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Sometimes you know that you have a very busy time ahead of you, and that you're going to have less time for fitness activities, for whatever reason (work, a new child, etc).

My questions is this- what is the least that I can safely run without risking injury?

Specifically, while training for a 10k/ half marathon this season I run about three times a week:

  • an intervals workout (2 km easy, 1 km fast, 500*2 very fast, 1 km fast, 2 km easy)
  • a medium run, 10-14 km
  • a long, slower run, 15-19 km

If I want to maintain my conditioning with relatively little deterioration, can I run just once a week, my long run? (because I enjoy the long, slow run most)

How many days gap in between such a run can I have before it becomes "too much" and it's better to add another (possibly shorter) run in between?

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From your posted schedule and your history mentioned in another comment I would think that running 1 long run per week at your current distance would be sufficient to keep you in shape to complete up to a half marathon with relatively low risk of injury (based on your stated history). Don't plan on being competitive, though.

With only 1 slow long run a week you will lose speed. If you want to reduce that loss I would add in speed work once a week at least 2 days before/after your long run to allow for sufficient recovery to get the most out of each run. I would also alternate the type of speed work you do (intervals one week, tempo another) and I would suggest turning a few of your long runs into faster steady-state runs or fartleks. You could also play around with negative splitting a few long runs. That won't completely prevent losing a little speed but it should mitigate any loss.

You're not going to get a definitive answer, I fear, because this is highly specific to your specific body/history/training needs. Conventional wisdom is that you can maintain fitness during the off season on 3 runs (2 short, one medium) for 5k/10k training (see this Q&A on winter maintenance) but your results will vary.

Best of luck to you with this.

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Definitely an interesting article, although I'm more interested in the "injury-prevention" aspect of maintenance, rather than the "worth-doing" side discussed there. –  Eyal Mar 22 '13 at 16:29
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I wouldn't cut any of your workouts, as I wouldn't consider your current training sufficient for a 10k or a half marathon. Barely sufficient for a 5k.

The key to running well and safely without injury is keeping up the volume sufficiently for the events you are training for. What I would personally do is find 15-20 minutes every single day to get out the door for 2-6k. That's going to pay off way more in benefit than kludging together some makeshift schedule.

As far as the injury risk, that is going to be highly dependent on you and your own running history. I know my minimum training for completing a half marathon safely is in the 25-35k range. If I want to compete at all, I need to be way higher than that. On the other side, I know some people that can run a 1:35 half marathon on 10k a week. If you happen to be one of those, then your long run and a couple short ones when you can manage may suffice. YMMV.

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Perhaps I've been misunderstood- but if you add up those three weekly workouts I described, you get 32-40 k/week, which is above 25-35k. As for my history, I've been running these distances for almost twenty years, so at the current levels it seems (to me) to suffice. –  Eyal Mar 15 '13 at 8:25
    
You get more benefit out of shorter, more frequent runs. But, as you say, you've been running that for 20 years, carry on. –  JohnP Mar 15 '13 at 13:38
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