When you’re training for an endurance race, and following a training plan that demands speed work and long runs, there are some important principles to remember. Those principles go beyond the specific paces, number of intervals and miles logged.
You are training harder, burning more calories and using more energy – physically and mentally – than before. That means you have to be good about your diet, and especially recovery. Eating and getting the proper nutrients are so much more important – ideally within 30 minutes of a workout. That’s where recovery drinks are so helpful. Now, I don’t use the stuff every day, just after hard or particularly long workouts. Speed work and long runs qualify for particularly careful recovery, which are the days I use it.
If you fail to recover properly on those days, the deficit will compound on itself and you will slip further and further behind. That means diminished performance in workouts, and the quality will be less so you will not train as hard while failing to get the full benefit of the workouts, and you will be more susceptible to injury.
I’ve been there, and I think poor recovery and nutrition – or simply the lack of it – plays a significant role in how prepared we are going into a key race like a marathon (or whatever distance you’re aiming for). Quite honestly, recovery takes focus, planning and work. It needs to be habit, just like your workouts.
And this is something I can’t stress enough about training: your hard days need to be hard, and your easy days need to be easy. That means a couple things. It means your easy days really need to be easy – you can still go out and run a regular training run, but it has to be slow and sustainable (something you’ve built yourself up to in training). And the hard days should be hard – if you’re going to go run speed work or a long run, and then turn around and bike 2 hours at a moderate to brisk pace the next day, you could be cheating your recovery.
Notice I’m not saying to eliminate both if you’re incorporate two-a-days or moderately difficult cross-training – instead I would put the workouts on the same day or within the same 12-hour cycle (for example, run at night and bike in the morning), although the second option isn’t ideal… if you’re going to add a second workout on a particular given day, it should be on the days in which you already have a hard workout. The idea is that it’s already a hard day and if you do it on an “easy” day, you’re really not recovering properly.