Q+A: Should I train twice a day?

Q I often read how elite athletes train twice a day, and it’s got me wondering whether double sessions can benefit us mere mortals. Is it a good idea?

A Provided that you are not already doing additional cross-training, running twice a day can yield improved fitness and race results, but I’d say it’s an option that only the most experienced runners, who feel that they are ready to move up a level, should entertain. Nearly all the world’s top runners train at least twice a day. But then most don’t have a regular job or commute, and are very experienced athletes.

Running twice a day does enable you to increase your mileage, but there will be little long-term benefit unless you are running for at least 30 minutes per session. And there is no point in doing that if it means you have to run much more slowly to compensate.

If you’re recovering from injury, or when it’s very hot or cold and you don’t want to run for long because of the temperature, running twice a day can also be useful. You can still fit in a run of an hour or more in total. Also, many runners like to do an easy morning run to loosen their muscles if they have a harder session planned for the evening. If you live close enough, running to and from work is another good way to fit in two sessions, though it does require a bit of planning – apart from the running time, you will also have to double the time spent changing, warming up, stretching, warming down, and showering. And it sounds silly, but you will need to double your washing loads (unless you don’t mind smelly kit), and the novelty value of that soon wears off!

There are other disadvantages, too. If you are training for a marathon, you still have to do the very long run – two 10-milers are not as beneficial as a single 20-miler. The extra running will also increase your risk of injury, and you will still need to ensure that you are getting sufficient rest – difficult when you’re fitting it all around a full-time job.

If you’re an experienced runner, have the time, energy and commitment, you could try easing twice-a-day training into your regime. Try experimenting with an extra 20-minute run once or twice a week to see how you cope. If you have no problems, gradually increase the duration to 30 minutes. Only then should you try adding extra runs on other days – and never double up on more than four days a week. And remember, back off if your pace drops or you start to feel unduly tired or sore.—Steve Smythe, RW Race Services Editor, runner for 30 years and occasional twice-a-day runner