I wrote a post reflecting on my recovery 100 miles in, and now that I’m at the one year mark, I thought it was about time to again step back and reflect.
For those of you who are new to this blog, I started it last year to track my recovery when I had a tibial stress fracture. The stress fracture kept me away from running for 108 days (but who’s counting), which was, by far, the longest block of time I’ve ever taken off from running since I started running seriously again in the summer of 2012.
The stress fracture came at an emotional time for me. I was diagnosed a week before I was supposed to start training for the Boston Marathon. I went to college in Boston, and while I never imagined I would ever run a marathon back then, once I picked up running again, it became a big dream for me.
At first, I thought I might still make it to Boston. The doctor thought it was a relatively mild stress fracture, and that I’d only need five weeks in the boot. Unfortunately, it was much worse than the doctor initially thought. Another MRI later, I was on crutches for two weeks, followed by another three weeks in a boot. I would have to run the Boston Marathon another day.
On March 11, I was able to go on my first run: 1 min. running, 4 min. walking x 6. That first day back, I ran a total of 1.02 miles over 30 minutes. Since then, I’ve run 2,045 miles – the most I’ve ever run in 365 days.
The recovery process was long, emotional and at sometimes melodramatic. Recovering after so much time off is hard! I seriously thought I would never be able to PR again. With hindsight, I can see I was being a little ridiculous (as my fiancé likes to point out from time to time…). But when suddenly your former “easy” paces feel hard, it’s distressing!
Still, I was smart, and I was determined to stick to a conservative recovery plan. I didn’t – and still don’t – ever want another stress fracture.
When I was injured, I spent a lot of time reading books about training. (When you can’t run, you might as well read about running, right?!) I learned a lot, and I decided to approach my recovery as a chance for a fresh start – to get back into running, and to do it the right way.
A year later, I am 100% sure the key to getting healthy again – and staying healthy – has been learning to respect the purpose of every workout, and in particular, learning to run recovery runs really and truly easy. That might sound stupid, but I think the majority of runners fail to understand how to recover.
Back before my injury, I rarely ran more than 30 seconds slower than marathon pace. Often, my slowest runs of the week were my long run. That, I learned, is absolutely not the way to handle training. What I’ve learned is that every run should have a purpose, that I should understand that purpose going in, and stick to it.
In a typical week of training, I’m going to have four different types of runs: workouts, general aerobic runs, long runs, and most importantly, recovery runs. Workouts are hard and fast. Sometimes they are intervals at marathon pace, but usually they are intervals somewhere between 10k and half marathon pace, or about 25-45 seconds per mile faster than marathon pace. General aerobic runs are easy, but not recovery runs. They are usually about 60-75 seconds slower than marathon pace and all about getting more time on your feet. Long runs are faster than general aerobic runs, usually about 40-60 seconds slower than marathon pace.
And recovery runs—those ever important runs— are slow and steady. I aim to run my recovery runs by heart rate, aiming to keep my heart rate at or below about 72 percent of my max heart rate. That usually works out to be 80-100 seconds slower than marathon pace, depending on how fatigued I am.
So for those keeping track at home, that means that during a given training week, I can run up to 45 seconds faster than marathon pace and 100 seconds slower – that is a difference of almost two and a half minutes. That is a huge variation compared to what I used to do, which was run anywhere between 30 seconds faster than marathon pace and 30 seconds slower.
Why are recovery runs so important? By running at a real and true recovery pace, I allow my body to heal and recover, which allows me to push hard on my hard days. If I push too hard on what are supposed to be easy days, it’s only a matter of time before my body is going to break down on me. Just you can run a certain pace doesn’t mean you have to do it all the time! Leave your ego at the door for recovery runs.
If you need proof that this approach works, just look at some of my blog posts from the last year. Since my stress fracture, I’ve PR’d in every single distance that I’ve raced. I have only run one marathon in that time, but in that marathon, I shaved 15 minutes off my prior best, putting my time in a territory I never in my wildest dreams thought was possible.
So a year on, what’s the moral of my recovery story? Run easy easy and hard hard. And always dream big.