Want to be a better runner?  Stop running. 

No no, this isn't your exit for this crazy sport, but for recreational athletes in training mode (that's you by the way), running every day or running all out at every workout is a sure path to burnout and injury.  Do the Kenyan runners run everyday?  Probably, but last I checked, I currently don't have any world record setting Kenyans in my RUNaway group.  Do you know someone who runs every single day?  Maybe, but I doubt they are ramping up long run mileage like you are or improving drastically on their speed and pace like you are.

Breaks in running are an absolute necessity and something I'm not willing to bend on with regards to training runners.  My best prescription with current research to back me up is a 4 day run week with 2 days of cross training and 1 day of complete wonderful rest.  This would be on a perfect week with no bumps in schedules, sickness and stresses.  3 days of running a week with 1 or 2 days of cross training and the other days devoted to rest from exercise can work too.  Just schedule it the best you can working in running, cross training and rest.

There is a term in running and other sports called specificity.  It just means to be better at that sport, you must work specifically on that sport.  So if you want to be a good runner, then it would behoove you to focus on  . . . running.  Slow long running, fast short running, tempo running, happy running.  Running. 

So then why would we want to cross train?  Think of it like an insurance policy.  Can you own a house without homeowners insurance?  Yeah.  Can you stay alive without medical insurance?  People do all the time.  Can you be a runner without cross training?  Sure, I did for years.  But with all of those scenarios, an accident could be waiting right around the corner.

Enter cross training.  Cross training for runners is just choosing another physical activity (cardio or strength or flexibility) that works our running muscles to build stronger and be more efficient as well as working other muscles often neglected in running to help our overall form and movement.  Your most worked running muscles (and why most people love the caloric burn of this sport because these are big energy using muscles) are the major muscles of our glutes (booty), hamstrings (back of the legs - "hammies") and calves.  Your other leg and hip muscles are also being worked, but at an uneven rate and an unbalanced running body is often a future injured - and now non running - body. 

The best cross training activities that help runners are walking (ahhh, same motion, less joint impact and great for endurance), cycling (this works the quadriceps that will balance out your hamstrings and is a non impact way to mimic a running motion), and strength training (strengthen that core and supporting muscles and you've just made running that much easier - and safer).  Have another activity in mind?  Okay.  Try that!  But carve out a day or two per week to cross train.  You'll be a more balanced runner for it. 

Wait, lounging makes me a better runner?  Yes sir ee.  As an athlete training for a distance or speed goal (again, yes, this is you), your body is continually in a cycle of "breakdown and rebuild".  And your body rebuilds - that's right, you guessed it - when you rest.  Honestly, when you are cutting zzzzz's at 3 am, your body is on hyperdrive making those physiological systems all better AND stronger.  That body of yours knows that there is a distinct possibility that you are going to break it again and it wants to be ready.

Depending on the intensity (marked by distance or speed) of your workout, your body needs 24 - 48+ hours to fully heal and be ready for battle again.  (And after races where you test your distance and speed, you'll rest a lot longer.)  But the 24 - 48 hour healing increment is why we devote at least 1 day a week to rest during our training schedule.  It buys you the 48 hours between your last workout and your next workout for complete recovery.  Remember, you are recovering microtears in your muscles as well as trauma to your joints, an increase in your heartrate and you are recovering the mental power it takes to motor through a run.  Give your mind and being time to miss running.  Make yourself become antsy for your running high.  Mental burnout is just as dangerous as physical burnout.  Once you feel the flame diminishing in either of those be it your physical body or your mental spark for the sport, it's time for a rest - a day, a week, a month - whether you've scheduled it or not.  Not to worry, the world will keep turning and your shoes will wait for you in your cozy closet.    

So make yourself a plan that includes running, cross training and rest.  I promise you'll be a happier runner for it!

My RUNaway Proposed Schedule (for my seasoned runner groups) -

Sunday - tempo run
Monday - strength training
Tuesday - happy run
Wednesday - speed/strength run
Thursday - low impact cross training / core work
Friday - long run
Saturday - Reality TV, Starbucks and Bluebell :)

My RUNaway Proposed Schedule (for my 5kers) -

Sunday - walk/run intervals
Monday - rest or low impact cross training
Tuesday - long run
Wednesday - rest
Thursday - cross training or walk/run intervals
Friday - run
Saturday - Game Shows, Amstel Light and Popcorn :)