Double Runs

Should You Try a Double Run?


Double your pleasure. Double the fun. Maybe it’s time you tried a double run.

Running twice in a day (called a “double”) was once considered only the domain of elite runners.

Not anymore!

I use doubles in many situations, some that may even surprise you.

If you fit any of the ones outlined below, give a double run a try.

High Mileage & New Mileage Runners

Traditionally, once runners maxed out their mileage on single runs, they began to add double runs to boost their mileage even more. After all, if you’re going to run 120 miles in a week (not uncommon for elite marathoners), it’s hard to do that on one run per day. The recovery time takes just too long. While many of us aren’t running that much, we still may find we’re running up against the maximum mileage we can run on one run per day.

So, breaking up the mileage in multiple runs not only fits better in the stress/rest cycle but it also increases the frequency of running (number of times running per week) and there are benefits from this as well (principally related to the neuromuscular system and running economy).

So, if you’re a high-mileage runner or you’re trying to increase your mileage and you reach a point where running more each day results in too much fatigue leaving you unprepared for the next day’s run, then add double runs to your plan to meet your mileage goal.

For most high-mileage or new mileage runners, adding 2-6 double runs each week, each lasting 20-60 minutes, is a good way to boost weekly mileage. As always, you need to experiment to find what works for you (which day to do the double run, how far and fast to go, etc.). The key is to pay attention not so much to how you feel on the double run but how you feel the next day (and the next). And pay particular attention to your body. Any aches/pains are a sign that the musculoskeletal system isn’t recovering, and you may need to adjust your double run schedule.

Older Runners

As we age, it’s not uncommon that our running pace slows. But, many of us try to run the same mileage. While we may think we are at a lower training load because the pace is slower, we actually may be training at a more stressful load. For example, if you run 10 miles for your long run and you used to do it in 70 minutes but now you do it in 90 minutes, that’s a different stress. The mileage may be the same but the duration of the run is actually longer (over 20% more running time).

Combine this with a slower recovery rate that many older runners experience and you can see why older runners are susceptible to injuries if they try to train at their usual volume. Often, they end up decreasing their mileage to keep the musculoskeletal system happy but would love to actually train more if they could.

What I’ve found is that double runs often solve this problem and give older runners a new lease on their running life.

For example, if you find an hour run takes you a lot longer to recover from than before, run 45 minutes and then a 15-minute double run later that day. See how you feel. My experience has been that because you never overstress your musculoskeletal system with the longer run (and the recovery time is shorter), you feel better, can run your normal pace and yet still keep your mileage where you want it.

Injury-Prone & Returning Runners

Therapists will tell you that the musculoskeletal system gets hurt when it develops dysfunction and you run with that dysfunction for long periods of time.  So, I’d suggest making runs shorter so you’re not running on legs that are becoming more at risk for injury the farther you run. And, if you’re returning to training after a break, it’s smart to be kinder to the musculoskeletal system by keeping your runs shorter.

I’m having great success with oft-injured runners by having them break up their mileage level with double runs. For example, if you find that a 90-minute long run is what you want to do but you continue to get hurt when you try to run that long, break the run into a 60-70 minute run and a 20-30 minute double run. Same goes with your weekly mileage. If you’d like to run 50 miles per week but keep getting hurt doing it off your current frequency (number of days per week), try keeping your main runs to 45-60 minutes and add double runs of 20-30 minutes to achieve your weekly mileage goal.  Many runners can then run their goal mileage and their body stays happy. Win-win.

A second benefit of double runs for injury-prone runners is that doubles provide a second opportunity for your mobility, prehab and self-care routines that keep your body healthy and happy.

The same goes for runners returning from a break (often an injury). They tend to run too, far too fast (eager to return to full training).  So, having them run shorter runs but more frequently seems to keep them from progressing too fast.  And I really like that they have two opportunities for their prehab routines so they can kick the injury bug for good.

New Runners

You might think this is crazy but hear me out.

Most new runners get hurt 4-12 weeks after starting to run. That’s because they simply increase their volume week after week, fall in love with the sport and want to run more and more. Plus they get fitter so they run that additional volume at a faster and faster pace. You can see that this is a recipe for an injury. They break the Rule of Too’s – too much, too soon.

Instead of the usual ramp in duration on runs, I’d suggest new runners might want to keep their runs shorter (which allows for a high-quality run) but do more of them to gradually ramp up their mileage. Many find that they can easily build up to 30 minutes of continuous running but once they try for 45 minutes or one hour, they start to get a lot of aches and pains.

Instead, I suggest that they keep their runs at 30 minutes, the pain-free range in my example, and add a short double run (10-30 minutes) to gradually build their mileage. No one run severely fatigues them and they stay healthier.  Because while the heart and lungs as well as the brain adapt quickly to running more and more, the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones and fascia simply need more time. If we can keep new runners injury free for 3-6 months, then their musculoskeletal system has time to adapt.  Instead, we usually see new runners forced to take a break due to injury and that’s no good for them or the sport.

Side benefit: Double runs for new runners can help with weight loss, a common goal for new runner, and it provides more opportunities to develop excellent prehab habit. For new runners, it’s all about establishing a routine so with two opportunities to run (and do prehab) on a few days each week, a missed run is not a problem.

Time Crunched/Scheduled Runners

This is a common scenario. Time is crunched and fitting in the scheduled run just can’t happen. So, break it up! That’s right. Run a portion in the morning and another portion later in the day. You can break it up evenly (making a 6 mile run two 3 mile runs) or do as much as you can in one session (with the time you have available) then supplement with another run to round out the daily goal.

Double runs for the time-crunched runner helps the brain as much as the body as runners don’t feel the usual guilt that they aren’t completing the training. Using double runs, you simply feel good you got it in and can check the day off the calendar. So, while the life schedule and the running schedule may not see eye to eye sometimes, just run whenever you can! Don’t worry if the schedule isn’t perfect.

Dieting Runner

For runners who are trying to lose weight, double runs work really well – whether you are breaking up your run into two runs or adding doubles to boost you mileage. After all, you can’t eat big meals if another run is coming up soon. As a result, it’s easier to reduce the caloric intake.

Plus, running boosts your metabolic rate so you have two exposures to a higher metabolism. More calories burned. Faster weight loss.

And, running is a great way to deal with hunger pangs, and hunger pangs are the toughest part of weight loss for many runners. Feeling really hungry, go for a run.

You also have to hydrate after runs and fluids help fill the stomach providing some satiation. So, there are lots of benefits for dieting runners for doing doubles runs. You just have to watch out for those post-run binges that can derail your hard work toward your goal weight.

Final Thoughts

Is a double run the same stimulus as the same total volume in one run? No. Is it better than one run? Often.  And, it can be a great workaround for challenges many of us face (aging, injuries, etc.) and can provide interesting benefits of its own (more prehab opportunities, caloric control, neuromuscular refinement, etc.).

So, if you fit any of the situations above, give a double run a try. As mentioned, I recommend starting with 1-2 double runs of 10-30 minutes (unless you are simply splitting your daily run and the double is then your remaining volume for the day).  Spread the double runs out so you have a day or two between double days and see how your body responds after a few weeks and adjust from there. It’s all a grand experiment anyway and you might just find double runs provide a large boost your running performance.




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Written By Greg McMillan
Called “one of the best and smartest distance running coaches in America” by Runner’s World’s Amby Burfoot, Greg McMillan is renowned for his ability to combine the science of endurance performance with the art of real-world coaching. While getting his graduate degree in Exercise Science he created the ever-popular McMillan Running Calculator – called “The Best Running Calculator” by Outside Magazine.  A National Champion runner himself, Greg coaches runners from beginners to Boston Qualifiers (15,000+ and counting!) to Olympians.

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