The running fever is spreading. Every now and then we hear about both global and Indian runners pushing themselves beyond their comfort zones to run outrageous distances every day for a number of days. Inspired by such runners, many newbies believe they can do the same.

They don’t realize that a smooth transition to the next level of physical activity, in this case running, needs to happen slowly, over a period of years. Too much, too soon is simply a recipe for disaster.

Most new runners want to run every day, for as long as they can. Initially, for the first few months, they see good results. They not only run frequently, they also participate in every race they hear about. That could mean a race every week. Each time, they set a new personal target for the distance they are attempting, blissfully unaware of what lies ahead.

Then suddenly, out of the blue, an injury appears that the runner can’t seem to shake off. After consulting doctor Google and discussing the problem on social media, they run from pillar to post for help, visiting doctors and all kind of specialists, including physiotherapists, masseurs, acupuncturists and anyone else who may have a cure for them.

So what’s the moral of the story? While training is important, rest and recovery are as vital, for it’s with the latter that optimal adaptation happens (adaptation is defined as the physiological and psychological changes that allow runners to perform better). When you don’t rest at all or rest very little, fatigue catches up and can often lead to injuries. Rest too much, and you will find the benefits of exercise are reduced to a bare minimum. The trick is to find the right balance.

Follow these tips to know how often to schedule training and practice runs if you want to stay injury-free and maintain an optimal level performance:

■ Plan three tough, structured runs a week with at least a day’s gap between each. By gap, I don’t mean don’t run at all—opt for an easy recovery run instead. The three structured runs could be long speedwork intervals (running 4-6 repeats of 1-2 km at a fast pace, maintaining the same pace during all the repeats, with 2- to 3-minute breaks between intervals), tempo (running 20-30 minutes at a constant pace and speed that is slower than long repeat intervals) and long slow distance runs (running for long distances at a slow pace, with the focus on time on feet and not on speed or distance).

■ Running five-six days a week is enough. Have at least one rest day, with no running. Ideally, it should be the day after the long slow distance run.

■ Plan for your races over three-four months. To me, that means clocking a good time while also enjoying the run. If you struggle during a race, it means you haven’t trained well enough.

■ Target, at most, one race every month, if not one every two-three months.

■ No one, not even the world’s greatest runners, can improve on their best time in every race they run, else world records would be broken every day.

As for the walking-running schedule this week, start with a 3- minute gentle walk as warm-up. Follow this with a 5-minute run, alternating with a 1-minute walk. Repeat four-six times. Do this four-six days a week.

This is the fifth in an eight-part series to motivate people to take up running in the correct way. For the complete series, visit www.livemint.com/runthecorrectway

Rajat Chauhan is sports exercise and musculoskeletal medicine physician and race director of La Ultra—The High held in Ladakh. He has authored The Pain Handbook: A Non-Surgical Way To Managing Back, Neck And Knee Pain.

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