Dear Coach Jay,
I am a high school senior who is currently running 60–70 miles per week, usually taking a day off per week, but sometimes doing an easy 4 miles as my “off day.”
My question is: what are the benefits of taking a full day off a week compared to just having one easy day a week? What are the setbacks? Which is better? Thanks for your advice—I patiently await your feedback!
Thanks for the question—definitely one that all runners, from professionals to high school athletes to adult recreational runners, should be thinking about.
Before we go into the specifics of what you should do, we need to review one of the key concepts in training theory, which is this. The body will adapt to an appropriate stimulus as long as you give the body time to adapt. If you want to learn more about this phenomenon, look up "general adaptation syndrome" and the work of Hans Selye. His work is fundamental to understanding good training design.
With that in mind, the answer to your question gets a bit complicated. On the one hand, some runners need a complete day off. I've heard that marathoner Ryan Hall takes a day off each week, yet that’s rare for most professional runners. Why? Because taking an easy run is a great way to get oxygen-rich blood to damaged muscle—and these "second runs" actually help those running big mileage recover and get ready for their next workouts. An argument can be made that you improve and speed up the body's ability to recover by going for a run the day after a challenging workout. But to make things even more complicated, some runners use that argument to say, "I'll do my workout in the morning, wait six hours, and then go for a short four miler in the afternoon." That's sound training and something you can consider at your training volume, but I wouldn't recommend that if you are at only 40 or 50 miles a week.
So now that we've covered all that, what's my recommendation? I'd like to see you take a complete day off—no running (or swimming or biking)—once every 10 days. Then, to keep your mileage at its current level, try doing a morning workout one day during the week, and then come back later that day (have a minimum of six hours between workouts) and do your second run of just three or four miles. Remember to do some general strength and mobility work after the second run, and make sure the subsequent day is an easy day—just one run and some strides.
Finally, see how your body feels after you've made this change in your schedule. If you don't feel as snappy in your track workouts, then go back to what you've been doing…or take off more full days. About 95 percent of the time when runners are feeling poor, they're overtraining, not under training.
Again, great question, Tyler, and I hope this advice helps you structure your training.
*Coach Jay's advice is provided as general training information. Use at your own risk. Always consult with your own heath care provider for questions relating to your specific training and nutrition.