By David Nogel, I.S.S.A. Certified Personal Trainer, I.S.S.A. Certified Nutrition Coach, Runner
There is a pretty common and valid benchmark that runners like to aim for when training- weekly mileage. This is something that is a direct indicator of your general volume, and a great way to make sure you’re progressing in training and hopefully, in turn, your race times will follow. With that, it’s good to know what is necessary before increasing mileage. Blindly increasing mileage without a remedy or a cause could lead to injury quickly.
Know What You’re Training For
Remember that there is a cap on mileage to where it is no longer beneficial. Camille Herron is amongst the greatest ultrarunners in the world right now, and arguably, of all time. In her own words, she stated that she prefers not to go over 3-3.5 hour runs on her longest of runs, even when training for 24hour+ races, or stage races. What’s interesting about that is the fact that most runners will do long runs of several times the length of their race. 5k and 10k runners will do 8-16 mile long runs. Half Marathon runners often do 18-20. The point here is there is a certain point where the long run just becomes destructive and breaks down ligaments, tendons, and muscles to the point where the training is no longer optimal. The same goes for weekly volume. If this wasn’t the case, world class runners would likely spend 10 hours a day running, every day. Even in a world where that’s practical, it’s not optimal. So know what race you’re training for, and run the weekly mileage for you that you and/or your coach feel is ideal. Sometimes less is more.
Know That You’re Ready
There are several indicators to know that you’re ready to increase mileage. A lot of this is listening to your body. If you notice that you are able to ramp up to your goal mileage much faster than before, without much struggle, yet you plateau earlier in the season; that could be an indicator to push your progression a little further- by increasing your mileage. On the other hand, that also means knowing when you’re not ready. Most running coaches will agree that it is important to develop good habits in running technique for youth- so that fascia and muscle tissue develops correctly- as these issues become harder to fix at a later age. However, with that, coaches will also agree that beyond basics, form isn’t something to force. Rather, it’s best to be conscious throughout our runs, and to develop the strength and endurance in major muscle groups to sustain proper running form. Running form is something easier said than done, and easier developed than forced. The point being, don’t force higher mileage if you or your coach feel that you’ve developed to the point where your body can take that extra volume. Sometimes it might be better to focus on strength workouts and doing consistent drills and dynamics/plyometrics first. If your body (especially joints) aren’t ready for that higher mileage, you’ll benefit far greater from less mileage with a greater focus on developing yourself.
Know What You’re Committing To
Higher mileage isn’t always practical for every individual. Be aware of your needs outside of running. Near everybody has commitments that take time and energy, both mental and physical. Also note that more mileage could potentially cost slightly more. You’ll want to replace shoes within shorter time windows, you’ll probably eat a little more food, and might go through more gear and/or do more laundry. Most people wouldn’t do 80 mile weeks because they don’t have the ability to as a runner, yet because they don’t have the time, availability, or simply the desire to do so. Be sure to take note of how long extra miles and workouts take. With higher mileage also comes more injury prevention, likely more cross training, and almost definitely more individual runs. You might go from running five days a week to seven. You might go from seven days a week to doubling. At some point it may feel like you’re always either getting ready for a run, running, or coming back from a run. Make sure that you know this is not only something you can commit to, but also something you want to commit to.
Be Diligent and Journal Your Mileage
One way to track gradual increases in mileage is to journal what you complete, and how you feel while doing it. While mileage may vary drastically throughout a season- often doubling in volume throughout the duration of a few months- it can be hard to tell how to come back into a new training cycle. Journaling mileage can assist this as you may look back at previous seasons and see where mileage increases were done well, and where maybe a bit too much was done too early. Some people can take around 3-4 weeks off and jump right back up to 50% of their max mileage. Some people take a 5 day period off and have to virtually go back to square one. By comparing your own notes alongside your own experiences, you may see pretty clearly what to do in the coming season.
Once Increased, Be Wary
Once your mileage is higher, it is important to pay attention to how your fitness responds. If you’re familiar with Progressive Overload you’ll know that an increase in volume can often be the tipping point into overtraining or detraining. It is good to watch for signs of such. This can include- but is not limited to- earlier plateaus, general fatigue both mentally and physically (in an irregular sense), dreading every run or dreading a race (a giant red flag), injury (of course), and mood swings (due to your body’s inability to regulate hormones). Give higher mileage some time, so that you can adapt to it as your fitness may take time to respond. Yet, if you go through an entire training cycle and see that it has not helped, or maybe even hurt you, it may be possible that you have found your ideal mileage previously, and should revert to using it.
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