A number of runners who are just starting out have asked me, “How often should you run each week?” What a great How often should i run?question, with an endless number of answers. In order to accurately determine how often you should run, you must address the following four questions first.

1) Are you a beginner, intermediate, or advanced runner?

2) Is running your main source of exercise?

3) Are you training for a race or trying to maintain your base?

4) What are your time restrictions with work? Family? Other?

Let’s explore each of these in further detail.

1) Are you a beginner, intermediate, or advanced runner?

This is a key question in determining the amount and/or frequency of your running workouts. Beginners and advanced runners can vary greatly in the amount that they run. Some elites run double sessions most days of the week, some beginners will perform run/walk repeats until they work their way up to a mile, some elites run in 9 day cycles, it’s a different beast for everyone.

My general rule is that if you’re just starting out you should run 3-4 times a week depending on how you’re feeling. Ideally you would get the legs turning every other day, but if time doesn’t allow your schedule to be so clean, getting out 3-4 separate times a week is a great start.

If you’re an intermediate runner you should be getting out there 4-6 times per week. The higher end of the spectrum should be reserved for the times when you’re training or maintaining a base. The lower end when you don’t have any races on the horizon, but still want to get out there and get some mileage in.

If you’re an advanced runner you should be experienced enough to know when you need to run up the intensity and frequency of your training and when to dial it back.

2) Is running your main source of exercise?How often should you run?

This is all a matter of your overall goals. If running is your main source of exercise and you want to lose 5 pounds by summer, you should definitely increase the amount that you’re running. If you’re supplementing running with the bike, weight lifting, or P90x-type cardio work, you should be able to dial down the amount that you’re running at any given time, as you’re burning lot of calories during those other activities.

In either case, if you’re doing it to lose weight you should take a look at your daily caloric intake vs your daily caloric burn rate. When your intake is higher than your burn rate, you’ll gain weight. When your burn rate is higher than your intake you’ll lose weight. There are some other factors that go into that equation as well, for example what type of calories are you putting into your body, but overall it’s a decent guideline for weight maintenance.

3) Are you training for a race or trying to maintain your base?

When you’re training for a race you should be increasing mileage weekly, up until taper time. If you’re trying to maintain a solid base, you should be getting out there 3-4 times a week with a total mileage a little less than you’re aiming to start your next round of training at. So if you’re looking to get 35 miles a week in during your first week of training make sure you’re getting 25-30 miles in per week to maintain that base.

Now, if we’re talking immediate recovery that’s a little different. Everyone’s body responds differently after a race, some of you might be good to go a few days after with higher intensity work, others of you might take a month to build back up to high intensity work. Whatever the time frame a number of my running friends have told me you should take a day for every mile. For example if you run a 5k, you should stay away from high intensity running for 3 days. You don’t have to shut it down completely, so favor light runs during those down days.

4) What are your time restrictions with work? Family? Other? How often should I run?

This is a big one for most of us. We all have family and work obligations that creep into our schedule. Once they do, you might as well cash the day in or plan on running at midnight.

Plan your running into the open spaces during your day or wake up early to get your run in before the family wakes up and you’re checking your Blackberry (making sure you’re paying attention) all day.

If you’re good with time management you should be able to find the time you need to train or at least get the runs in you need to stay in shape. If you’re bad with it, I suggest getting good at it because it’s likely taking away from your overall efficiency.

 Conclusion

Understanding all four of these questions, and being honest with yourself about the answers should enable you to determine how much you should really be running.

If you tell yourself you have all of the time in the world, but you have a husband and three young ones at home, you’re likely not being honest with yourself and should reevaluate the amount of free time that you really have.

The same can be said for your running experience, exercise sources, and training goals.

Once you figure out how often you should run, it’s up to you to get out there and do it.

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