Dear Plotting Runner,
Listen, I’ve known runners that run up to 140 miles a week just to compete on the track in 5ks and 10ks.
And I’ve known runners that have completed marathons averaging less than 20 miles a week in training.
While both of those are almost always poorly conceived plans, you can see how varied mileage can be. And yes, it’s not easy to know what the exact amount is that’s right for you.
But I think we can narrow it down.
Here’s the first step
It probably won’t surprise you because it’s so stupid simple: Start easy and build up.
When I say easy, I mean easy. You should be saying to yourself, “man, is that it?!”after every run for your first couple weeks. Most beginners would do best to run no more than 4 runs of 2-4 miles in their first week. Target 12-15 total.
Most veterans ought to start at half the volume (or less) of their peak mileage to date. For me, that’s 90 miles. So I’d never start a fresh training block with more than 45 miles in week 1.
How to build your mileage
You should increase your mileage every week or every two weeks. Try to increase by no more than 20% at a time. Otherwise, you’re asking to get hurt.
Beginners should build up to 30 miles a week at the most. If you get there quickly, simply repeat each week until you feel great doing it. That’s a remarkable achievement for your first training cycle! At 30 miles, you will be well prepared for any race shorter than a marathon.
Keep in mind, many high school distance runners race at all-state level off of no more than 30 miles a week.
Now, what to do if this ain’t your first rodeo…
Start incorporating your past experience. If you’ve already gone through a training cycle, your weekly mileage now depends on many factors for which you have a personal knowledge base, so evaluate how it went last time.
If it went well, look to build steadily until you’re running 5-15 more miles per week than you’ve ever ran before.
If it went poorly, build your mileage to the point where training soured last time. This is your opportunity to work on your durability with complimentary core and stability exercises. And relax – you can, and will, still race fast.
In fact, I’ve seen many outstanding college runners race fastest during some of their lowest mileage seasons. You can do the same, no question. Success is about far more than mileage.
I hope you now have an idea of where to start and finish. But we’re not quite done. Here are several other tips for setting a mileage schedule that can work for you:
· Pull out a calendar and backtrack from your race date. Now plot out how to steadily increase your mileage toward your “peak mileage” in even increments. I suggest hitting this peak 2 weeks before your race.
· Be realistic about the time commitment needed to pull off the mileage you’re considering.
· If this is one of your first few “serious” training cycles, consider tracking by minutes instead of mileage. You’ll do better that way, I promise.
· Record your training daily in a running log. Tabbing up each week will be easier. More important, a log keeps you accountable and will be a valuable resource next time you decide how much training you should bite off.
· Stick to your schedule and execute it evenly. I can’t tell you how many people I know damaging their opportunity at good fitness because of inconsistency.
I hope you agree that the best way to improve your running ability and prevent injury is to listen to your body and stay patient. Don’t let your mileage goals conflict with that broader strategy. It’s better to take an extra week to adapt to your current mileage than to push ahead when you sense you’re fatigued.
A final thought
Mileage is part of a balanced training plan. Nothing is better for your running ability than running, BUT remember to do all the little things (stretch, sleep, hydrate, eat) to complement your miles.
Best wishes for healthy running and fast racing!
Adventure Geek Race Team Applicant
P.S. My suggestions are based off of more than 10 years of experience. I have not researched these notions extensively in the lab or the literature, so if you’d like, please comment to this article with your respectful two cents or any questions.