"Is there a magical number of days you need to run that will make you faster?" - Placido Plodder
If you are a beginner, running three times per week is a good place to start—eventually moving up to four or five times per week depending on your race distance. For intermediate and advanced athletes, running five or six times per week can provide increased speed. A rule of thumb is three times per week to maintain performance and four to five to get faster.
But more important than frequency and volume is intensity. Our bodies can only handle so much volume before performance stalls. If you want to be fast, you’ll have to get used to running fast for the distance you are racing. Reconsider the intensity at which you are running during your workouts. Research has shown that working out more often at a higher intensity, such as tempo and interval paces, will provide greater performance gains than running more frequently at an aerobic pace. Higher intensities help improve lactate threshold, running economy, and VO2 max.
At the same time, when running at higher intensities, you need to lower your training volume to keep injuries away. Your workouts can be shorter and have more variety. For example, if you are running four times per week, make two of those days a tempo—or preferably interval pace—then have one easy day plus one long day. Your long day could include some miles at tempo pace, such as 10 miles aerobic finished off with 4 miles at tempo for a 14-mile run. This will give you more “bang for your buck” compared to running countless miles for many days.
Michael Gallagher is the head coach at Rogue Tri Performance in southern Oregon. He is an Ironman competitor and is certified by USAT, USMS (Level 2), ASCA (Level 2), and ACE.