Double sessions (when you go running twice a day) is a great way to increase your mileage. But is this training strategy right for you?
I vividly remember the first time I went running twice in one day. It was the summer before my senior year in high school and I was at the Dartmouth cross country camp.
[Sidenote: yes, running camps exist and they’re incredible opportunities to meet other runners, mingle with top coaches and athletes, run exciting new venues, and give your training a jump start.]
In between flirting with girls and shoveling 6,000 calories into my face, I ran twice most days of the camp. It was structured as a short morning run and a more substantial afternoon run.
I have three clear memories from this experience:
- I was more tired and sore than I ever remembered
- Cross country girls are cute
- After I adjusted to doubles, I felt like I had been mainlining EPO
Soon, I felt like the Incredible Hulk. After camp, I continued running doubles once per week. This strategy helped me boost my overall mileage and have my most successful year of high school racing with personal bests in the 800m, 1000m, mile, two-mile, and 5k cross country.
While double sessions weren’t the only reason for this success, they helped jump-start the boost in weekly mileage and my mindset about what was possible.
Of course, my story is just one example. We see doubles used all the time with college-level athletes, professional runners, and even some of the runners that I coach.
But when are they appropriate? Who should consider them? Are there drawbacks?
Who should run twice per day?
First, let’s not forget that at age 17, I was swimming in valuable hormones that enabled me to recover from doubles when I first tried them. Even in my early 30’s now, I don’t recover as well as I used to.
So if you’re in your 40’s or beyond, running doubles may prove to be too difficult. There are other aspects of training to focus on before adding a second daily run.
There’s really only one scenario when double sessions are appropriate: when your weekly mileage is already high and it’s difficult to increase the length of any single run.
For this to happen, two other things must happen first:
- Run every day
- Eliminate all but one recovery run per week
If you are not running every day and have more than one short recovery run scheduled per week, you’re simply not ready for double sessions. And that’s ok!
There are other (arguably, way more important!) aspects of training to focus on before adding in more runs.
If you’re thinking of doubles, make sure you’re doing everything on this checklist first:
- Run a long run every week
- Run strides every week
- “Sandwich” each run with a dynamic warm-up and a post-run strength workout
- Run a faster workout at least once per week (surges or fartleks are a good place to start before advancing to tempo runs)
- Increase the number of days you run to 4-5 at a minimum
These are the “next logical steps” to take if you’re a beginner runner or even intermediate.
Only after you’ve gotten these basics covered can you advance to running twice in one day.
And only if your season is planned properly from the beginning! Here’s how to plan a well-structured season:
And let’s not also forget that double sessions are time-consuming. Not only are you running twice in a day, but you’re also doing many other things twice: a warm-up routine, strength routine, shower, and any other running-related tasks like charging your watch, looking for a podcast to listen to, and washing more laundry.
If you can’t run twice per day, then don’t worry about it! It’s a very advanced training strategy that isn’t right for everyone.
But if you do get to the point where doubles are appropriate and you’re willing to tackle them, there are clear benefits (and drawbacks…).
What are the benefits of double sessions?
Doubles are hugely beneficial for a variety of reasons. As with any workout or running strategy, there are no secrets or “magic” to them. It’s fairly basic:
Doubles increase your mileage. Higher mileage makes faster runners through increased endurance and efficiency.
Doubles boost recovery. When you run a short, easy run 8+ hours after a hard session (and the total mileage isn’t too extreme for you pesonally) you enhance the recovery process.
After all, active recovery almost always beats passive recovery.
Doubles prime you to run fast. When you run a short, easy run (and perhaps some strides) in the morning before an afternoon workout or race, you’re priming your body to perform later in the day.
My college coach assigned morning runs before workouts for this reason. We sometimes ran short 15-20 minute “shake out” runs in the morning before afternoon races. And you’ll see elite runners do this often.
When muscles are loose and the nervous system is warmed up, you’ll race faster.
As you can see, there are several ways to use double runs as a way to benefit your running.
First, you need to be prepared to benefit from them. Then, you need to use them appropriately. Follow these principles and you’re on the right track (running pun!).
What are the drawbacks of running twice per day?
As you can imagine, there are disadvantages to running twice in one day.
First, injuries are more likely when volume increases – especially if that increase comes with little rest during double sessions.
You’re asking more of your body and if the right precautions aren’t taken, getting hurt is inevitable.
You may also find that you’re a lot more fatigued when you begin implementing doubles into your training. This is completely normal!
Even a short 3-mile run on top of your normal daily workload may feel grueling. But as long as the pace is kept very easy and you’re ready to start doubles in the first place, you should adapt quickly.
While I’ve mentioned before that running twice per day is time-consuming (clearly), it’s important to note that any training strategy – no matter how valuable – is useless if it detracts from the rest of your life.
If doubles cause you to get stressed, never see your family, and miss job responsibilities then it’s not a helpful strategy.
Double runs are the icing on the training cake. They’re a “nice to have” – not something that’s required.
If you’re curious if doubles are right for you, use the checklist I mentioned above.
Still not sure? Shoot me an email – I’m happy to help.
Other Ways to Use Doubles in Training
Running twice a day isn’t the only way to implement double sessions in your training.
In fact, since it’s the “icing on the cake,” it’s more advantageous to double with cross-training or a strength workout.
Follow these guidelines to add more “work” (but not necessarily running) to your training.
After a fast workout in the morning, spend 30-60 minutes pool running or cycling at an easy effort to get a bit more aerobic work completed and jump-start the recovery process.
Pool running is my cross-training of choice for this purpose because the water has recovery properties. It helps flush exercise byproducts from your legs and many runners report simply “feeling better” after a pool session.
After a morning base run (a normal distance run – not a long run, fast workout, or recovery run), pool run or cycle for 30-90 minutes at an easy or moderate effort to simulate a second run.
This strategy was instrumental in me qualifying for the Varsity cross country team in college. I couldn’t run 100+ miles per week – but I could run 85 and cross-train for another 5 hours during the week!
That extra fitness helped me improve dramatically that summer before fall cross country.
Add more challenging strength workouts (like this medicine ball workout) in the afternoon or evening after a morning run.
Some of us don’t have time for a longer, more intense strength session right after a morning run. But later in the day works just fine, too!
By working out twice a day (but not running twice a day), you get some of the benefits of doubles but none of the injury risk.
And while it’s a compromise, it’s often the next best option for the majority of runners who don’t have the flawless running form, genetics, and time that professional runners do on a daily basis.