If you are just starting a buildup for a late fall marathon, one of the parameters you’ll have to figure out is your weekly mileage. That mileage can go up some weeks and down during others, but you need a solid approximation of how many miles—on average—you’ll run.
As marathoners, we’re all ambitious people but when it comes to weekly mileage it’s much better to take a conservative approach, rather than a shoot for the stars regimen. There’s no question about it, but most runners, particularly newbies, attack running too hard at first.
That being the case, give yourself three or four weeks of finding the magic number which is manageable. It could mean that you need to drastically reduce the mileage after the first week or even take off a week and start over with a realistic amount. It doesn’t matter what the number is, whether it’s one or two miles every other day or 30 miles per week with one day off. Whatever that weekly number is remember most of the miles should be easy at this point. The fun thing is getting to know yourself and your fitness level and this will help you progress intelligently as you start running faster and longer.
After a few weeks of figuring out what you are comfortable with and can manage, you will want to increase the mileage to the desired amount. The rule of thumb is to only increase total weekly mileage per week by about 10 percent. That might not seem like much, but it is.
When starting to up your mileage, begin the increase by running a week of about half your current weekly max. That should be easy to do and it will give you a clean slate and just itching to get the volume increase moving in the right direction.
The increase in mileage should not be a continuous climb week after week. Think of it in three-week cycles. You increase for one or two weeks and then back off for one or two weeks to 50-75 percent of the maximum weekly mileage you just reached.
But beware aware of the additional stress you’re placing on yourself. Young, fit runners can usually increase for two weeks and back off for one. On the other hand, new runners, those coming back from a layoff, those living in a stressful time period and older runners may improve best by increasing one week and backing off for two weeks. Weather can be a determining factor as well, since heat and humidity may require the extra week layoff.
Examples of how this works:
Week 1A = 11 miles
Week 2A = 12 miles (or, conservative option of 6-8 miles)
Week 3A = 6-8 miles
or for another runner:
Week 1B = 33 miles
Week 2B = 36 miles (or, conservative option of 17-25 miles)
Week 3B = 18-27 miles (or, conservative option of 17-25 miles)
The increase goes along at 10 percent over the last long week. Be true to the weeks off as well. Some weeks off you will comfortably handle 75 percent of the maximum, yet other weeks you’ll appreciate the 50 percent mark. Keep it up until you start to feel the effects of fatigue or you are getting excess soreness. Again, life can get in the way. You need energy for other aspects of what you are about, so keep that in mind as you determine what weekly mileage works best for you.
Of course, the goal race or series of races you have chosen will factor into the weekly mileage number. Not surprisingly, the higher volume weeks are more critical to marathon and ultra racing. You should be looking to run 40-60 miles per week to have a decent effort at the longer races. You would definitely be the exception if you did well running less than that.
The key point to take away is not to be afraid of trying higher mileage as you train. Your body will tell you if you are asking too much.
Once you get to where you want to be, you can hold that mileage pattern for several cycles until it is time to taper for a big race or series of races you are focusing on. You don’t want to hold the maximum mileage for too long or else you will run the risk of losing freshness for the race. So, at three-week cycles you are talking about a couple of hard months of maximum training which means no more than three of the three-week cycles where you max out the weekly mileage without further increase.
A three-week taper where you cut back by one-half to a third each week after the last long week should get you to the starting line fresh. Then, after the racing is accomplished, you will want to recover anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month at lower mileage, like you were doing the week or two before the serious racing began, followed by the slow increase in mileage again for the next racing goals you have set.
This on-again, off-again weekly mileage program will keep you fit but not fatigued, and you will enjoy running for the year-round sport that it is. Even more important, you have now bought into a successful and meaningful lifestyle that can work for you for the rest of your life.