RED (Run Every Day) months sound simple enough, but just how good for us is going for that daily jog? Marathoner and Strong Women editor Miranda Larbi gave it a go.
My dad is 75 and still runs. He’s been running for a good 50 years and unlike me, he’s limber and injury-free. His secret? He runs every day. It might only be around the 3km mark, but every morning, he’s out there and afterwards, he spends about 15 minutes cooling down.
It’s not that common to run every day. Most of us need days off for strength training or rest, with all training plans including at least one run-free day. But within the running community, we have RED (Run Every Day) months. The premise is simple: you run every day, even if it’s just 1km.
I’ve always wanted to see how long I could maintain a daily streak, but until now, I’d never run for more than four days in a row. It’s not always possible to run if you’re commuting to the office, already have gym sessions booked, have a social life or know that injury is on the horizon.
But as Omicron raged over the festive period, with the gym off limits and working from home back on, there was no better opportunity to lace up and head out.
Rather than waiting for January to hit, my RED month kicked off on Christmas Day. Christmas can be a bit of an odd time for fitness, but there’s nothing like heading out for a short run to clear your head. During that Twixmas week, those daily 5-8kms were fantastic. With no time limit, no particular route and no pressure, it felt quite freeing to simply be on the move. My partner joined me for most of those runs and as he was recovering from Covid, they provided the ideal opportunity to rebuild fitness at a slow and steady rate.
New Year’s Day dawned and a three-day hangover ensued… throughout which, I kept running. We’ve spoken before on Strong Women about the fact that working out on a hangover isn’t a good idea but in the interest of this incredibly important scientific research, I pushed through. I can now confirm: running on a hangover really isn’t worth the pain. I felt fine – recovered, in fact – during that 1 January run… until I got home and suddenly felt like someone had set my brain alight. The next day, the hangover loitered and again became more severe after a sluggish push down the canal. Needless to say, I was hopelessly dehydrated – something that could have been better remedied had I drunk some sports drinks before heading out… and drunk less booze to begin with.
After that foolhardy start to the year, running hangover-free felt like a massive relief. I started running to the gym (a 3km round trip) which meant I arrived wonderfully warm and had far less severe DOMS the next day having shaken out those post-strength class jelly legs on my way home. On the third weekend, I hit my first 40km week, with a 10km trip to buy cashew cheeze one day, and a slightly shorter canter to buy bread the next. Commuter running doesn’t have to mean running to work; those shorter trips to the supermarket or gym all count and can be a great, low-pressure way of getting in the miles. You’re killing two birds with one stone: active travel and whatever it is you’re actually travelling for.
If you look online at RED accounts, most people seem to commit to running 5km a day – no more and no less. I tried to run at least that amount unless I was doing another form of exercise (a long cycle, a gym class etc) and as a result, by the end of the third week, my Achilles tendons were starting to scream and my right foot had a worrying twinge. I no longer felt like I was recovering well and old injuries felt like they were rearing their painful heads. 40km weeks are nothing to some people but a marathon a week is probably too much for me; my ego demanded that I run a ‘proper’ number of miles a day, rather than simply going out for a short shake out.
Covid – not injury – eventually stopped me from running
By the final week, I was dreading the next seven runs – purely out of fear for my tendons. And then fate intervened: I got pinged by Track and Trace and quickly realised that I was, in fact, Covid positive. Having had no symptoms since meeting Patient X at the pub some days before, I’d probably been running without realising what was going on.
As I headed inside for the next few days (although asymptomatic, I still had to isolate and we know that running even without symptoms can be a bad idea), relief overtook disappointment at having to end my experiment. I thought I’d love running every day; I’d expected to feel really accomplished. In the end, however, I felt less strong than usual.
My attention turned, instead, to replacing my daily run with a Yoga with Adriene video in my living room. The DOMS I felt the day after a ‘detox wash’ flow were actually more severe than any I had from running, which I took as proof that perhaps I need to do more yoga and mobility than mindlessly looking to chomp my way through miles.
Should you run every day?
Running is addictive. As someone who has run umpteen marathons and other races, I’ve been prone to over-running, and while some runners might be able to do a daily 5km without an issue, I’m most definitely not one of them.
As many as 90% of running injuries are either attributed to over-training or poor biomechanics such as poor posture or wrong foot strike.
Rather than trying RED month (if you don’t normally run a lot), you’re probably better off taking things a little more gently. “If you’re an experienced runner with lots of miles under your belt, then perhaps your body would be able to cope with a few weeks of RED,” Jessica Robson, founder of Run Talk Run, previously told Stylist. Otherwise, she thinks that running every day sounds like an invite to injury.
Writer, presenter and licensed England Athletics coach Kate Carter agrees that running every day can potentially also lead to injury. One of the most important skills in running, she says, is “learning when to back off. I’d say it’s really important to rest, and stubbornly committing to a streak could be counterproductive if it ends in injury or being overly tired. Sometimes our bodies really need a break.”
According to a review of running injury literature published in the journal Sports Medicine, up to 56% of runners experience an injury every year, with the most common being knee-related. “About 50 to 75% of all running injuries appear to be overuse injuries,” the paper concludes.
Saying that, I’m convinced that running every day may be good if you can rein your ego back and run less than you think you want to. The key, I’m sure, is to go short and steady rather than trying to run as much as possible. 5km may be fine some days but if you want to run longer, you’ll need shorter days too. And if you’re running every day, you definitely need to make sure that you’re warming up, doing mobility work and tapping into any niggles.
Looking to improve your running? Check out our Strength Training for Runners series on the Strong Women Training Club.
Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.