Running, even in just small doses, can provide a wealth of health benefits, from improved heart health to increased bone mineral density. But everyone has a different threshold for how long they should be able to run without stopping, depending on if they've been running for years, recently took some time off or are completely new to the sport.
With the help of an exercise physiologist, we break out a few different scenarios of where you may be at in your running journey and provide suggestions on how you can build more endurance. And, for more advanced runners, we flip the script and explain why running too much may not be beneficial to your athletic performance or overall health.
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You’re Brand New to Running
If you've never run before, begin with running intervals of 30 to 60 seconds followed by 30 to 60 seconds of walking for a total of 10 minutes, according to Jason Machowsky, RD, CSSD, ACSM-CEP, CSCS, an exercise physiologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery's Sports Rehabilitation and Performance Center.
Then, as you gain endurance, you can begin building up to 20 to 25 minutes of walking and running. The goal is to increase your time spent running (rather than focus on the speed at which you go).
"I'm a big fan of elongating the volume of time versus really trying to kill the intensity," he tells LIVESTRONG.com.
As you surpass that 20-minute marker, Machowsky suggests lengthening the running part of the interval. For example, if you were doing 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off, you can start increasing that to 60 seconds on, 30 seconds off. Then you may transition to 90 seconds or 2 minutes on followed by 1 minute off. Just make sure to run every other day to ensure you're allowing your body adequate time to recover, Machowsky says.
As you lengthen your running intervals and shorten your walking ones, you'll notice that you'll get to a point where you will be running (or jogging) for nearly the whole workout.
Beginner Running Workouts
You Used to Run Competitively, but Haven’t Run Consistently in Years
Let's say you ran cross-country in high school, but now you're in your mid-twenties and you're looking to sign up for a 5K in the upcoming months. If you haven't maintained that running foundation over the past couple of years, you likely won't have the same robust endurance base you once had — and that's expected, from a physiological perspective.
"Your body generally remembers things best with what you dealt it in the past month, so if you haven't done something within the past month, you can't necessarily just pick up exactly where you left off," Machowsky says.
Though if you're someone who has that background and typically jogs a few miles a week, Machowsky says you can likely get back into the swing of things (aka, gradually increase your mileage) fairly quickly. Still, he recommended building slowly, especially in the beginning, to avoid injuring yourself.
"I'm a really big advocate of a walk-jog or a walk-run combination where you're not even necessarily trying to string together a whole mile off the bat because you just don't know [what] your body is able to do, because you may not have done it for a long time," Machowsky says.
There are a lot of ways you can follow a walk-run regimen. One combination he recommends is running for 3 minutes on, and 1 minute off.
If you're someone who hasn't run in a few years, maybe you run for a total of 10 to 15 minutes to start. If you're someone who runs occasionally, you could start increasing your weekly mileage by implementing more of these walk-run workouts for a total of 20 to 30 minutes. The key is to listen to your body so you don't overexert yourself.
"I always tell people it's easier to ramp up over time than to overdo it [right] out of the gate and be laid up for a bunch of weeks," he says.
You’re an Intermediate Runner
For this type of runner, how long you should be able to run without stopping depends on your specific goals, Machowsky says.
If you're just running to maintain good health, using the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations as a guidepost may be a good option, according to Machowsky.
The guidelines state that adults between the ages of 18 to 65 years old should engage in a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity five days per week or a minimum of 20 minutes of vigorous intensity three days per week.
For context, moderate-intensity aerobic exercise — which also includes using an elliptical machine, cycling or swimming — should feel like you're putting in work, but not so much that you feel like you can't talk to someone next to you. Vigorous- intensity aerobic activity, on the other hand, should feel like quite the effort, meaning it should feel challenging to hold a conversation, Machowsky says.
If you're someone who's looking to compete in a 5K or a half-marathon, how long you should be able to run without stopping varies drastically between those training plans (think: 30 minutes versus 2 hours). Working with a running coach (or a related professional) can help you create a training plan that can help you safely achieve your goals.
You’re a Seasoned Runner
If you regularly run 40 miles a week or more, instead of the focus being on how long you should be able to run without stopping, Machowsky says it's more important to identify if overtraining is a factor in regards to the number of miles you're running, how intense your runs are or both.
A seasoned runner may run between five and six days a week, but 70 to 80 percent of those runs should be at a low or moderate intensity, he says. If most of your runs during the week fall into that vigorous-intensity category, you could be at risk of burnout or even overuse injuries, such as shin splints and plantar fasciitis.
"You just have to be mindful of what your volume is on a weekly basis and what percentage of that volume is going to higher- intensity work and complementary cross-training work to keep your body strong in other ways to support your running," Machowsky says.
Incorporating cross-training exercises into your training — such as swimming, biking and using the elliptical — is imperative to avoiding injury, while also maintaining endurance and supporting your cardiovascular health. Machowsky says he's seen success with clients who scaled back the number of days they ran from six to four, and supplemented the other two days with cross-training and strength training.
Though that's not to say advanced runners can't run five to six days a week. Much like any sport or form of exercise, it's all relative to the individual. Again, monitoring how your body is responding to the current workload will help you determine what combination of exercises (and volume) is appropriate for you.
"I think you've got to just keep everything in context in regards to your body and how your body is responding and what's the right blend — and not necessarily saying, 'I must run six days a week to be a good runner,'" Machowsky says.
But you may not want to engage in an intense weight-training session the day after a hard-effort spent on the track or doing hill repeats. It usually takes a recently fatigued muscle group (think: the hamstrings, quads and calves) 48 to 72 hours to recover after a hard effort, Machowsky says.
Instead, going for a low-intensity shakeout run or cross-training the day after a speed session or other vigorous workout is a better option.
"In fact, sometimes that little bit of blood flow from a lighter activity will help speed recovery because you're not pushing yourself to that limit again where your body is really bumping up against its capacity and increasing the risk of injury," Machowsky says.
Of course, a rest day is necessary, too. But taking a day off from aerobic exercise or resistance training doesn't mean you have to be sedentary for a whole day. You can do some gentle mobility work, such as foam rolling or yoga.
"You've got to give your body one day where you're not adding flow or demand," he says.
- Mayo Clinic Proceedings: "Effects of Running on Chronic Diseases and Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality"
- Rambam Maimonides Medical Journal: "An Insight into the Effect of Exercises on the Prevention of Osteoporosis and Associated Fractures in High-risk Individuals"
- Cleveland Clinic: "The 6 Most Common Running Injuries (Plus How to Treat Them)"