The term “High Mileage” means different things to different runners. For a long time I thought I was doing oh-so-much training, until social media made me realize I really was doing far less than others I knew. I’ve talked about it before, but a majority of my success has been achieved by running and training at a level many people would consider low/moderate.
That made me wonder what high mileage actually is. Each runner is very different in how she approaches her training and goals. I threw this question out on social media and got such a wide range of answers. Some said 40-50 miles per week was high mileage for marathon training while others claimed 90 miles per week was still under the high-mileage threshold. And of course there were plenty of answers in between. While it’s tempting to compare your mileage to others, it’s important to remember one key truth: we are all different.
Eighty miles a week works great for some folks, but for others 40, 60 or some other number will be the sweet spot. The factors that affect your perfect weekly mileage are a good place to start, but how do you know what really works until you try?
When this article came out detailing training statistics for some London marathoners that ran sub-3:00, social media went nuts. Many people claimed that the average of 42 miles a week over seven runs is just not enough miles and that the data must be skewed. Others claimed that, while 42 mpw may be true for men, women simply need more miles than that to run a sub-3:00 time.
I agreed with some of the commentary of course, but I also know that there are no hard and fast rules for a set number of miles to achieve a set goal. I know that to be a hard fact because my marathon time would not be 2:58 if that were true. While I have a decent amount of marathon experience, running and racing experience in general, and a solid amount of stubbornness when reaching for a goal, I know I’m not the only runner to ever achieve a sub-3 on “lower mileage.” From my perspective, it’s not always about the number of miles, it’s about HOW you run them.
Why More isn’t Always Better
Reduced injury risk: Injury-prone runners and aging runners especially should consider shying away from running more miles in training. Yes, you still need to run enough to be trained (since running a marathon undertrained can increase injury risk) but not running so much that you cannot get to the starting line healthy.
More time and energy for cross training/supplemental training: You get better at running by running. But that doesn’t mean that throwing in some cross training or strength training won’t also help you. When Cilantro started doing CrossFit in addition to her running (albeit on much fewer mpw than before), she found it kept her from getting bored with training. When you’re piling on the miles sometimes it can get monotonous; mixing things up can help keep that spark alive during marathon training.
An easier fit with most lifestyles: It’s all about what you make time for, but if you want to run a marathon (and do well) making time for moderate mileage is a lot more manageable than working 70 or 80 miles a week. It can also be less daunting when you look at the calendar and see everything you have going on. There is definitely something to be said about having a balance of the stressors in your life and making sure you have some downtime.
You can still reap some of the high mileage benefits: With high mileage you learn to run well on tired legs, or what Hanson’s Method refers to as “cumulative fatigue.” There are other ways to simulate running on tired legs than just running piles of miles! It’s all about how you structure your training weeks, and doing so in certain ways can allow you to recreate training on tired legs without all the extra miles/potential junk miles.
The fact is, sometimes less can be more. Taking the time to adequately build to more mileage is so important and can help keep you running longer and healthier. But “high mileage” can be dangerous if attempted improperly, too soon, or without enough experience. Running more miles means being more diligent about recovery and truly going slow on easy days.
For those with the experience, who already have the base, what would stop you from trying something different than just adding on miles? Jasmine challenged you to try 10 miles a day or 13 hours a week, and now I’m challenging you to try and do more with less.
If you averaged 90 miles a week in the past, why not try cutting back to 70? Even a smaller drop, say, from 70 to 60 can give you an extra few hours in the week. It doesn’t mean you won’t peak in higher numbers, but you can average less per week and still get just as much out of your training. Change things up and make a little more time for some other things in life, or even shift that extra time toward recovery and ancillary training.
You can be set in stone about your goals, but don’t forget that there is more than one way to get there. If you can achieve your time goal with less, is it necessary to always do more?
How much weekly mileage do you run? What do you think is ‘high’ mileage for marathon training?