An overview of mileage has to consider training as a whole. So, while I’ve gone forth to finish this *brief* entry on mileage, we at NLR strongly recommend:
In great detail, Daniels discusses pace and training strategies that fit into a larger set of questions about quantity and quality mileage that I’ve omitted here.
Three important things to remember about mileage are:
• A discussion about mileage must take into account the type of miles you’re running. What percentage of your mileage consists of high or low intensity running? How far is your longest run?
• Regarding mileage, one formula does not work for every runner.
• A mileage formula that works for one runner for a specific race may not work for the same runner when she trains for a different race.
Almost every runner I meet has a different opinion on mileage, most specifically about the type of miles one should run to improve race times. The February issue of Runner’s World provides a great example of two different approaches to training and mileage. On one hand, Ed Eyestone’s column, “The Fast Lane,” covers the first step in most high-mileage programs: base-building, or running lots of miles at what Coach Jack Daniels would describe as E (Easy) or L (Long) pace. In this approach, which derives theoretically from Arthur Lydiard’s classic coaching formula, tempos and basic strength-builders can work their way gradually into training, but only at low intensity in regards to duration and distance. No speed work, intervals faster than half marathon pace, or other rigorous runs are recommended during the base phase.
The base-building period can last one month or longer and most often follows a rest period or complete time off running for more advanced runners, serving as a beginning phase of your training cycle. Safe base mileage increases usually follow a ladder formula: increases in mileage should not exceed twenty percent of your weekly total and should include weeks of regression. A ten to fifteen percent increase per week is what I recommended for newer runners. And, depending on his ability, a new runner should log at least two months of training at his starting point before increasing weekly mileage. As an example, if you’re starting at 40 miles per week, your progression could look something like this: week one (40), week two (48), week three (44), week 4 (50), week 5 (45), week 6 (50). A cautious climb minimizes the risk of injury. According to Eyestone’s prescription, base period mileage can be up to 120 percent more per week than in-season miles, as the racing season or cycle will include higher-intensity quality work to replace part of the base period quantity.
The principle of running high mileage in preparation for endurance races, in summary, is based on the “time on the feet” idea. This training philosophy and its derivatives were popularized first by coach Arthur Lydiard, and the trick is finding that balance between a high mileage base that improves your endurance capacity while gradually adding in quality running (intervals, tempos, hills, and other higher-intensity runs) without getting injured. Many elites and advanced endurance athletes who focus on the half marathon and longer distances employ a high-mileage approach. While no blanket formula works for everyone, I tend to think it’s downright unsafe to train for a half marathon or longer running anything less than 30 miles per week. As Eyestone nicely summarizes, increased blood volume and glycogen storage are benefits of high-mileage base training.
There are other approaches to endurance training. In the February 2012 Runner’s World, just 20 pages after Ed Eyestone’s excellent summary of classic endurance base-building, there’s an article focusing on CrossFit Endurance, a regimen that combines strength training with high quality running for a low-mileage approach to training. However, even the developers and advocates of this style of training admit that it’s a great option for longtime athletes who need a change (i.e., those who already have a base and experience racing at the distance in which they plan to compete), but for new runners, results are less clear. Especially for those planning on competing in ultras, triathlons, or other multi-hour events, training that covers at least 75 percent of the distance you will race is advised.
Personal ability and inclination have a lot of influence on your success in a training program and/or race. While I’ve discussed mileage in relation to the half marathon and longer distances, I can draw on my personal example to state that many runners don’t necessarily need to log tons of miles to excel in a 5K or even a 10K. Some of you reading this may be injury-prone, making high mileage training unappealing. Or maybe you’re strapped for time, or you don’t ever plan on racing a distance longer than 10K. Maybe you just simply dislike running longer distances. That’s fine: running a strong 10K or shorter can be rewarding and fun. I PR’d in the last year in the 5K, at the age of 32, on roughly half the mileage (30-40 miles per week) than I logged in my late teens/early twenties when training for that same event. My low-mileage approach combined low-intensity recovery runs, moderate distance “long” runs, and higher-intensity track work. This low-mileage approach only benefited my training in terms of the 5K, however, and did not produce comparable results in longer races. As my case shows, it’s generally easier for a runner with a high mileage base to step down and race competitively in the 5K than it is for a runner with a low mileage base to run comparable times in the half marathon or longer.
Whatever your goals are, we hope that you will recognize that our thoughts on mileage don’t constitute a strict training prescription. Establishing your weekly mileage should be a process, and your mileage quantity and quality will vary depending on a large set of factors. As always, the best way to explore your potential is through a structured training program.
Email us (or comment!), we’d love to hear your thoughts on mileage!
Sources and Further Reading
Daniels, Jack. Daniels’ Running Formula (Second Edition). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2005.
Runner’s World, February 2012. Ed Eyestone’s “The Fast Lane,” p. 26.; Seline Yeager’s “Totally Fit,” p. 46-53.
Lydiard, Arthur and Garth Gilmour. Run, the Lydiard Way. Auckland: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., 1978.