Coach Mike Mead

Stress-Free Running - August 2004

One of the biggest conflicts a serious runner will face throughout their running days is stressing out about missing training days. I’ve personally known of some runners who have some serious consecutive-day streaks.

Take Mark Covert, head coach at Antelope Valley College in California. Last month he celebrated his 35th year of running at least three miles every day. That’s 12,753 days (and counting) in a row of running covering more than 129,400 miles. The last off day Mark had was on July 23, 1968!

That’s quite a feat, but such streaks are not for everyone. Most runners should not stress out about missing a day now and then. In actuality, it can just lead to more stress on your mind and body. Until you’ve experienced “runner’s nirvana” or “runner’s high,” it’s hard to explain the guilt a runner feels when they’re seriously training and face the reality of missing a day of training.

Early on in a beginning runner’s training, they have to develop consistent running habits to build their base and strength. My high school coach, Glen Brown, told us that for every day missed it took two days to make up where you were when you missed. I continue to believe this theory for the novice runner.

However, as a runner matures and gets several years of training under his or her belt that off day will be of benefit. In the last few years, I’ve adopted a theory that it’s not the number of days per week you run, but the number of times you run during the week that is important.

The average high school runner will likely run five days per week during the season and less during the off-season while an average college runner will run seven days per week in-season. To be better than average it’s going to take 10-12 training sessions per week, but notice there are only seven days per week.

This leads to “two-a-day” workouts. Most serious runners are familiar with this training. I’ve had teammates and I’ve coached a couple of runners who have done “three-a-day” sessions. I don’t advise “three-a-days” unless you’re training to run a sub-2:20 marathon.

If a runner is working at 10-12 training sessions per week, he or she can still factor in a rest day. It’s especially important during your serious racing phase. A common problem that most distance runners face is when they run a poor race, they figure they need to train more.

Most of the time, if these runners would just take a day or two of rest that they’d see the improvements from their training. However, this doesn’t necessarily work for the runner that is training less than seven times per week. If you must miss more than a day per week, do not take consecutive days unless it is injury related.

So the next time you are hit with guilt about missing a training day, don’t stress out. Enjoy the day off. If the guilt eats at you, then cross train by doing some biking or swimming. Your body and mind will reward you the next time you race.