I’ve written recently, and at other times before, about doing multiple runs in a day. This is common among people who want to log high miles and are serious about running. But I want to talk about it from a more working class perspective, as I believe these extra workouts have benefits to people who aren’t elite 130 mile a week runners.
In his book Run Faster (with Matt Fitzgerald), Brad Hudson once posited that the threshold for adding a 2nd run to any day should be when the runner is logging at least 70 miles per week. Hudson’s principle (which many share) is that you only add 2nd runs when your weekday runs have become so long that to extend them further would be impractical. And in a vacuum, that’s a fair rule.
However, Hudson and his trainees can dedicate their lives (or at least free time) predominately to running. Many others (elite or not) outside of Hudson’s scope can make all the time they need to train at a high volume. It makes no sense for those runners to break up normal training runs when they have the time and resources they need to do full workouts.
Meanwhile, as I pointed out previously, a working class individual may encounter times where they can’t feasibly execute a run workout of a given length. It may make sense at times to break an otherwise-doable distance run into two shorter workouts, even if you don’t run anywhere close to 70 miles per week.
In our case, we may do so for practical life-related reasons outside of running, rather than specifically because our workouts have reached practical limits.
For example (as I mentioned in the previous post linked at the start of this piece), I had a commitment after work that meant I could not do a full run after work until too late in the evening. Plus, doing the full run in the morning would have also been impractical due to various factors I didn’t get into. So then, I’d have good reason to split the workout into two brief runs, one done in the morning before work, and the other done after work before my appointment.
Of course, obvious caveats apply to splitting a workout into multiple runs (some of which I previously mentioned).
- You generally don’t want to compromise or break up key workouts like long runs and speedwork, especially for marathon training where your long workouts are long specifically because the goal race is long. You only break up easy distance runs, out of necessity. Whenever possible, you want to do the full scheduled workout at its full distance or duration.
- You don’t want to end up overtraining due to working your body out multiple times in a day and effectively cutting into your inter-workout recovery. So one or both runs must be adjusted to minimize the risk of overtraining.
- There are some specific aerobic benefits to the full run that are lost when you break one up into smaller easy runs. But you still get the neuromuscular benefit and physical practice of having covered the needed distance in that day. Doing two broken up runs is admittedly a compromise tactic.
Still, you want to be responsible when attempting multiple daily runs, whether you do so because because you’re downsizing full runs into multiple shorter runs, or adding extra runs to your schedule to get in needed mileage.
Below are 10 essential principles for anyone planning to do two workouts in a day.
1. Both runs should be as close to easy distance runs as possible.
If the main workout is a hard workout like a speed or tempo session, and you’re considering breaking up the mileage due to time constraints, then you are probably better off doing just an abbreviated version of that workout.
Speed and tempo work is very physically taxing, and many even argue that doing a simple cool-down jog at the end of such workouts is more damaging than good. One such argument is here. (That is not to say you shouldn’t do a cool-down routine. Consciously cooling your body down from running intensity is actually quite important. But many argue a cool-down should be something simpler like a walk or dynamic stretching, and that running as a cool-down can be damaging.)
Regardless of your view, if you heavily tax your body with a hard early workout, delaying recovery several hours later to do a 2nd run might not be as beneficial as intended. This can be especially true for less experienced, more recreational runners, who aren’t training at a high enough level or speed for a jog to be a relaxing recovery activity. For many, an easy jog on sore exhausted legs is still a full workout. Doing the run may defeat the “recovery” intentions of the run.
So be wary of doing a 2nd run as a “recovery” run from a hard workout. Typically, when you break a run up, the full run in question should be an easy distance run and the two shorter resulting runs should end up simple, easy runs.
The closest I would come to making an exception is if your 1st run is a lighter, easier form of speedwork, such as:
- A casual Fartlek run, where one minute you run a bit faster, one minute you run easy, repeat as desired… and you are free to abandon that as needed and just run easy.
- A simple fast-finish run where the last 10-15 minutes is done a bit faster than the rest of the run.
- A Hal Higdon style tempo run, where it’s mostly easy but in the middle you speed up for about 10-15 minutes, then slow back down and finish easy.
But really, you should only seek to break up easy distance runs.
2. Make sure 5 or more hours have passed since the end of the 1st workout before doing the 2nd.
Jeff Gaudette of Runners Connect recommends the 5 hour benchmark between runs (and believes the ideal distance is 7-8 hours). The idea behind such a break begins with common sense: You don’t want to do the 2nd run while still too tired from the 1st run.
Why 5 hours or 7-8 hours, not 3 or 10 hours? There are many reasons for that 5-8 hour time-frame but here’s a key one: Most people eat meals or snacks every 4-6 hours, and this provides enough time for nutrients from your previous meal to digest and enter your bloodstream, to not just be available for the 2nd run, but to start recovery from the 1st run.
Meanwhile, if you wait too long, your 2nd run may occur too late in the day to be beneficial. The restart of your hormones and body to run may interfere with your ability to get to sleep.
This never minds the motivational difficulty of getting yourself dressed and back out there, so long after having finished an earlier run.
Elites who live to run probably think nothing of that. You’re probably more working class than elite, and live a different lifestyle that isn’t devoted solely to running.
That aside, the 5+ hour time-frame gives your hormones and muscles suitable time to bounce back some from the earlier run, maximizing the quality and minimizing the struggle of a 2nd run… provided it’s just an easy run.
3. The 2nd run should absolutely be an easy run, and should be the easier run, no matter what.
Whereas I suggest some leeway with the intensity of the early 1st run, I don’t think there should be any leeway with the 2nd.
Running on relatively tired legs, it’s important the 2nd run be a simpler, easier run than the 2nd. And there should not be any speed-play or anything creative with this 2nd run. It should just be a simple, easy, shorter distance run.
Think of the 2nd run as dessert, the nightcap after the main course of the 1st run. Run on partially tired legs later in the day, it’s there to tack on to what’s already been done earlier… not to provide the bulk of the mileage left over from the first.
In fact, if you have to cut that 1st run short… you should cut the 2nd run even shorter. Resist the temptation to make it longer to cover lost time or miles. If you planned on a 45 minute AM run and a 40 minute PM run, but the 1st run was only 30 minutes long… I would not do more than 30 minutes on the PM run, and possibly even less than that. I would draw on the length of the revised morning run to dictate the length of the evening run.
Your body will have already been shaken from its stasis from the 1st run, and may not react well to a longer 2nd run… if it’s not already a bit sore from the 1st run.
In my experience, it is rare that a long 2nd run works out well after a shortened 1st run… and usually only when it’s not a double run but a restart of an aborted morning run, e.g. I stop a planned morning long run after 2 miles, and re-attempted it later that day.
Every other time I’ve done a longer 2nd run in a double run day, either a) the 2nd run goes badly, or b) I’m so tired or beat up on following days that key workouts are compromised or even cancelled.
You’re better off front-loading the bulk of the work in the 1st run, and leaving the 2nd run to simple, easy running in a shorter run.
4. Eating for recovery within an hour after both runs is highly recommended.
Typically I consider the nutrition window (eating within 30 minutes to 2 hours of the end of a run) an optional exercise for shorter non-key workouts. They’re important after long runs, speed work, tempo runs, but for regular distance runs I play them by ear.
However, if you’re doing multiple runs in a day, eating within the window of either or both becomes a much better idea. You are shaking the body from stasis for relatively demanding exercise multiple times in a day, plus you plan to do another workout hours after finishing a workout.
Recovery after these workouts, even if both runs are easy, is a very good idea and will maximize your bounce-back potential not just for the 2nd run but in following days’ workouts. If you’re training for a goal race, doing this to stay on track is quite valuable.
I highly recommend you eat something healthy within one hour following at least the 1st run, and probably within one hour of both runs.
Why an hour, and not the full 2 hour window? There are only so many hours in the day and you’re already stretched pretty thin between the two workouts and everything else you have to do. Along with making sure you time your nutrients well to set up the 2nd run or avoid running into bedtime or schedule conflicts that prevent eating… this mostly is to make sure you don’t forget or defer your meal to the point of causing added damage from not keeping yourself fed.
Don’t make it complicated. If you’re not planning to eat a full meal right after, then eat a banana or some other fruit, grains, whatever is palatable.
5. The 1st run should take place before noon (or whatever noon means to you, if you follow a weird schedule).
This isn’t just because morning is a good time to get a run in (even though many would argue it is).
This is because, if that 1st run takes place beyond mid-afternoon, and you observe the 5 hour rule… that 2nd run would occur very late in the day. And again, running too close to bedtime can interfere with your sleep since the body needs considerable time to wind down from the elevated activity. Messing with sleep and its recovery effects defeats the purpose of getting two workouts in. You’d be better off just doing one abbreviated workout when you can get it in.
Do that 1st run in the morning, and make sure there’s plenty of possible time available for the 2nd run. You also get several meals and more time off from running to aid with recovery afterward.
6. If both runs are different distances, the 1st workout should be the longer workout.
I realize I’m repeating myself from principle #3. But similar to why #5 is important, it’s important the early run be the ‘meat and potatoes’ run of the two. Along with the previous reasons, you have more energy early in the day to devote to that early run, so it should be the run that requires more effort.
Plus, logistically, it’s more likely you can carve the needed time in the morning, given your waking time is negotiable and you don’t yet need to report to work/school/obligations. Once you’ve started your day, your window of available time that day shortens, and your energy level begins to decrease. Get the bulk of the work done early and save a sliver for the evening.
Now, how much of a sliver should you leave for the nightcap?
7. The 2nd run should generally not last longer than 30-40 minutes.
If you’re breaking up an easy run, the 2nd run should generally not be longer than 30-40 minutes. This is an old Pete Magill guideline for recovery runs that still makes sense today, as it’s beyond the 30-40 minute mark that an easy circulatory jog begins to challenge you aerobically and turn into more of a difficult workout. I think it’s generally best to make that 2nd run short and minimize your stress after having worked on an earlier run.
I say “generally” above because I’ve previously talked about breaking up long runs into multiple shorter runs, and this to some degree does appear to contradict that.
Is breaking up a long run into multiple regular runs, and thus doing a longer 2nd run, still okay?
I will note that, if it’s a weekend, you are training for a race shorter than a marathon, and you’re looking to break up a long run… then making the 2nd run longer is fine, as is even adding a 3rd run at your own risk (realizing given Principle #5 that this will likely be later in the day and could interfere with sleep; if it’s the weekend and not a work night, you may be able to risk it and consider sleeping in the following day if getting to sleep that night is a problem).
In most other cases, a long run is not involved, and the 30-40 minute rule is sound. Also, if you’re training for a marathon, overtraining is a bigger risk and the consequences of missing workouts, especially key workouts like tempo work and long runs, becomes magnified. You want to make sure in executing your workouts that you can keep going tomorrow and beyond. So keep that 2nd run short and easy.
8. Strength training or drills after the 2nd run may be a good idea.
Generally you do strength work or running drills after an easy weekday run, and doing 2 runs in a day may feel more challenging at the end of a 2nd run.
But there is an added benefit to mixing in supplemental work following a 2nd run. You’ve challenged yourself hormonally and neuromuscularly by running multiple times in a day, and this side work can positively augment that, piggybacking off the added circulation and recovery processes from the runs themselves and bolstering the positive effect of the strength work.
The drills are more so a positive neuromuscular and proprioceptive activity to do with the added challenge of being tired at the end of the day, which can help you on race day. Just be careful and deliberate, of course. The drills don’t help if you don’t do them right, plus mistakes could lead to injury.
And of course you should absolutely stretch after the 2nd run, as you would at the end of most workouts.
However, it’s important strength work or any stretching be done after the 2nd run, not the 1st.
9. Doing strength or static stretching work after the 1st run is probably not a good idea.
Strength work following the 1st run increases the wear and tear that carries over into the 2nd run. Plus, twice the strength work doesn’t exactly product twice the benefit. The long term positive value is the same whether you do it in the morning or towards the end of the day. However, the wear and tear has a much different effect after morning strength work than evening strength work. Save it for later.
Also, do you static stretching after the 2nd run, because it does tighten up ligaments and muscles in the short term, and that can be a more serious problem in a later 2nd run. That definitely could increase the chances of injury. Stick to more dynamic movement and stretching to limber up following the early run.
However, notice here I didn’t mention drills. There’s probably nothing wrong with post-run drills after your early run. Just, again, take it easy and be deliberate plus intentional.
10. Be willing to consider cross training for the 2nd workout instead of run.
I imagine if you do this break-up-runs thing often enough that you will get to a scheduled 2nd run rather beat up and sore. Sometimes a brief easy run isn’t a problem in this scenario. But there may be times you’re better off doing some cross training instead.
Don’t be afraid to swap out that nightcap run with a spin bike, ARC Trainer, elliptical, swim session or whatever cross training you desire. You did the bulk of the work earlier that day. This is just about either a) giving your muscles the added work to match the originally scheduled workout, or b) doing an extra circulatory workout to generate recovery. It doesn’t always need to be a run.