One of the great things about running is it’s a pretty minimalistic sport. Of course as you get competitive with it certain apparel and/or gear can help (and some of that apparel/gear can get expensive), but ultimately all one needs is themself, minimalist foot protection/running shoes, and somewhere safe to run (i.e., a park (with trails), trails, sidewalks, a field, a track, etc.).
With the warmer spring and summer months having already made their entry, you may be starting to get out and run more your overall health. Or, if you’re a runner or triathlete you may be really ramping up your training.
Also with these warmer months comes the added humidity in the air, backyard BBQs, and vacations. All of which can put a damper on your fitness and/or training schedule.
As such, as a runner or triathlete (whether novice or seasoned) or just the everyday gal or guy looking to stay healthy, you may be wondering whether it is better to run more often (shorter distances) or longer distances (less often) over the course of each week.
Well, ultimately, it depends.
In general, for those that are new to running or are short-distance runners, it is better to run shorter distances (2-3 miles) more often over the course of the week. Conversely, for long-distance runners running long(er) distances is vital to their training in that it aids in increasing one’s mental and physical endurance and strength- all of which are needed for running, whether competitively or leisurely, and triathlon.
While short-distance runners and beginner runners will (& should) focus on shorter distances more often throughout the week and long-distance runners will (& should) focus on longer runs less often throughout the week, it’s beneficial to incorporate both types of runs into your training (if your schedule allows for it). This provides for optimal training (and overall health) benefits.
There are pros and cons to both short- and long-distance runs. Whether it will be best for you to focus on short-distance more often or long-distance less often will depend on your training goals and where you are at on your running journey (i.e., what level runner are you?… beginner, intermediate, advanced?).
With a training plan that utilizes short-distance runs, you will be distributing your weekly miles over a greater number of days. This means you won’t run as far (probably 5 miles or less) in a given day, but you will [most likely] run at least 5 days out of the week. In doing this type of training your workouts will be shorter in duration as well.
Though there are many pros to short-distance runs, and only a couple of cons (namely, the continual pounding on the body, particularly the joints of the lower body, and the commitment to do run daily), long-distance runs have their benefits as well (we’ll touch on those more later in the article). Thus, one may want to take a blended approach to their training- incorporate short- and long-distance runs.
With a blended approach, you start with a shorter distance and gradually increase up to five to six miles daily. Once you are running five to six miles daily, comfortably you can start experimenting with some long-distance. Continue to run five to six miles 4 for the 5 days and on the 5th day increase your miles to seven or eight.
As you get comfortable with the longer distances you can transition to long distance runs less often during the week. Hold there for a week or two. Then go back to shorter distance runs and start the cycle over. This type of training pyramid/schedule helps the body to adapt to stresses (i.e., build muscle strength and endurance) while allowing it adequate time to rest/recover and not be constantly pounded on with such intensity.
While many coaches support a blended approach to training- a mix of short- and long- distance runs, some coaches and trainers are finding that there is value in running less…
This means one can improve their running without having to commit more time (or run longer distances). One just needs to maximize each minute and every mile of their run(s). Whether you want to run faster, run farther, or get into a routine of running you can accomplish it with a minimalist approach- run less, but accomplish more.
Here are some guidelines for a minimalist approach to each goal
- Get Fast(er): incorporate three hard running workouts into your training for the week- short intervals, long intervals, and tempo runs.
- Go Farther: incorporate two 30 to 45 minute runs and one long run into your training for the week.
- Get into a Routine (i.e., Get Consistent): incorporate three runs into your training for the week- whether they are on consecutive days or alternate days. Whatever works for your schedule and is something you can stick to. Aim to designate at least one day as your “Run Day” (i.e., you run on this day no matter what, no excuses), again, whatever day works with your schedule.
Whether you take a blended approach or a minimalist approach you’ll want to be sure to have at least one active rest day and one passive rest day, especially if you are new to running or just coming back from an illness/injury.
Your active rest day can include activities such as swimming or a walk through the park. A passive rest day is meant to be a day of complete rest- no physical activity outside of what is absolutely necessary to sustain life.
Again, short-distance versus long distance, blended versus minimalist fitness/training approaches, each has its pros and cons both from a training perspective and an overall health perspective.
It ultimately depends on what level runner you are (where you are on your running journey) and what your training goal is. Not to mention factors such as your schedule or coming back after an illness/injury (i.e., a greater potential for body aches/pain as well as muscle weakness and/or imbalances) as well as what motivates you [to train/stick to training].
What works for one runner (or triathlete) may not work for you. Play around with things, ease into it and find what works for you- your level of training/runner, your training goal, your schedule, and your motivation. (Source A)(Source B)(Source C)
Is It Better to Run More Frequently or Longer?
Whether it is better to run more frequently (shorter distances more often throughout the week) or longer (long distances less often throughout the week) will depend on you as a runner (what level runner are you?), what your fitness/training goal is, your schedule, and what motivates you.
As you read in the intro both short and long-distance runs have their pros and cons. So, let’s dive a little deeper into each type of run and its pros and cons. This way you can make an informed decision on what will be best for you.
First up, is the difference between a short and long-distance run
A short-distance run is considered to be, typically, 45 minutes or less in duration and 2-3 miles in distance (no more than 5 miles). A long-distance run is considered, typically, to be an hour or more in duration and roughly 30 percent of your [total] average (typical) weekly miles.
Secondly, the types of short- and long-distance runs
For short-distance runs there are
- [short] Steady pace runs
- Short interval runs
- Long interval runs
- Tempo runs
For long-distance runs there are
- Long Slow Distance (LSD) runs (the most common)
- Fartlek Runs
- Progression long runs
- Race pace long runs
And, lastly, the benefits of each, short- and long-distance runs
In addition to the benefits (pros) already mentioned in the intro, here are some additional benefits of short-distance runs,
- Reduced duration of recovery between workouts (i.e., you recover more efficiently after/between workouts)
- Easier to fit into your daily schedule/routine
- Improved general health (running meets the American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendation of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise/activity 5 days per week or high-intensity aerobic activities for at least 20 minutes, 3 days per week)
- Reduced risk of heart disease
- Improved training quality which results in improved running technique
- Rev up metabolism
- Help protect and strengthen the immune system
- Reduced issues with indigestion
Benefits of long-distance runs/running include,
- Increase the number of mitochondria in your cells (i.e., increased energy)
- Helps get oxygen to your muscles more efficiently
- Increases mental stamina (toughness)
- Improves efficiency of running
- Teaches the body to fuel itself and increases the ability of the body to utilize fat as fuel
- Strengthens muscles, bones, and tendons
- Increased speed (as a result of improved endurance)
To see the benefits of long-distance running a long-distance run should be incorporated at least once per week. In other words, at least one of your weekly runs should be a long-distance run (20-30% of your typical weekly miles). So, if you run 25 miles in a week typically, your long-distance run should be 5 to 7.5 miles long.
As we can see both short- and long-distance runs have their place in training- both for sport and leisure. They also both have many benefits to one’s training for their sport and/or overall health. Ultimately, which is better will depend on you as a runner and your goals (as well as schedule and motivators). Ideally, opt for a blended approach whereby you run short distances 2 or 3 days of the week and long-distance (20-30% of your typical/average total weekly miles) [at least] one day of the week (so you run 3-4 times per week… 2 or 3 short runs + 1 long run). (Source A)(Source B)
Is It Better to Do One Long Run or Two Short Runs in A Day?
Most often in the world of running, two-a-days, or doubles, are a foreign concept. At least for the average runner. Perhaps those pounding out 100-plus mile weeks would have a need for such training. But, generally speaking, there is no such need for two-a-days (doubling up on runs in a given day).
However, incorporating some double-run days (two-a-days) into your training could help improve running performance. It could even help improve general fitness (even if without necessarily increasing the running miles).
When you’re just starting out in training and working on your general endurance, a single long run [in your training] provides the necessary stimulus needed to accomplish this. However, as you build your endurance your body will adapt and you will need longer [and longer] runs in order to place enough stress for adaptation to occur.
It is easier for the body to maintain endurance than to build it. Thus once you have gained endurance and been able to maintain it, you will have to place additional stress in order to see additional/continual gains. So, your workouts will have to become harder, and more intense.
This is where adding a second workout can be helpful.
When it comes to recovery, many are surprised to find that incorporating two runs in a day can actually help them feel less tired and sore (i.e., more recovered) the next day. This is most likely because when you split your long, intense run into two shorter, not as intense runs you don’t put as much stress on your body [at one time].
Also, your body is able to fuel itself more efficiently as you have plenty of fuel stores for them. And, lastly, on short runs, you rely heavily on slow-twitch muscles which are resistant to fatigue. So, with [two] short runs instead of lingering fatigue and soreness (damage) you get a boost in blood flow (and hormones) twice which helps with recovery
One run isn’t enough to see change. Each run will trigger the body to make [new] adaptations. Especially, because on the second run of the day you are training (running) in a state of fatigue from the start.
Over time, with each run, the body will make adaptations to meet the demands of the body. These adaptations will manifest as changes (for the better) … changes in (increased) speed, changes in (increased) endurance, changes in (improved) recovery rate, changes in physical appearance (i.e., leaner, stronger appearance), etc.
In conjunction with the improved recovery rate that doubling up on runs can provide, research shows that running two times per day (having 2 bouts of exercise relatively close together) rather than once (having only 1 long[er] workout) for the same [average] total weekly miles can increase one’s energy production.
Exactly how to split up your long run into two shorter runs will depend on what your exact training goals are, and, thereby, what the goal of the second run/doubling up is.
- If the goal is to improve your recovery, you’ll want to split your run as evenly as possible (i.e., a 10-mile run would be broken into two 5 mile runs)
- If your goal is greater training adaptations, you’ll want to plan your second run/a double run for when you know you will already be in a state slight of fatigue (i.e., run a short 3 to 6 miles in the afternoon after you had a hard morning workout)
- If you are looking to prepare for a workout or race, you’ll want to do your [second/easier] run in the morning and your workout or harder run in the afternoon.
While there are plenty of benefits to two-a-days, or doubling up on your runs, as with any new training schedule or implementation, you’ll want to go about it slowly. In other words, don’t do too much, too fast. Rather, go about it slow and steady (after all, it’s what wins the race)- giving your body and yourself time to adapt.