In the notes from my coach for recovery days, she always puts "time to absorb all the work you've been doing". I joke with her that this makes me feel like a sponge. The whole concept of absorbing is a bit alien to me. At least until last night.
Normally, a recovery day/few days/week, to me, is just a break. A time to get a bit more sleep, to heal my muscles, and catch up on life. When I come off of recovery, sure my legs feel loose and a bit lighter, but generally, I don't feel all that much different.
Last night was a track workout. I never ran track before last year (training for Boise) but I've grown to really like it. Mentally, its almost like swimming. You have X distance and Y pace and you need to figure out pacing to sustain, descent, etc. What I like about it is that you have to think about what you're doing - and it also teaches you what a hard mile, half mile, etc feels like, so you can apply it to races. For me, track workouts are a huge confidence builder.
Last night called for a 2 mile warm-up, then 5 sets of 20 sec strides, then 3 x 1 mile repeats at zone 4 heart rate. I sprang into a fast, but relaxed run, looked down at my garmin and saw 8:45/mile pace. Wowzers, no way I can sustain this for 4 laps, not to mention 3 repeats, need to bring things back a bit. I usually try to descend my repeats, and really push my final one. I messed up with my garmin for the first mile, but based on the pace numbers I was seeing, I bet my mile time was 9:30, maybe a hair faster. Ok, lets push the second mile harder - came in at 9:15. Now its go time for the last repeat - came in at 9:03.
When I looked back at my logs from the past few months, my previous fastest mile was 9:25 and I was DYING.
Last night, even though I pushed myself, I really improved my times without struggling. There was no "omg, I'm going to die" feeling, like there usually is. And even though I pushed the last one, I felt like I could have ran another 1 or 2 mile repeats. Sure it would have hurt (a lot), but I could have done it.
Last year, a 6 mile track workout killed me. Now, I leave it feeling like I could have done more. Awesome.
I haven't been doing a ton of running lately, and I certainly haven't been doing much in the way of speed workouts. The only thing I can attribute to this speed boost is my overall fitness and my recovery period to absorb my recent workouts. I guess being a sponge is a good thing.