While this may seem like an easy question to answer at the onset, it is not. It really comes down to your experience as a runner and your ultimate goal.
If you are new to running, you have to strike a balance between working your large lower body muscle groups and resting them. Without proper rest, your chance of injury increases significantly. Most experts agree new runners should limit themselves weekly to:
• running three to four days
• cross-training one to two days
• resting one day
The number of days you run, or frequency, is only one aspect of running. The other two are distance (how far you run) and intensity (how fast or how hard you run). Usually distance and intensity go hand-in-hand. If you run faster than normal, you will end up going a shorter distance overall as you will not be able to keep up that faster pace for the same distance as you would if you were running at your normal pace.
On your cross training days, chose at least one activity that you like to do. It can be swimming, weight training, cycling or you can choose from a myriad of other activities. Generally speaking your cross training event should work other muscle groups not used when running. This gives your muscle groups worked when running some time to heal and repair themselves.
Not running or doing cross training at least one day per week is essential to good muscle management. We know that without proper rest your chances for an injury increase, but you can also suffer from burnout or just poor results due to the fact that your muscles are just too weak to develop and get stronger.
Most non-competitive runners, in it for just the exercise, actually jog. They tend to keep the same steady pace (intensity) for the duration of their run (distance). However, competitive runners, have different intensity levels:
• tempo – a pace moderately faster than your normal pace.
• threshold – the fastest pace where you can still breathing deeply, but not strain to get enough oxygen. Beginners can usually sustain this pace for up to 30 minutes.
• VO2max – the fastest pace where you are breathing as hard as you can. Usually sustainable for only six to ten minutes.
• full sprint – the fastest your body can run for short distances. Usually sustainable for only 20 seconds.
If your goal changes and you decide you want to run for more than just exercise, you can experiment with each of the above paces as each one has a different effect on your body. Competitive runners use each pace at different times when either training for, or trying to maintain, a competitive running fitness level.
Learn to listen to your body; some days a threshold pace may seem easy while on other days it may be difficult. In the end, have fun with your run, allocate some days for cross training and take off at least one day for rest per week.