How to Determine How Many Miles You Should Run

Running is a skill sport. The more you run, the better of a runner you become. Up until a certain point, running more miles per week will make you a better runner. But how do you know what that point is? How many miles should you run per week? 

First, it is vital to recognize individual variations. Factors including genetics, injury background and risk, training background, work and life stress and schedules, gender, medical conditions, sleep, and nutrition must be considered. 

You will experience breakthroughs when you safely increase your mileage. If you build from 15 miles per week to 25, from 30 miles per week to 40, and even from 40 miles per week to 50, you will find yourself becoming a faster, stronger runner. But that does not mean every runner will thrive under 50 miles per week. 

How Many Miles Should You Run?

First, we’ll start with the basics: how many miles should you be logging every week? Well, as mentioned before, it sort of depends. Lots of people run for leisure or for health benefits, so if you’re not in the market for finishing a 5k or hitting a specific race goal, you don’t have to strive for very high mileage.

Simply running a few miles a day is enough to help you stay in good shape, burn excess fat, and maintain aerobic fitness. However, for those of you who do run races, it’s a bit trickier.

There’s plenty to keep in mind when trying to determine your optimal mileage, but it mostly boils down to two major components: the type of race you’re training for, and what phrase of training you’re in.

Your choice of race is particularly important since its length and event date will determine how much training you need and in what timeframe. Plus, your personal goals can have a big influence on the intensity of your workouts too.

And, of course, how much you run is highly dependent on your training plan. Most experts will suggest a training plan that’s broken down into four phases of progression — and each one will demand a different level of intensity or focus as you work through them.

Ultimately, different races will require different training plans, so it’s difficult to determine what an “optimal” mileage looks like without getting into the gritty details, or without having a running expert personally examine your training plan.

What Can You Maintain Consistently?

The most effective approach to training is in a single sentence: “Consistent beats epic because epic is not consistent.” Maybe you can hit epic mileage. In peak training, that epic may be appropriate, because peak training is not what you are trying to maintain consistency. However, when looking at weekly mileage for the majority of the year, what is sustainable for you?

Without proper recovery, the high mileage could lead to a cycle of injuries or burnout. The combination of injury and inconsistency would negate any benefits of that particular mileage. 

Instead, think about what you can maintain consistently. Consistently means throughout the majority of the year; you will have lower mileage for recovery and higher mileage in the eight weeks to twelve weeks of specific training for a race. If you can maintain 40 miles per week consistently, that goes much farther for improvement than big weeks of 60 miles followed by months of burnout or injury. 

Think Time On Your Feet

Recreational runners vary immensely in their paces. The number of days you run per week also factors into weekly mileage. The more days you run, the more time you can spend running. The fewer days per week you run, the more limited your training hours are.

Think of your mileage in the context of training hours per week. After all, the body does not know mileage; it knows time on feet and intensity. Physiological adaptations come from training for a certain amount of time, such as half an hour, one hour, and two hours. Two runners can both benefit from training for seven hours per week, even if one achieves a weekly mileage of 35 and the other of 50 miles per week.

When considering your weekly mileage, think in terms of time on your feet. The same weekly mileage will look very different for runners of different paces. Do not fall into a comparison trap. Do not think you have to run x miles per week to improve; focus on the number of hours per week spent running.  

Balance Your Intensity 

If you place most of your runs at a moderate effort, you will likely struggle to maintain a higher mileage. Slow down and run easy. You can define easily either subjectively or objectively. Easy effort facilitates both aerobic development and recovery. If you struggle to run a certain mileage, you may be running too many of your miles at too high of an effort. 

During a base-building phase, make almost all of your miles easy. This will aid in adaptation; after a base-building phase, you will likely notice how much more comfortable you feel at higher mileage. 

Even beyond doing most of your runs easily, intensity matters in determining mileage. Training load is a balance of intensity and volume. To keep the training scales in balance, you do not want to push your training load beyond what you can recover from. 

The more intensity you run, the fewer miles per week you will run as well. This approach is practised even at the elite level; elite 5K runners run fewer miles per week than elite marathoners.   

Mileage and Injury Risk

So here’s the thing: because your mileage can vary so easily, you aren’t necessarily restricted in how much you run. There aren’t several miles that are considered to be “too much” in the running world — which might sound suspicious. It’s not the mileage that leads to injury; it’s more so the rate at which you increase it.

Aiming for a high mileage isn’t inherently a bad thing, but people often fall victim to the mentality that “more is better.” This often causes runners to take on too much too soon, and jumping into these higher intensities is one of the most common causes of injury, and that’s where the 10 per cent rule came to life.

Overtraining and Insufficient Recovery

The biggest risk of increasing your mileage is known as overtraining — which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. When you overwork your body past the point of exhaustion, it struggles to recover from all the stress it’s been under, and that only leads to all-around worsened performance.

Exposing yourself to long periods of hard training can negatively impact both your body and mind, particularly because it’s often a result of not resting enough between training sessions.

You’ll likely experience the typical symptoms of overworking your body, like delayed recovery, increased risk of injury, or poor performance, but you’re also subject to further detriments, too.

Many people who have overtrained also have to deal with low appetite, difficulty sleeping, or an elevated resting heart rate, and the symptoms only worsen the more your body suffers with insufficient recovery.

Long-term exposure to these stressors is extremely detrimental; it can ultimately cause your adrenal glands to stop working altogether if they’re overworked for too long.

This is where that lack of hormone production can cause depressive-like symptoms. You’ll start to feel more exhausted, which often leads to feeling unmotivated or disinterested in maintaining your training. What’s worse is that some athletes think they’ve simply hit a rut and try to push themselves even harder, which is double a recipe for disaster.

If you find yourself experiencing any symptoms of overtraining, you must modify your training plan. You can be as impressive of an athlete as you want, but it’ll only get you so far if you aren’t training under the best circumstances for both your body and mind. 

It’s vital that you take immediate action and reduce your training — or, even better, completely put a stop to it. Granted, that sounds like a pretty unfavourable solution but remember: it’s only temporary. It’s also extremely necessary for your body’s recovery.

Injury Prevention for High Mileage

Knowing how to safely approach higher mileage goals is a great first step, but it’s certainly not the only thing you can do. After all, your technique is impacted by a wide range of factors — why not skew your training to boost your performance and reduce the risk of injury?

Cross Training

People will often suggest supplementing an increase in mileage with cross-training, usually as a means of “giving your legs a break.” In theory, this makes perfect sense — offloading your legs with a swim or a bike ride is ideal when you’re looking to avoid the repetitive pounding of running. 

The only caveat is that your cross-training won’t go directly towards improving your running performance, which falls in line with the principle of specificity. This principle basically states that getting better at something requires training as specific to your activity as possible. 

But specificity shouldn’t be confused with exclusivity — there are lots to benefit from dabbling in more than one sport, and being well-rounded is essential to being a healthy athlete.

Good Form and Biomechanics

Of course, the ultimate method for preventing injury stems from your own knowledge and execution, both of which come down to your running form.

It’s no secret that form is key for optimal performance, so assessing your body’s biomechanics is always a valuable investment. This kind of assessment can be especially valuable during the off-season, as you can hone your mechanics and correct potential form errors before you dive headfirst into race training. 

You can also consider speaking to a coach or a running specialist to even further take advantage of your off-season time — they can provide you with data specific to your running gait, pinpointing what can be improved upon before you jump back into regular training.

When it comes down to it, running is a skill that requires consistent, proactive improvement to effectively enhance your performance, and having biomechanical knowledge of your form allows you to hone your training to be as specific and deliberate as possible.

Plus, working with a specialist also gives you the perfect opportunity to prepare or reassess your training plan. You can make sure that you aren’t at risk of overtraining while also feeling confident that your progression plan will get you the results you want to see.

Additional Training Considerations

On top of all this, don’t forget the basics! Don’t let your ambition to improve cause you to neglect those classic best practices. You want to be sure you fuel your body properly and allot enough time to rest, which is especially imperative when you’re looking to increase your workload.

Eating the right kinds of foods and maintaining proper hydration will keep your body energized as you work towards bigger and better goals. Similarly, proper rest is vital when you take on more physical activity (and we know you know that; we’re just here to remind you to actually do it). 

It’s also imperative that you take good care of your mental health; although it can feel productive to achieve a certain mileage goal in a short amount of time, improving your performance isn’t all about the numbers. In fact, it’s just the opposite: improving your performance is all about your mental state. 

Keep yourself in check — more miles don’t inherently equate to better running, and feeling a lack of motivation or disinterest isn’t just a simple but you can always push through. Just because progress can be quantifiable doesn’t mean it always will be; you’re still making excellent progress when you get in enough rest days or manage to fix a little quirk in your running form. 

Start Getting Those Miles In

Increasing your mileage is totally doable, and it’s totally safe as long as you don’t overwork yourself. Ultimately, there’s no conclusive “mileage threshold” where you’ll get injured; more than anything, it’s based on your personal resiliency, running form, and smart training habits.

There are plenty of techniques that can make your increased workload more manageable, and that’s the mark of a good athlete — doing the work without having the work do you in. 

So as you head off to log in your miles for the week, don’t get sucked into thinking your miles are the only aspect that makes you a better runner. When you approach your goals with the bigger picture in mind, your improvements will come with ease.



Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button