Running is addictive – you’ve just got to stick with it long enough to find that out for yourself. Because of its feel-good power, however, it can be hard to know how much running is too much.
Often, you’ll find that most runners are addicted to running. You might not believe that if you’re still new to running or haven’t yet laced up your trainers – but it’s true. I’m a runner myself and I find that we’re likely to be obsessed with getting outside to pound pavement (or trail) to soak up those well-known endorphins – because nothing feels as good as that post-run high. But that can make it difficult to know how often we should run.
As someone who has run umpteen marathons and other races, I’ve been prone to over-running – trying to run every day or even running through injuries. While some runners might be able to do a daily 5km without an issue, I’m most definitely not one of them.
Here, I’m exploring how often should you run? Is running every day OK? And should we run when we’re injured?
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How often should you run?
“The amount of running your body can handle is completely individual, and you’ll eventually come to learn what the sweet spot is for you,” explains Natascha Starr, a qualified run leader and secretary of London City Runners. “As your body acclimates, you can slowly increase the time and potentially add another day or two to your training schedule.”
If you feel full of beans, you’re not massively aching and you want to run, then go for it. If you’re feeling tired, heavy and unenthusiastic, then a rest or switch of activity will probably serve you better.
Writer, presenter and licensed England Athletics coach Kate Carter suggests adhering to the 10% rule: don’t increase your weekly mileage by more than 10%. That means if you start out running a 10km week (in three runs, for example), you only really want to be running one extra kilometre the week after.
“Building gradually will see the best long-term results!”
How often should you run if you’re a beginner?
If you’re working up to your first 5km, you might be wondering how fast you can get there. Should you be running once a week? Twice a week? One of the best people to ask is Kate. Did I mention that she’s also officially the Fastest Panda in the world (she holds the women’s record for fastest marathon in a full-body animal costume at 3:48:32)?
As a beginner, “it very much depends not only on what you are currently doing, but also what you are aiming for,” Kate explains. “I would say two, maybe three times a week for a new runner is plenty, and more than enough to see progress. The most important thing in running is consistency. Of course, if you love it and want to do more that’s great, it’s just important to build up slowly.”
Jessica Robson, founder of Run Talk Run – the first UK-wide mental health-focussed running club, agrees with Kate on running up to three times a week but goes further, saying that “if you’re getting itchy feet because you’re enjoying it so much, think about supplementing with some long walks or strength training. Both will support your running journey without getting you into any injury trouble.”
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Is it okay to run every day if I want to?
In the running community, we’ve got something called RED – Run Every Day. People do it for a challenge, to raise money or simply to wrack up their mileage as part of a training plan. But just how good of an idea is it to run every day?
Despite the fact that Jess is a seasoned runner, she says that RED isn’t something she’d try herself. “If you’re an experienced runner with lots of miles under your belt, then perhaps your body would be able to cope with a few weeks of RED,” but otherwise, she thinks that running every day sounds like an invite to injury.”
As a general rule of thumb, “running little and often” is how Kate prefers to do things. “It’s definitely better than playing catch up and blasting out all your weekly miles in one run.” However, she also points out that running every day can potentially also lead to injury. One of the most important skills in running, according to Kate, is “learning when to back off. I’d say it’s really important to rest, and stubbornly committing to a streak could be counterproductive if it ends in injury or being overly tired. Sometimes our bodies really need a break.”
Even marathoners don’t run every day. Natascha says that when she was marathon training, she “only ran three days a week and complemented this with a day of spinning and two days of weight training.”
Is it okay to run twice a day?
If you find running difficult, you might find that splitting your session in two makes it more bearable. Perhaps you want to run a 5km and you’re not quite there yet to do it all in one go. Why not go out for 2.5km in the morning and 2.5km after work? Or do 3km, come home for some stretches, and then go out for another 2km?
Running twice a day doesn’t necessarily have to mean pushing your body to its extremes. Those of us who are commuter runners may also have run into and from work on the same day. I’ve done that a few times, running faster on my way in and a snail’s pace on my way home.
In general, if you’re wondering about doing two similarly-challenging runs in one day, you might want to think about the risk of injury.
“Running is high-intensity exercise, so your body needs time to recover,” explains Natascha. If you’re doing double sessions, your body won’t get that chance. She suggests switching up your exercise, rather than relying on running entirely: “Performing several different types of exercise is the best way to boost your fitness, help reduce your injury risk, and will ultimately do more to improve your running than running every day.
“It would also be more beneficial to break up your running over two to three days in the week,” than double dosing on the same day, “as this would put a lot of unnecessary strain on your body.”
Should I run if I’m injured?
There can’t be a marathoner in the land who hasn’t tried to push through an injury during a training cycle. It’s not just at that level when injury becomes an issue though – if going out for a 3km three times a week is part of your routine, you might be tempted to run through a rolled ankle or knee niggle in a bid to keep that regime going.
According to a review of running injury literature, up to 56% of runners experience an injury every year, with the most common being knee-related. “About 50 to 75% of all running injuries appear to be overuse injuries,” the paper concluded.
Not all aches, however, require rest. It can be difficult to tell whether an ache or niggle is DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) or an injury that needs rest. To work out which it is, Kate advises that if you have aches that ease off as your body warms up, you’re good to go. “Anything that gets worse, becomes sharper or more persistent is probably telling your body ‘no’.” Sometimes that means waiting until the next day to see how that niggle responds, but she says that it’s “generally always better to err on the side of caution. If you aren’t sure, go cross-training instead – swimming or cycling can really help your run fitness too.”
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