Runner and coach Matt Urbanski encourages endurance athletes to keep moving after an event, but at low intensity.
RECOVERY MEANS different things to different types of athletes. Because one of my personal fitness challenges is endurance sports, I was curious about how a marathon or long-distance runner might approach recovery.
I checked in with Matt Urbanski, a runner for more than 25 years who also coaches Team RunRun. You might think the best way to recover from a marathon or other endurance race is to take many days off to let your body bounce back, while mixing in other types of activity. Urbanski says the opposite: Keep running.
That advice, however, is contingent on one key element — it’s for runners who already train 70 percent to 80 percent of the time at a low intensity.
The more consistently you run, the faster your body recovers from an intense effort like a marathon, says Urbanski, who races 100-mile ultramarathons and normal 26.2-mile ones.
What most people do is run too hard, he says. People download schedules they find online to train for their first marathon, run four to five days a week, and then try to adhere exactly to the schedule.
“They beat the crap out of themselves,” he says. By the time they get to the marathon, they’re battered and exhausted by their hard runs, and they need a lot of time off afterward.
When folks train with Urbanski, he says, he builds in set recovery periods, based on how they are responding to training. Recovery runs are very easy; runners can carry on a conversation, and they aren’t exhausted the next five days.
The longer you have a routine that includes easy runs, the more quickly you’ll recover from workouts and races. Runners who don’t recover, or who get hurt, are the ones who run too hard, Urbanski says.
For many years, conventional wisdom has been to take a day off for each mile you race, he says. But you don’t need three weeks off after a marathon if you are prepared for the distance. If you have joint pain or injury concerns, take a day off. But if you have normal muscular soreness, go for an easy shuffle to increase blood flow and help the body repair, he says.
The other challenge for most people is realizing that progress is not linear. If you think you need to run faster today than you did yesterday, you’ll hit a limit, Urbanski says. Your body improves by applying a new stress, challenging yourself, then backing off. When you take a recovery run, your body bounces back stronger.
Recovery runs support your body physiologically, creating new blood pathways to muscles, among other physical changes that can happen with a 10-minute-mile pace. Urbanski’s runners all still have hard workout days, but, “You can only do those so much,” he says. You can always go on an easy run.
Over time, with this approach, you become less prone to injury, he says. Lots of slow, easy runs toughen up joints, tendons and ligaments.
Some coaches will tell you to take full days off or to cross-train, Urbanski says. His view with endurance sports is, “If you want to get better, you get better at doing it by doing that thing.” Basically, run a lot, most of the time not very hard, and see what happens.