When it comes to training, your mileage, week in and week out, is the most important aspect in reaching your full potential to become a better, faster runner. But finding that sweet spot of the ideal weekly mileage isn’t always easy.
What exactly that mileage is depends on a lot of factors, but determining what the proper balance is should be based upon what you have done in the recent past. That weekly range can be anywhere from just a few miles for those starting out, recovering from injury or coming back after some other type of layoff and go all the way up to 100 miles (or more) per week. But for most runners, approximately 25 to 40 miles on four to six days of running is a solid good goal. Whatever the mileage becomes, it should be a figure which doesn’t leave you fatigued, overly sore or injured.
The type of runner you are impacts the weekly mileage number. If you consider yourself someone who runs well with minimal training, then you should resist going for a high mileage number. But most runners tend to need more mileage to improve.
The greatest impact on determining your weekly mileage are the other demands in your life. Job, family, other activities and emergencies all effect how much time and energy you have to put into your running. Your commitment to running will effect other aspects of your life and vice versa.
Each mile of the weekly mileage will go toward improving one of the three elements of making you faster: endurance, speed and strength. There is no such thing as “junk miles” or running slow or easy without purpose. Those type of runs add an element of endurance. Endurance means stamina for the time spent on your feet running.
Speed means you are running faster and faster up to a point that maximizes your talent in the short run effort, anything from 200 meters up to a 1000 for a few repeats with lots of rest.
Strength simply gives you the fitness to hold a pace, anywhere from mile race pace to marathon goal pace (mgp) consistently for longer distances or lots of repeats and with little recovery, up to a point where you are as fit as you can possibly get.
The vast majority of weekly mileage should be easy miles to build endurance. Easy miles should be runs during which you can carry on a conversation. For those runs, you shouldn’t worry about what your pace per mile is. Some days you will be slower than others, but the point is that you do not push the pace to try to do what you did yesterday or what you think you should be able to do. You just run easy and enjoy it. Try slowing down if you are not enjoying it or take a walk break for a minute or two.
Easy weekly mileage is important because it gives you, through endurance, the ability to finish a race strongly. Easy mileage gives you the endurance to hold your natural speed longer.
On the other hand, if you hammer too many miles every week, you’ll eventually break down, mentally and physically. You might get short-term gains from upping your hard workouts, but there comes a point of diminishing returns where risk outweighs the gain. Easy running and a solid easy mileage base is safer and more enjoyable.
And, does it really make sense to hammer out each run during the week? Of course, you need to do some hard, fast workouts to get faster, but those are supplements to weekly mileage, not the base miles.
Easy runs are the basis of any training plan. Long, hard runs have their place, but those are only once a week or once every two weeks. Plan to run easy mileage for most of the week. If you do it properly, you’ll end up having more fun running, both on the easy carefree days and on the hard workout/race days, where you’ll find yourself surprisingly refreshed because you ran some easy miles to get there.