With running, there must be a balance. Run too little, and you won’t make significant progress. Run too much, and you’re on a perfect path to burnout and injury.
One of my greatest lessons while marathon training was that too much running actually has the opposite effect on performance. My original training plan for my marathon in May had four runs/week in it. I was dead set and determined to stick to it, but just a few weeks in, my knees were in pain and I sought the advice of a physiotherapist. They recommended I reduce my weekly runs to three times/week and incorporate more strength training. It worked. I bettered my marathon time by more than 15 minutes.
But what if you’re new to running? What is the right number of times per week you should be heading out the door?
Generally, I would say that beginner runners should start with 2 runs per week at about 20-30 minutes each. This would be a good amount to see improvement, but not enough to cause injury.
For advanced runners, 3-4 times a week would be reasonable, especially if there was a race on the horizon.
However, on those remaining days of the week, you’re not just supposed to sit around and drink wine. Here’s a fun fact: running alone will not make you a better runner! It’s massively important to incorporate some cross-training into your training too. Cross-training can consist of walking, cycling, weight training, swimming or many other activities like hiking, indoor rock climbing or yoga.
I realise that if you’re just getting started you’re probably reading this thinking, wtf? I have to run up to 4 days a week AND cross-train? Don’t be overwhelmed. The idea is to start slowly and build up. Build gradually. Remember: habits take time to build.
Also, remember that rest is just as important as training. Rest means NO running or cross training for at least one day a week. Bad things happen when you don’t rest. Injury, burnout, mood swings, tired muscles… insatiable cravings for salt (maybe that’s just me?) It’s all kinds of bad. When the training plan calls for rest, treat it with the same importance as your training days.
Don’t get too caught up with average number of miles per week you should be running for certain races, like this chart below:
Save for a few fleeting moments, I don’t think I have ever come anywhere close to these and I have successfully completed over 40 races.
Is there an absolute maximum amount of training a runner could consider doing? Everyone is different, but for context, many elite runners do TWO runs PER DAY every day plus three strength workouts per week!
Ultimately, to determine how many times a week you should run, you should consider your goals. The plan for training for your first 5K will be very different to training for a 50K ultrarun. Get a training plan suited to your abilities, build gradually and don’t forget about the importance of cross-training and rest.