Two things. First, the graph below is probably intuitively obvious to you, yet I thought I’d share it anyway. Here is Hans Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome model put into the context of running training.
Second, another training tip for NikeRunning.com regarding easy days.
Fitness for a runner is a fluid, variable reality. Whether you are early in a training cycle or you’re resuming training following an injury, your fitness is not high and every run is an opportunity to gain fitness. Every day you run not only seems like a step towards greater fitness and faster racing, but it truly is! When you’re fit, however, an easy day is less about gaining fitness and more about recovering from the previous workout, giving your body time to absorb the training stimulus from from the day prior and setting the yourself up for another great workout later in the week.
Does this mean there are no benefits to the easy day and that you’d be better off cross training? Not necessarily. The best runners in the world use easy running as their primary means to recovery from hard training because it’s the best way to get blood flow to damaged/stressed muscle fibers, and the principle of specificity demands that if you want to run well you need to practice running. An easy recovery run provides a greater benefit to a motivated runner than time on the elliptical, time on the bike or time in the pool. This is great news for most of us because we’d rather go for a run outside then trudge through circles on the elliptical machine indoors.
When you’re fit, will you gain a ton of fitness on your easy day? No. But as you gain fitness don’t loss sight of the fact that one or two easy recovery runs is the best way to absorb the training from earlier in the week and to be ready for a great workout later in the week.