How to safely add more kilometres to your routine.
I’m almost finished with a Couch-to-5K program and doing great. The plan emphasizes running three times a week. When is it okay to run every day? Or consecutive days? My problem is that I work 12-hour shifts three time a week and have a long commute. On those days I can’t really do any exercise. I’m 63 years old and in great health.
Good for you! A Couch to 5K training program is typically 9 or 10 weeks long; whereas, setting a solid base can take up to six months for a brand new runner. You are certainly on your way, but I suggest you continue with running three days a week for two or three more months. Adding more run days primarily depends upon your running goals, so define your goals first before increasing mileage unnecessarily. We tend to think that if a little is good, then more is better, but that’s not always the case.
As a new runner, and a master’s runner at that, (a runner over the age of 40) it’s very important to give your body plenty of time to recover so it can adapt to the training. The body’s cells respond in different ways and in different time frames to the applied stress of running. Running stimulates the body to expand its aerobic capacity by building new blood capillaries beds, which is somewhat similar to building new highways, so more oxygen and nutrients can be delivered quickly and efficiently to working muscles. Slow-twitch oxidative muscle fibers are developed, blood volume increases, and glycogen stores expand. More mitochondria and enzymes, necessary for greater energy production, are created. Bone cells are stimulated and make stronger bones; connective tissue, muscles, tendons, and ligaments are strengthened, and on and on. We don’t realize all of this internal work going on because we can’t see it; however, it becomes evident when overuse injuries, like tendonitis, stress fractures, muscle strains, or shin splints appear.
Overuse injuries are the result of demanding too much, too soon. This is even more important for master’s runners because research has shown us that the body’s processes slow with age. There are significant changes that occur around 40 years of age, thus masters runners often require different training plans and have different race qualifying times. Adaptation time and recovery between workouts simply takes longer for master’s runners than for younger runners so, for master’s runners, three day a week training plans can be particularly ideal.
That said there are some options if you feel like you are ready to ramp it up a bit. Three day a week training schedules usually have a speed day, a strength day, and a long run day. During your speed workout, push the pace for two minutes then back off and recover for 3. Repeat this for the duration of your run. On your strength day, strive to gradually increase the distance of this run by 10% a week. After increasing mileage for two or three weeks, drop your mileage back down for one week to give yourself more recovery time. Your weekend mileage is determined by the date and distance of your goal race, so define your goals and pick a race to formulate your weekend run plan.
Three-day-a-week training programs, also typically call for two additional days of aerobic cross-training, like swimming, spinning, or rowing. Preferably, cross-training is an aerobic activity that differs from running enough that it allows your running muscles a break, but still stimulates your aerobic system for a training response. This allows you to increase your aerobic base while not fatiguing your running muscles. Cross-training is intended to enhance your running, not detract from it. Cross-training activity is best done at a moderate intensity level for 45 to 60 minutes, twice a week.
If cross-training does not fit into your weekly schedule due to work or other commitments, then you can add one additional run day per week. Think of it as a recovery run and limit the distance, effort and duration. Listen to your body as you train and you will learn what is best for you. All runners, and especially master’s runners, can benefit from weight training, so consider adding weights into your training plan twice a week too. Increasing muscle strength can improve performance and may even reduce the risk of injury!
All the best to you!
Susan S. Paul, MS
Susan Paul has coached more than 2,000 runners and is an exercise physiologist and program director for the Orlando Track Shack Foundation.