Finding Your Optimal Mileage and Number of Days per Week to Run
Unfortunately, as much as we wish this wasn’t true, some questions don’t have simple answers.
The best answer to most training-related questions is, “it depends”.
What’s your training background, injury history, goal race, training environment, current health?
These are just a small sample of factors that can impact the specific answer to almost any training-related question.
We know answering a question with a question or replying “it depends” usually isn’t very helpful; you still want answers.
So, how can one offer advice without knowing your specific situation? Provide you with the information you need to make the best decision for your circumstance.
In this article, we’ll look at two of the most popular and frequent questions runners ask that don’t have a specific answer: “How many miles per week should I be running” and “how many days per week is optimal”.
What is the optimal number of miles per week
Most runners assume that running more miles per week is always better. But, rarely is the answer so simple. Yes, more miles will build your aerobic system faster and stronger, but if it comes at the expense of injury or overtraining (are you on the verge?), then it’s certainly not the best solution for you.
More specifically, there is no definitive mileage to performance correlation.
Therefore, rather than thinking in terms of how many miles you can or should run, focus instead on finding the optimal number of miles you can run.
If you’ve been training consistently and without injury for a number of months, try adding a few miles per week and see how your body reacts.
If you notice an increase in fatigue, workouts not going as well, or the onset of injuries, bring the mileage back down.
If you feel just as healthy running more mileage, evaluate the impact it has on your race times and overall happiness. If you enjoy the extra mileage and your race performances respond favorably, try kicking it up another notch and repeat the process.
On the other hand, if you’re injury prone or struggling with overtraining and inconsistent results, reducing mileage may be the solution to running better.
Healthy, continuous training beats a few weeks of high mileage followed by injury and burnout every time.
The point is, don’t add miles for the sake of adding miles. There is no magic number. Find what works optimally for you – healthy, happy and improving – and keep it there.
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Some general guidelines to follow
- The longer the race you’re training for, the more mileage will you’ll generally need as a minimum. For a marathoner, the minimum is probably 25-30 miles per week and for a 5k 10-15 miles per week.
- All mileage is not created equal. Workouts such as tempo runs and track workouts will wear you down more than easy miles. Keep in mind what percentage of your miles are hard workouts and long runs versus easy miles.
- The 10 percent rule has be emphatically debunked. Approach building your mileage in a holistic, thoughtful manner outline in the linked article.
How many days per week should I run?
Likewise, the number of days you should be running is a completely individual question.
Here’s the deal:
There is no right or wrong answer. But, you can use your knowledge of your personal preferences and training history to make the best decision for your training.
Benefits of adding days per week
Running a greater number of days per week helps you spread out your mileage.
This can make it easier to increase your miles per week since each individual day is less mileage. This can sometimes facilitate better recovery since with less mileage on easy days, you fatigue your muscles less while increasing the number of times you deliver oxygen-rich blood to working muscles.
Downside of running more days per week
However, adding more days per week to your running schedule can often make it feel like you’re running all the time.
If you have a tight schedule or enjoy activities outside running, this can make training feel like a burden and lead to burnout.
Moreover, if you’re an injury-prone runner, running more times throughout the week offers less opportunity for the muscles and ligaments to fully recover and could increase your injury risk.
Listen to this:
Most importantly, adding more days to your “running training” doesn’t mean you have to simply run.
You can make yourself a stronger, more injury-resistant runner by performing running-specific strength training or including active-stretching and foam rolling (make sure you aren’t making the 4 most common foam rolling mistakes).
You could also add in other forms of exercise through cross training. We learned a lot about this in our interview with PT, Jeremy Stoker. If you want to learn about how cross training can help you get faster, listen here.
What’s the bottom line?
The best answer is to analyze your current training, goals, and personal preferences to determine what is optimal for you.
Like finding the optimal mileage, slowly experiment with adding or subtracting running days and measure the impact it has on your performance and enjoyment of the sport.
Hopefully, this article helped provide the knowledge and insight you need to make the right decision for you about mileage and training days.
Most importantly, always remember to listen to your body, keep your individual circumstances in mind, and ignore any advice espousing there is only one way to train.
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