, run at a conversational pace, and really just feel GOOD for the entire run. As long as you aren’t moving so slow that your form suffers, there’s nothing wrong with moving a little slower
Recommended further reading:
Daniels, J. (2022). Daniels' running formula. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Magness, S. (2014). The science of running: How to find your limit and train to maximize your performance. San Rafael, CA: Origin Press.
Pfitzinger, P., & Latter, P. (2015). Faster road racing: 5k to half marathon. Champaign: Human kinetics.