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I spent my summer running a lot more than I had in the past, getting up to distances of 7 miles. I am not a fast runner and it took quite a while to get myself to get to the point where I could run over 2.5 miles. Let it be clear, I am still not fast, averaging 10:30-12:30/mi depending on the distance. But now that the cold has set in, my body is craving more weight lifting.

How often should I run to ensure that I don't lose what I've worked so hard for. I would hate to want to run again next summer and I am stuck behind that 2.5 mile threshold again.

2 Answers 2

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VO2 max can be preserved with a third of your previous volume.

VO2 max is the typical measure used in research for quantifying aerobic endurance - it is the maximal rate of oxygen consumption attainable during exercise. I've going to cite two studies, though there are plenty more, that have found that as much as a two thirds reduction in training volume preserves VO2 max adaptations.

The first study, "Reduced training frequencies and maintenance of increased aerobic power"1, put subjects through a 6 days/week training protocol for ten weeks, then split groups into four day and two day groups for an additional fifteen weeks, assessing VO2 max at 0 weeks, 10 weeks, and five week intervals for the 15 weeks of maintenance. Quoting from their abstract, they found:

VO2max in the 4 d/wk and 2 d/wk groups remained essentially the same as the trained levels when determined at 5-wk intervals of reduced training. These results provide evidence that more exercise is required to increase VO2max, than that required to maintain it at the trained level in young adults performing high-intensity exercise. Furthermore, it is possible to maintain the increased VO2max for at least 15 wk by training at high intensity for 2 d/wk or 4 d/wk.

So the group that went from running 6 days a week to 2 days a week was able to preserve VO2 max for 15 weeks, running only one third the previous total volume at the same intensity.

The next study gives it away in their title, "Reduced training volume and intensity maintain aerobic capacity but not performance in distance runners"2:

Ten well-conditioned males (VO2max = 63.4 +/- 1.3 ml.kg-1 x min-1) underwent 4 wks of base training (BT) at their accustomed training distance (71.8 +/- 3.6 km.wk-1) and intensity (76% of total distance > 70% VO2max). Training volume (-66%), frequency (-50%), and intensity (all running < 70% VO2max) were then decreased for a 4 wk reduced training period (RT).

This group also cut volume by two thirds, and even trained at reduced intensity, and found:

Treadmill VO2max was unchanged with RT (p > 0.05) as were resting plasma volume, estimated from haemoglobin and haematocrit levels, and resting heart rate (HR). Submaximal treadmill exercise VO2 (l.min-1), ventilation and HR were also unchanged.

However, they did find a slight decline in 5k performance:

Five km race completion time significantly increased from 16.6 +/- 0.3 mins at week 4 of BT to 16.8 +/- 0.3 mins (12 seconds) at week 4 of RT. Nine of the 10 subjects were slower after RT. It is concluded that aerobic capacity was maintained in these runners, despite the combined reduction in training volume and intensity. However, it appears that training intensity during RT is important for the maintenance of 5 km running performance.

If you want to stay in race shape, you have to keep your intensity up, but you can maintain the aerobic adaptations you've gained with a two thirds reduction on total volume.

A note about terminology, "volume" here just refers to your total distance, "intensity" refers to your average pace over that distance, and "frequency" refers to the number of sessions per week.


1 Hickson RC, Rosenkoetter MA. Reduced training frequencies and maintenance of increased aerobic power. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1981;13(1):13-6. PMID: 7219129.

2 McConell GK, Costill DL, Widrick JJ, Hickey MS, Tanaka H, Gastin PB. Reduced training volume and intensity maintain aerobic capacity but not performance in distance runners. Int J Sports Med. 1993 Jan;14(1):33-7. doi: 10.1055/s-2007-1021142. PMID: 8440543.

Further reading, featuring similar findings:

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  • Interesting,. I'd like to see more studies that compare the actual performance, as VO2 max is an indication of potential performance, not actual. Those are great studies, I've got more reading to do this weekend. :p
    – JohnP
    Oct 27, 2022 at 13:56
  • The first one is open access, I'll see if I can weasel my way into getting the second one.
    – Thomas Markov
    Oct 27, 2022 at 14:19
  • This is great information, but I don't think it is complete. There is also the muscle aspect at play. OP will likely need to retrain muscles after an extended period off from her target distance. I think she will need to expect a period of re-acclimation to go from reduced volume to target volume - like more than a week or two but probably way less than what it took to get to where she is now.
    – Steve V
    Oct 27, 2022 at 19:43
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I think those studies might be misleading because

  • they measure VO2max which isn't actually related that closely to how far you can run - for example if your knees used to hurt after a certain distance and with training now they don't anymore, that's completely unrelated to VO2max.
  • they were done with people who were really top fit, in one study they were doing 6 trainings per week, in the other we know they started out at 70km per week before reducing the volume. The relative proportions of the exercise needed might translate to you, or they might not.

It's hard to be specific without knowing your summer training habits. But considering your distance record is 11km and not long ago you were not able to go further than 4km, I can guess. I think if you want to do short trainings of 30 minutes in winter (so the cold bothers you less), then two times per week is very likely to be enough to improve your running fitness and one time per week enough to maintain it.

The best would be if you can measure your performance and just try it out. Maybe you have a fancy sports watch that tracks your progress, or you can get creative with a stopwatch (or a stopwatch app on your phone). For example you could measure how long it takes you to run 3 laps of a running track, or one time around the block where you live. And then repeat that once per month to check your month to month progress.

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  • The start of this answer seems to be written as if it's a response to Thomas Markov's answer. However, in general, answers should stand alone as an answer to the question; if you're addressing claims made in another answer, you should quote/summarize the claims you're addressing (and probably include a link/reference to the source of those claims).
    – V2Blast
    Nov 7, 2022 at 16:44

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