It has taken me a number of years of running to buy into the mantra that you need adequate time to recover in order to improve your running. I used to run 50 to 65 miles a week, but improvement was marginal and full of disappointing races. It was only until about a year ago that I decided I would focus on quality over quantity and it has made a world of difference and a new set of PRs. I now limit my running to 3 days a week (sometimes 4 on occasion), which equates to about 30 to 40 miles a week. Although I’ve substantially reduced my mileage, I make up for it through quality runs, where each training run serves a purpose. I no longer just run to add miles – generally referred to “junk” miles. Also, I very rarely run on back to back days, ensuring at least one full day of rest between runs. Because I have reduced my running from 6 to 7 days a week to 3 days a week, it also allows for more time to do more cross-training, which is currently kettlebell core fitness training and yoga. So I still get a decent workout 6 to 7 days a week, but the diversity of the training are complementary to my running goals. I know many are skeptical of this approach, and so was I for many years, but now I’m on the bandwagon that in terms of running, less is more – as long as the less is focused on quality workouts.
The benefits of reducing my running to only 3 days a week are as follows:
Increases Quality – Because each run now has a focus – intervals, tempo and long run – and I have adequately rested between running sessions, I’ve had much more spring in my legs and normally am able to hit my pace goals for the week. When I was running 6 or 7 days a week, I had more bad days than good when it came to speed work sessions. Also, because of the increased quality workouts, I’m running completing my training at paces significantly higher than a year ago. I’ve also set two new PRs recently in the half marathon (1:27) and 5K (18:46) – and I’m almost 40 years old.
Injury Prevention – Over the past year, the nagging little pains and injuries have subsided considerably. This is probably a result of a combination of things such as mid-foot running, yoga, and strength training, but I’m sure the full day rest between runs have also contributed to running with fewer pains.
Reduced Burnout – By reducing my mileage and running days per week, I don’t have the same level of fatigue and burnout that I used to often experience when I was running 50 or more miles a week. In fact, because each run is of higher quality, I’m anxious to get out there again as soon as possible.
The only negative to this three day approach approach is that if you want to improve as a runner, each run requires a significant effort be put forward. I sometimes miss the leisurely run, where you are just out there and enjoy the great outdoors. So on occasion, if the bug does hit me and I don’t have any upcoming races, I will break the rules and just go out and run with no specific goal in mind.