Every Other Day or Back-to-Back Runs? How Often To Run.

I’m realizing that lots of us experiment with the running-every-day-bug for at least some period of time. The only wild card seems to be how long the experiment will last.

Mine lasted just shy of two months. I didn’t get hurt. It wasn’t miserable in the least. But I have no desire to run the experiment again any time soon.

The same goes for running high weekly mileage. Everyone from the elites to everyday running gals like me must have pushed the envelope a bit on how much is too much. It’s a discussion for another day, but the process warrants an observation.

If you’re in control of your own running agenda, as most of us recreational runners seem to be, the push for higher mileage is tantalizingly more attainable if you run more and more often. The high mileage quest in and of itself begets a strategy of running every day – for what we initially assume could last forever. Our bodies, our sanity, or our spouse will usually inform us that it’s time to stop.

Jonathan Savage is a fairly well-known ultrarunner from Charlotte, N.C., and writes the blog fellrnr.com. I enjoy his blog because, like me, he tends to research the bejesus out of whatever ails or interests him at the time – including his own personal experiments. Aside from these interesting revelatory-type posts, he has also kept a monthly training macrolog since 2010, which exposes the success, or failure of these experiments in real-time.

Savage is a self-proclaimed 4 day/week runner, something he admits is rather unusual for a competitive ultrarunner. In 2011 he decided to try running once/day, every day for 6 months. He revisited the experiment again in 2014, except that he reduced the distance of each run while increasing the frequency to 2-3 times each day, every day.

Although I’ve never heard of training three times a day, two-a-days are not unusual for competitive runners. One of the many benefits of training twice on some days is the ability to complete multiple long runs during the week while presumably protecting the body – not to mention not everyone has the time to run several hours before or after work. Dividing the run into two sessions is more manageable on several fronts.

Now that I’m in this year’s base building phase, and feeling the inevitable focus on building weekly mileage, I naturally find myself thinking of adding as many running days into the week as possible as well – which means I’ve spent oodles of time researching the pros and cons of back-to-back running. As with everything running, the answer seems to be multiple choice.

My last untold secret from last year’s marathon training is that I only ran 3 days/week for the last 8 weeks before the race. It was refreshing. I felt rested and energized for every run, mentally fresh. I’ve argued for years against running every other day, but it worked out just fine.

My experience with running 4-7 days/week, however, is that there is also a benefit, both physically and mentally, that comes from running consecutive days. Some of Hal Higdon’s marathon training programs include back-to-back runs on the weekend where a shorter Saturday run is followed by the longest run of the week on Sunday. His thinking is that the combined weekend mileage (30-miles total at the peak) helps prepare you for the final miles of the marathon.

Whether it’s training your mind to run on tired legs or some physiological benefit that comes from reducing recovery time, I’m not sure. In some ways it seems similar to doing repeats with speed work. As fitness improves, you can extend the distance of the repeat and/or reduce the time between repeats to increase the level of difficulty.

We’ve all been told, it’s not how much training you do but how well you recover from it. Therein lies the multiple choices I think.

When Jonathan Savage runs 4 days/week, each run’s distance is designed to adequately fatigue himself, a distance difficult enough to require 48 hours recovery. The long runs stress the body; the rest days turn that stress into strength. Alternatively, running more than 4 days/week, thereby spreading the total weekly mileage between more days, includes more days of what we call “junk miles” – runs that barely work up a sweat and could be considered a waste of time by some.

The preference is personal I think. Do you tolerate longer single runs, or shorter runs more often?

For me, it seems to work well to run more days of lower daily mileage during the early base building phase, and then decrease the running days while gradually increasing each day’s total mileage for the marathon build-up phase.

Daniels’ Running Formula includes base building before each marathon training program, including 7 days/week of running roughly the same distance each day for 6 weeks with a minimum of 30 minutes per day.

This year I’m using a base-building schedule that starts out with 5 days of running each week where each day’s mileage remains mostly in the single digits. Later in the year I’ll reduce the days I run, add cycling for cross-training, and slowly increase the distance of each run. This is similar to the schedule I followed last year that ultimately helped me prepare for the longest distance I’ve ever run on the least amount of training.


This schedule came from one of the older running books from my bookshelf, “The Runners Book of Training Secrets.” I like this format since it focuses on building weekly mileage rather than on the long runs, which will be the focus of the marathon build-up later in the year. There’s no credit for this program so I assume it was created by the authors, Dr. Ken Sparks and Dave Kuehls, Senior Writer Runner’s World.


It’s worth noting the results of Savage’s experiment of running every day. During the six month period in 2011, he typically ran 5-6 long runs per week in the range of 16-23 miles. For a few of the weeks he ran the same distance all seven days. In January 2012 he returned to running 4 days/week stating that although he felt surprisingly well physically, his psyche was suffering. In that post he explained, “Even now, it’s unclear to me how much lingering long-term impact I have from this belt of overtraining syndrome.“ When he divided the daily mileage into 2-3 runs each day in 2014, the experiment lasted all year.

There are general guidelines to keep in mind when considering a back-to-back schedule of any duration:

* Keep the easy days easy. Don’t add miles to the easy days, and don’t go hard – no matter how tempting.

* If your back-to-back training also includes high mileage, know that speed work does not necessarily play well with high mileage. If you dabble with speed work, abandon it at the first sign of lingering fatigue. (Some coaches advise reducing overall mileage when focusing on speed.)

* If your schedule includes hard sessions, keep the easy days easy, but also keep the hard days hard – beware of the black hole of training (mediocrity) where the easy runs are run too fast and the quality workouts (speed work) are too slow.

* Listen to your body for the early warning signs of injury or overtraining, which may include depression.

The Lydiard Rapid-Progression Base Building Review

After 38 days of consecutive runs, a total of 233 miles and a peak of 66 miles last week, I have finished this season’s Lydiard rapid-progression base building program – and survived to tell the story.

The full 10-week base building program (I used week 3 as a post-Marathon reverse taper and continued with the base building program through week 7).

The first few weeks of running as slowly as the program dictated was awkward. The music from my iPod didn’t match the tempo and I found myself skipping over all my favorite songs. The volume went up, the volume went down. Sometimes I turned the stupid thing off altogether and ran in silence. Everything seemed to be an adjustment, and it took a couple of weeks to settle down.

It was my husband who first recognized that recovery from these slow runs was much quicker – a fraction of the typical time. The intensity of running had been eliminated by running slow, and my body was able to recover much sooner.

By the third week, running had begun to take on a life of its own. Day in and day out. I can’t say that nothing hurt, but there were no issues that lingered. My knees were sore here and there, my legs were downright tired from time to time. And, it was interesting what kinds of troubles arose from repetitive stress.

Whatever the issue, things had to be dealt with immediately because there was no spare day for regrouping if something went bad. For example, one day the threads on the underside of the little “L” that had been sewn onto my left sock became unraveled and irritated the skin on top of my left foot. It was sore for hours.  A few days ago, I failed to notice a callus had developed on my little toe and it became so tender I could hardly run. Each time something happened, action had to be taken straight away to prevent this new issue from wrecking the next day’s run. A good lesson to learn for any training phase.

Lydiard’s claim was that pace would slowly improve without added effort and this became true for me. The same slow, barely-faster-than-walking effort was 15 to 30 seconds per mile faster when I finished the program. My aerobic system was improving in just 5 weeks’ time.

My husband asked me one day, “Tell me again, why are you doing this program?” I had to remind him that most of every race regardless of distance uses the aerobic (vs anaerobic) system and it was only logical that you spend some training time to develop this system. He said, “So you won’t know……” As his sentence trailed off, I finished it for him, “I won’t know how well it’s worked until I run another race.” This is true. (Two months later, I ran a personal best time at the 10k distance.)

This is the part of running that I enjoy so much. There’s as much strategy in this sport as any other. If you really want to continue to develop over the course of your individual career, you have to train smart all year. This base building phase will set the baseline for the training I pursue throughout the rest of the year.

Maybe the question is, would I do this again? There were days I would have said no. Reflection always provides valuable insight, however, and now that it’s over my view has changed.

Race-specific training requires an intensity that leaves you feeling a little like you’ve fought to run. The slow pace of base-building became comfortable, refreshing — leaving me rested and ready once again to take on the intensity of speed-work (despite having increased base mileage to a new personal high in a relatively short period of time).

Slow running over weeks of sequential days gave me a new perspective of the base-building phase. There are times to work hard, train fast and fight to do your best, but it is equally important to spend time focusing on the simple task of running. I thoroughly enjoyed endless days of I’m-not-training-for-a-damn-thing; to enjoy the running for the love of running.

I can’t yet report on how it would feel to run 70 consecutive days, but I can confirm that the body will adapt to strenuous training with careful restraint of pace.

Given the luxury of organizing your calendar to accommodate 7-day/week training for a number of consecutive weeks (no small feat), I would highly recommend the effort.

Base Building Phase I: Ascent to the Peak

“The time will come when winter will ask what you were doing all summer.” – Henry Clay


In 2010, when former Notre Dame women’s basketball player Natalie Novosel made a commitment to off-season training, she went from averaging just 5 points a game her sophomore year to 15 points a game and leading the Irish in scoring her junior year. Her 27-game streak of scoring in double digits (crossing from her junior to senior years) is second-longest in school history.  Natalie’s off-season training was sport specific: playing and strengthening, and lots of it.

Athletes everywhere are facing the same questions of how to structure their off-season training program, and the decisions we make will determine the success we enjoy in the months that follow.

For elite and recreational runners alike, the off-season has typically been a time to build a strong base – miles, and lots of them.

Two time Olympian and exercise physiologist, Pete Pfitzinger, wrote about base training for Running World in 2006, “Your aerobic system provides about 95 percent of the energy used in a 5K race and more than 99 percent of the energy for a marathon, so it is logical to fully develop that system before focusing your effort elsewhere.”

The physiology of base training has been long accepted in the endurance community. We have been told it is not possible to build both aerobic and anaerobic systems at the same time very well, that the more work you perform aerobically, or in the presence of oxygen, the more efficient you are.

We believe aerobic training produces muscular adaptations that improve oxygen transport to the muscles, reduces the rate of lactate formation, increases energy production and utilization, and teaches our body to use fat as a primary fuel source.

As with everything running, however, there is a counter argument from the scientific arena that discounts the benefits of the slow-paced base building phase. Their studies suggest the most gains occur when running fewer miles faster. That leaves us all to make a personal decision as to whether we will build a base of higher mileage at a slow pace or possibly ignore the base building phase altogether.

The cardiovascular adaptations gained by putting in relatively high mileage for a prolonged period of time was first advanced by Arthur Lydiard in the early 1960s, when New Zealand’s Peter Snell and Murray Halberg won Olympic titles and broke world records with at-the-time unconventional base training of 100-plus mile weeks.

Lydiard suggested a relatively sedentary person could progress from couch potato to 100 mile weeks in just 9 weeks’ time. There is much debate over the risk of this plan but it has been successfuly adopted by many a runner. The key to this fast mileage build-up is in the runner’s ability to slow right down.

For example, if you are a 16:30 5k runner, base building pace would be around 8-9 minute miles. For a 20:00 5k runner: 9:30-10:00/miles, and for a 25:00 5k runner: 11:15-12 minute miles. Slow has a specific purpose in our portfolio of speed.

John Molvar wrote his thesis on Arthur Lydiard. He read 4 of Lydiard’s books and 7 books by others who wrote about Lydiard. He includes a proposed 9-week training plan based on Lydiard’s suggestions on how to ascend to 100/mile weeks. To succeed at Lydiard’s system, purposely manipulate your average training speed to avoid the pitfalls of too much effort in too short of a training period.

Cyclists use base building to stimulate the slow twitch (type 1) muscle fibers, to grow and strengthen the heart and to teach the body to conserve its glycogen stores within the muscles and vital organs.

Australian cycling coach and Director of Cycling-Inform Ltd, David Heatley, says, “Building an aerobic base is perhaps the single most important phase of the year since it is the foundation upon which your season is built. Many riders never reach their full potential at bike racing because they neglect this critical phase of training. By training consistently in this zone and cadence over several months, it is likely that you will be able to extend your time to glycogen depletion by as much as 75%.”

The purpose of Phase I of the Base Building schedule is to ascend to peak mileage (most coaches add speed work in Phase II) and there are lots of ways to plan your ascent.

Jack Daniels includes six weeks of base building in every marathon training program – roughly creating a 24-week marathon training plan. The first 3 weeks, even in the elite plan, are slow runs of the same distance/time every day.

Greg McMillan says there should be at least 12 weeks to build a base before working on specific training phases for racing. “And, please, don’t skimp on the base building,” he says. “It’s much better to include more base (endurance training) and less stamina, speed and sprint training than the other way around. Believe me, you can still run well in races off of base training and the more base training you do, the greater your potential for success in your important race(s).”


Every coach has their own base building philosophy and if you are particularly inclined toward one program or another, use that program but eliminate or drastically reduce the Quality Workouts.

For example, follow Hal Higdon’s Novice program and work your way through the Intermediate and Advanced programs. Start with the Pfiz 55 progressing to the Pfitz 70 and Pfitz 85, etc. (the numbers representing the total number of miles per week). Following a marathon training plan gives structure to your runs by specifying each run’s distance and weekly mileage build-up.

Scott Jurek, seven-time winner of the Western States 100-mile trail run, incorporates some speedwork throughout base training, with higher intensities beginning after four to eight weeks. (Read more at runningcompetitor.com)

If base building is your choice of off-season training, you may want to first answer these key questions:

  1. What is your goal for peak weekly mileage,
  2. How much time can you devote to reaching peak mileage, and
  3. Do you believe in a slow-paced Phase I or speedwork throughout?


These answers will help you determine how to select a plan from the millions available or to develop your own strategy. Whatever your choice, most coaches have the same words of advice:

  • Don’t let the slow pace frustrate you. I watched the Kenyans run in downtown Chicago in the days before the Chicago Marathon for many years. They had a slow, comfortable pace. They talked to each other – one guy in particular used his hands to exaggerate whatever point he was making all the while they were running. It was not uncommon for my husband and I to be walking our five dogs faster than these guys ran. Hal Higdon talks about how he ran at the same pace as a lady who was walking and pushing her baby in a stroller! Slow does not mean weak.
  • LSD or Speed. If you choose to delay speedwork until Phase II, as many coaches recommend, resist the urge to throw in a dash of speed here or there during Phase I Base Building. Some coaches say even one bout of speed will destroy all the gains of the long, slow buildup.
  • Practice good form. It is common for runners to develop bad habits when running slow. It happened to me last year when I realized I was turning my foot ever so slightly at the back of the stride, which eventually caused ankle soreness. Master Sifu says when we are fighting if we let our ankle roll or our elbows stick out too far, we’re loosing energy just as if we were a water hose with a hole in it. You want energy to begin in the strong core, move down through powerful legs and into the ground through the ball of your foot.
  • Take zero days when you need them. Although we should never run through an injury, Lydiard says if you are tired or sore, just run slower. Eventually, your body will adjust to the higher mileage.

Additional Resources:

A Week of Rest


Moving is considered to be one of the most stressful things a person can go through. It ranks right up there with death and divorce – and for good reason. When I went to bed Monday night I had a panic attack thinking of all the things left to do before the movers arrived on Wednesday morning.

This should have been a rest week after 10 weeks of base building, but this relocation did not take into account my running schedule . The only work I intended to do during my week of rest was an hour or so each morning of tai chi…… nothing strenuous.

Instead, I woke up at 5am and worked until 10pm loading boxes, putting bubble wrap on everything, cleaning the garage, sliding Christmas decorations down the little ladder from the attic, posting things on Craig’s List with a warning that it must be picked up by Wednesday afternoon – taking inventory of everything in the house so I can make a judgment on what to keep and what to separate myself from. There has been nothing leisurely about relocation week.

I can’t help but think back to the midway point of base building when I decided I would inventory the 10 week session at the end and make the same decisions. Would I continue to run slow? Will I keep doing the Core Strengthening exercises I’ve learned? How about those dreadful tiger presses?

Completing this base building session has been one of the most important things I’ve done for my training overall. Learning the discipline of running long slow miles has helped me develop different “gears”, which I have read we are supposed to possess.

Once in a while I have let myself fall into a steady, fast pace just to quench that need for speed. But when you know where the slow gear is you can readily find it again. Then its much easier and more fun to run the correct pace for the job at hand.

Now I’m ready to move back into marathon training having learned a few new things, eliminated some old, bad habits while retaining the good things from years of hard, focused training – much like my relocation.

The beautiful, familiar things in this house have traveled all over the country, to Ecuador and back, up and down the stairs of this house. We’ve gotten rid of a few things, picked up new things along the way, and we treasure things from our years of collecting.

And thus goes life and running.

Even though this has hardly been a week of rest, it has been a week of renewal nonetheless.

10PR Under Fire

The 10% rule (10PR), which states you should never increase mileage more than 10% each week has been debated for at least a decade, probably longer. Even still, there are some of us that hang onto it like gospel.

I’m really not one to stick with things if I realize they aren’t working. I cut my losses and move on. Why I have been unwilling to move on from the 10PR is a question I’ve asked myself for the past few weeks.image

I have followed the “stay-at-three-weeks-till-it-doesn’t-hurt” plan before – usually coming back from an injury or post-race recovery. The thinking goes that you run the same weekly mileage for three weeks and increase only if nothing hurts. It’s a good plan – but boring as hell.

Much of the debate over the 10PR is in favor of higher weekly increases. It appears there are those runners that are perfectly capable of using a 20 or 30% Rule without injury. I have yet to survive these plans – not to say I will quit trying.

I should have been doing the 3-Week Plan during my 10 weeks of base building, but I used the 10PR instead. Once in the first 5 weeks and twice in the second half I have found myself adjusting the weekly mileage. As I look back, I’ve unknowingly adjusted to the 3WP.

One of the main arguments against the 10PR is that a kilometre, a week and the base-10 number system are human constructs that have no inherent meaning to the body. Overall fatigue level, which takes into effect not only training volume but also intensity, outside life stressors, bodily strengths and weaknesses, and other factors, is a better guide to deciding how to up mileage, most experts agree.

I was beginning to feel my body break down – my left leg specifically. There were other life stressors draining my energy during these past 10 weeks and I have progressively felt the effect ricochet down my leg and to my toes.

Your body is smart though. It doesn’t tell you immediately that something is going wrong. It hangs on just long enough that you get a false sense of security – then it crashes.

My research has enlightened me: there are a million ways to cut the cake. You can vary daily runs each week to keep things interesting. If you run 3,4,5,4,3,8 one week, run 3,3,6,3,3,9 the second week and yet a different combination in week three. A perfectly logical cure for the boredom of the 3WP that I would have seen if not for being stuck in the security of my well-worn 10% plan.

A Running Times article, “Debunking the 10PR”, by Kevin Beck is worth reading. And, Allen Leigh, a 75-year old runner, wrote about the subject. He suggests that we realize that the limits of stress that apply to your body are likely different than the limits needed by others.

The answer we hear over and over – do what’s right for you. Listen to your body.

Sometimes you may handle more than a 10% increase, sometimes less, and sometimes 10PR is just right.

Will slow running drive you insane?

For five weeks now I have been running slow. This marks the halfway point in my quest for building a strong base before the start of the next marathon training program. In some ways the weeks have flown by and in other ways it seems this will go on forever. At this mid-term, here are a few things I’ve learned:

If you aspire to an even, steady pace, spend 5 weeks or more running slow. During the first couple of weeks, it was unbearably hard to keep myself at a target pace. I set as my goal a pace that was about one minute slower than my current marathon pace and allowed myself 15 seconds on either side of the minute for fluctuation.

Maybe this seems like a fairly large give-and-take for some folks. For me, it wasn’t uncommon to find myself running faster than my typical marathon pace on what should be a long, slow Sunday run. So, keeping within a 30 second threshold, plus or minus, was a victory.

Slowly as the days went along, I noticed I was keeping the pace more and more steady until eventually, my pace has remained within single digits of my goal pace day in and day out


Run Slow, Build Strength. At times over the past few years I have assumed a “run every other day” program. It happened because of a 60 second conversation with another runner on the streets of downtown Chicago many years ago.

You can pick up a quick conversation sometimes when you run alongside someone and say to yourself later, “How on earth did we end up talking about that?” This man told me he had been running every other day for 20 years. I don’t know how that came up but his comment has stuck with me.

So when recovering from a race, or an injury, I ran every other day until I started feeling better. When I would finally add a back-to-back run to my schedule, it became immediately obvious this was a step up in the level of difficulty. Base building has provided the same result.

Even though there is one slightly longer run, running comparable daily mileage throughout the week puts a different stress on the body than that of the short/medium/long runs and  easy day/hard day training that is more typical for us runners. I’ve liked it and I have begun to feel stronger already.

Run Slow for Recovery. After my last race, there was only one rest day before this period of base building began. Historically, that’s been unheard of for me since most of my injuries have occurred in the weeks immediately following a race.

This fear of injury has made me prone to taking one or two weeks of rest after every race. I held my breath through the first couple of weeks of base building, but all was well.

I have read that sometimes running slow is better for a tired, achy body, and even some injuries, than lying on the couch. Running slow has been like active recovery. With the exception of a few tight muscles late last week, I’ve survived (knock on wood) and lying on the couch is still for that afternoon nap I can’t seem to live without.

If you are naturally a slow runner, don’t despair. Let me give you 3 reasons why:

  1. You will naturally gain a little speed as you run more mileage. If you never want to run more mileage, don’t worry about it. Run slow and be happy.
  2. if you want more speed, you can always do speed work. But, then you may have to work to run slow again. No matter which speed, there will always be work to do.
  3. you look beautiful/handsome running slow. Have you ever seen the short distance runners on TV? Even their faces jiggle up and down? Running slow is much more elegant.

And so, now you see that running slow is a good thing for many reasons…..and it will not make you totally insane. I promise.

Ten Weeks of Tiger Presses and LSD

Eventually, 18 weeks of marathon training is no longer so intimidating. Even though the long runs will be hard, you know what to expect. You get better at preparing, better at recovery; hopefully you get better at staying injury free. In spite of how many approaches there may be to these 18 weeks, there’s nothing really new in the execution.

Unless, of course, you’ve found yourself behind schedule or preparing “last-minute” for one reason or another.

I actually love spontaneity. Love it when something happens unexpectedly or there’s the pressure of a deadline. In our early years, my husband would call me up and say, “Can I pull your trigger?” This was code for, “I’m in xyz city, do you want to meet me?” And, off I’d go.

The Marine Corps Marathon was one of those events that couldn’t be booked last-minute though. So here I sit with a date on the calendar far in advance and time to kill between now and then.

So, I’ve decided I’ll fill the extra time with a little base building..

Base training is closely linked with peaking training, something for which the Kenyans have become quite adept. In 1984, after the Kenyan boycott of both the 1976 and 1980 Olympics, future teams chosen to represent Kenya in major international events were chosen from the best runners present at a three-week training camp held at altitude. This meant the best of the best would race each other daily in training for 21 days. They represented the survivors of the hardest peaking training program undertaken by athletes.

The rule is that peak racing performance only occurs when a period of high-intensity, low-volume training (peaking) follows a prolonged buildup period consisting of low-intensity, high-volume training (base training). Lore of Running by Tim Noakes, MD.

If you’ve studied distance running, you’ve no doubt heard the term LSD, long slow-distance running. This is the foundation of base training. The goal is to run as high a mileage possible without overtraining and to increase gradually the average speed and distance of each session. Some coaches suggest devoting 6 months to a year for this training while others are ok with an 8-week schedule.

My base training session will last 10 weeks. The plan I’ve chosen includes daily runs of similar distances, such as 6,7,6, rest, 7,5,9, and gradual increases over time to build up mileage slowly. At the end of 10 weeks,  I’ll be ready to start the 18-week marathon program and hopefully a successful peak.

Apparently running isn’t the only opportunity for base building in my life though and this new “opportunity” gives me much more heartburn than 10 weeks of LSD.

I really enjoy Kung Fu – well, most of the time. Right now, I have to learn the 12 animal forms. First, we memorize one of the animal forms, perform it across the classroom ensuring our hands are held in just the correct way, stepping this way but not that way, and doing all of this with just the right amount of “intention” as if we were actually using this form to fight an imaginary opponent. It’s a lot to remember and your body NEVER moves the way you need it to – the way you want it to.

After we’ve demonstrated our knowledge of the animals back and forth across the classroom, Sifu says, “Line back up class.” And, if there are a few minutes left before the hour is over….good lord, we know what’s coming next. Tiger Presses.


This miserable exercise is about 3 times harder than an ordinary push-up. So we all drop to the floor for a count of 18 of these monsters – don’t dare even let out a moan or the number gets doubled.

Heaven forbid my Sifu discovers this little blog of mine, but I have to be honest and say I’d rather skip the animals and the tiger presses. This week one of the black belts informed me I will eventually face a test of 100 tiger presses.

Inside my soul I had a heart attack.