The question of mileage and how much you should be running each week is a hotly debated topic. I’m not here to vouch for one or the other. I’ve dabbled with both in my career and have my opinions about what works for me based on experience. Everyone is different and it’s important to acknowledge that. There are distance runners who log 100+ miles a week and there are distance runners who log around 15 miles a week. Both are ok, but it’s important to find the right numbers for you and remember that that can change over time. Finding the right numbers depends on several factors. Avoid the comparison trap when it comes to mileage and instead walk through the considerations below to help get you started on a path to healthy and consistent training.
HIGH VS. LOW MILEAGE
1) HAVE YOU HAD INJURIES IN THE PAST?
If the answer is yes, it can be a sign of two things. First, you should most likely decrease mileage for at least a period of time so you can establish weeks and months of consistency again to build back strength. It is also important to establish why an injury happens. Running mileage will highlight any weaknesses occurring and will cause eventual breakdown in the form of injuries. If you have recurring aches, pains or injuries once you hit a certain mileage number it might be worth a visit to a local sports PT that can help you evaluate what is happening and provide you with strength work that will allow you to train more in the future.
2) WHAT IS YOUR TRAINING HISTORY?
How much weekly mileage have you run in the past? This doesn’t mean the one time you hit 80 miles 4 years ago…but how much can you say you’ve run consistently in the past few months on average. No big jumps…start where you are and build up patiently. If you’ve been running 20 miles a week consistently, but have a goal of hitting 50 miles, work up to it week by week increasing no more than 2-4 miles every week. Patience will pay off in the long run.
3) WHAT ARE YOU TRAINING FOR?
An ultra-marathon, a 5k, a track mile? If you’re training for a 4 hour race vs a 4 minute race, training intensity looks very different and mileage will reflect that in a lot of ways. Find a training plan that seems manageable, not scary. You want your training to challenge you, not crush you. Find a plan that allows you to maintain positivity, establish consistency and challenges you to take risks from time to time.
4) DOES YOUR TRAINING PLAN HAVE PHASES?
You do not need to run the exact same mileage week after week. There should be fluctuation in your mileage based on your training phase (base building, initial quality training, high quality training and the tapering phase before your peak performance goal date). Your mileage should vary around these phases and training intensities to allow for fitness adaptation and proper recovery. Not all miles are created equal.
5) DOES YOUR ROUTINE INCLUDE CROSS-TRAINING?
The case for running more miles is that you will increase endurance and be able to run faster for longer. Running miles is great and beneficial if it doesn’t cause injury or illness repeatedly. Cross-training is a helpful way to supplement work without the added impact. Pool running, lap swimming, cycling, jump rope, etc…are all helpful tools and supplements for running miles that will help you develop your aerobic capacity if you find you need to get more work in, but your body isn’t responding well to extra mileage.
6) WHAT MILEAGE DO YOU BELIEVE YOU CAN MAINTAIN CONSISTENTLY FOR WEEKS AND MONTHS AT A TIME?
Without consistency, training is rendered fairly useless. Chase consistency, not the magical unicorn workouts or high mileage week that ends up leaving you injured or sick and unable to maintain consistency in the weeks to come. Strength is in consistency of work. Yes, quality workouts are important, but they come after your base training phase is established.