Running is a skill sport. The more you run, the better of a runner you become. Generally speaking, increasing your running volume improves your aerobic fitness, running economy, and race performance. However, there is a point of diminishing returns for these benefits. But how do you know what that point is? One of the most common questions I hear as a running coach is “how many miles should I run in a week?” This article will guide you through how to determine your weekly running mileage.
Factors to Consider
Before we delve into how many miles per week you should run, it’s important to discuss factors in determining weekly mileage. Running does not occur in a vacuum. Instead, all sorts of training and life-related factors impact your optimal weekly mileage.
First, it is vital to recognize individual variations. Factors including genetics, injury background and risk, training background, life stress, work schedules, gender, medical conditions, sleep, and nutrition must be considered.
Mileage that worked for your friend or training partner may not lead to the same success for you. Some runners respond well to high volume, while others respond better to lower volume with more intensity. Similarly, a weekly volume that worked well when you were single and in your twenties may not be appropriate when you are married with kids and in your forties.
Total Annual Training
Second, think of mileage beyond races. Oftentimes, runners view mileage in relation to a single race. They will aim to run 30-mile weeks for a half marathon or 50 mile weeks for a marathon, but then drop down their mileage to a mere fraction of that between races. Some may even stop running in between races. On one hand, this makes it harder to build to higher mileage. However, runners overdo their mileage and then get stuck in a vicious cycle of needing a long break from running.
However, framing your mileage beyond the context of races leads to long-term growth. Aerobic development breakthroughs come from consistent weekly mileage. If you can plan on running 20 miles per week for the majority of the year, your half marathon time will be faster than it would with running 20 miles per week in the couple of months leading up to a race.
You will experience breakthroughs when you safely increase your mileage. If you build from 15 miles per week to 25, from 30 miles per week to 40, and even from 40 miles per week to 50, you will find yourself becoming a faster, stronger runner. But that does not mean every runner will thrive under 50 miles per week.
Let’s examine some of the factors to consider in determining exactly how many miles you should run per week. (If you want to learn more, listen to this episode of the Tread Lightly Podcast on how many miles you should run per week.)
Tips to Determine Weekly Mileage
Once you assess individual factors, you then want to start weighing training considerations. How much training intensity will you incorporate? Do you enjoy higher mileage? How much time on your feet does it involve.
Balance Mileage and Intensity
If you pace most of your runs at a moderate effort, you will likely struggle to maintain a higher mileage. Slow down and run easy. You can define easy either subjectively (comfortable enough to carry on a conversation) or objectively (65-79% of max heart rate or ~70-80% of your 10K race pace). Easy effort facilitates both aerobic development and recovery. If you struggle to run a certain mileage, you may be running too many of your miles at too high of an effort.
When you are training for a race, intensity distribution throughout the week matters in determining mileage. Training load is a balance of intensity and volume. To keep the training scales in balance, you do not want to push your training load beyond what you can recover from.
The more intensity you run, the fewer miles per week you will run as well. This approach is practiced even at the elite level. Generally, elite track runners run fewer miles per week than elite marathoners. On a recreational level, a runner training for 5Ks and 10Ks will generally run a lower weekly mileage than a runner training for a marathon or a 50K. The more intense the workouts, typically the lower the weekly mileage. (That is not to say that speed-focused runners should only run low mileage; they will still benefit from aerobic development.)
If you did hard track workouts like in 5K training with the mileage of marathon training, you would apply more stimulus than your body could recover from. Too much intensity in the context of high mileage leads to overtraining, burnout, and performance regression. Weekly mileage for a marathon can be higher because the overall training intensity is lower.
Instead, balance your intensity based on your training goal. Always think about your overall training load (intensity, vertical gain, cross-training, strength training, and volume), not just weekly mileage.
Mileage Varies Based on Training Phase
Your weekly mileage will not remain the same throughout the entire year. The current phase of your training will affect how many miles you run per week.
Common training phases include off-season, base building, early-season training, and race-specific training. Within early-season and race-specific training, intensity and volume will vary based on your goal distance (marathon, 5K, etc.)
The off-season is a four to six-week period after a goal race. In the off-season, weekly mileage is typically quite low. You may only run 50% of your peak training volume. Some runners opt to cross-train more or prioritize weight lifting during this time.
During a base-building phase, the priority shifts to more easy miles. You will still include some faster running in the form of strides, progression runs, or fartleks. However, base training is not the time to push intensity. Base building is the time to develop your aerobic system and adapt your musculoskeletal system to higher mileage. By slowing down the pace of most runs, you optimize aerobic develop and can safely build mileage.
In early season and race-specific training, weekly mileage is contingent upon goal race distance and running experience. An intermediate to experienced 5K runner may run more weekly mileage than a novice marathoner, for example. Weekly mileage for a half marathon will vary based on the runner’s experience, finish time, and training intensity.
Generally, mileage will build in the early season, and then remain relatively static (with some variations as long runs increase) in race-specific training. Race-specific training prioritizes more time at or around race pace, which is why mileage stabilizes.
What Mileage Can You Maintain Consistently?
In the book The Happy Runner, coach David Roche summarizes the most effective approach to training in a single sentence: “Consistent beats epic because epic is not consistent.” Many runners make the error of running for a kudos-garnering number on Strava, without thinking about health or long-term performance.
In peak training, that epic mileage may be appropriate. However, peak training is not what you are trying to maintain consistently. When determining your weekly mileage for the majority of the year, ask yourself: what is sustainable for you?
For example, 60 miles per week is epic for many recreational runners. Maybe they can sustain it for a peak week or two, but in the long term this training load is time-consuming and exhausting. Without proper recovery, the high mileage could lead to a cycle of injuries or burnout (see more about recovery as a factor below). The combination of injury and inconsistency would negate any benefits of that particular mileage.
Instead, think about what you can maintain consistently. Consistently means throughout the majority of the year; you will have lower mileage for recovery and higher mileage in the eight weeks to twelve weeks of specific training for a race. If you can maintain 40 miles per week consistently, that goes much farther for improvement than big weeks of 60 miles followed by months of burnout or injury.
If it helps, think of your mileage in terms of months and years, not weeks. A long-term perspective begets long-term growth.
Think About Time on Your Feet
Recreational runners vary immensely in their paces. As a coach, I work with runners who run anywhere from 5:45 min/mile to 15:00 min/mile pace for the 5K, which translates to anywhere from a 7:45/mile to a 18:00/mile for an easy run pace. The same weekly mileage would look radically different for those different runners.
Generally speaking, faster runners can handle higher mileage because it takes them less time. A fifty-mile week would be sustainable and realistic for a runner whose easy pace is 8:00/mile (covering 7 miles in under an hour); for a runner with an easy pace of 12:30/mile (covering 7 miles in closer to 1.5 hours), it would be too time-consuming and less beneficial.
The number of days you run per week also factors into weekly mileage. The more days you run, the more time you can spend running. The fewer days per week you run, the more limited your training hours are.
Calculate your mileage in the context of training hours per week. After all, the body does not know mileage; it knows time on feet and intensity. Physiological adaptations come from training for a certain amount of time, such as half an hour, one hour, and two hours. Two runners can both benefit from training for seven hours per week, even if one achieves a weekly mileage of 35 and the other of 50 miles per week.
When considering your weekly mileage, think in terms of time on your feet. The same weekly mileage will look very different for runners of different paces. Do not fall into a comparison trap. Do not think you have to run x miles per week to improve; focus on the number of hours per week spent running.
Do You Enjoy the Process?
Many runners thrive both physically and mentally with higher amounts of mileage. That does not mean every runner enjoys high mileage. From coaching experience, I see numerous runners who physically and mentally thrive on moderate mileage with about four runs per week. If you hate high mileage, you will come to hate running – and no runner runs well when they start to resent the sport.
How Well Do You Recover?
Sixty miles per week may work great for your friend with older kids, no commute, and the ability to sleep 8 hours every night. However, you want to look at your current circumstances. How many hours of sleep do you consistently get? Are you are chasing a toddler all day or on your feet at work? Do you have a long commute or a stressful job?
Mileage should never come at the sacrifice of sleep. Runners need seven to nine hours of sleep to recover from training. Without recovery, you lose the ability to fully adapt to training. All that mileage will just dig you deeper into a hole, with the risk of overtraining.
Do not sacrifice rest days or cutback weeks either in favor of mileage. Take at least one rest day per week – a true, real rest day from high-intensity or high-impact exercise. If you think you are getting injured from mileage, look at what you are doing on your rest days. Cutback weeks also support adaptation and recovery, thus helping you maintain consistent mileage.
Make Time for Supplemental Training
Your mileage should permit supplemental training. If you run all the miles yet neglect strength training, mobility work, and foam rolling, then you play with fire. High mileage without supplemental training can reinforce poor form and increase injury risk.
If time is a factor (which it is for many runners), be sure to allow time for strength training and mobility work in your weekly schedule. You will benefit more from 35 miles per week with two strength sessions and daily foam rolling than you will from 45 miles per week with no supplemental training. (Here is how to fit it all in!)
Consider a Downloadable Training Plan
If after reading this, you are still wondering “how many miles should I run in a week?” – then it may be worth considering some guidance. A running coach can help (you can learn more about my coaching services here).
However, if you prefer to train on your own or a coach is not in your budget, you may want to consider a downloadable training plan. A downloadable training plan can provide a template for weekly mileage. You can follow it or adjust it for your individual needs. You can find some downloadable training plans here!
Weekly Mileage Recommendations
Weekly Mileage for a Marathon
The marathon distance is the one where weekly mileage matters significantly for even just finishing the race. 26.2 miles is a long distance – and you probably don’t want to attempt it if you are unable to run less than that per week.
Weekly mileage for a marathon will vary based on experience level and your goals. Typically, runners will do less mileage when training for their first marathon than for subsequent marathons.
It’s important to know that you do not need to run a certain marathon time to hit a goal. In my coaching experience, I’ve seen runners run ~3:15 marathons on 40-45 miles per week or on 65+ miles per week. There is no set mileage that you must run if you want to run a certain marathon goal time.
General recommendations for weekly mileage for a marathon:
- First-time/Novice Marathoner: 30-40 miles per week
- Intermediate Marathoner: 40-55 miles per week
- Advanced Marathoner: 55-70 miles per week
Weekly Mileage for a Half Marathon
The half marathon is still a long-distance event – don’t let the name fool you. You will want to develop your endurance before the event. This means that you will want to run a higher weekly mileage than you would for a 5K or 10K. However, you typically do not need to run as many miles per week as you would for a marathon.
Like the marathon, weekly mileage for a half marathon depends on experience. Training response and training intensity also determine weekly mileage. For example, if you respond well to high-volume, low-intensity training, you may run more miles per week than someone who responds to moderate-volume, higher-intensity training – even if you both run the same finish time.
General recommendations for weekly mileage for a half marathon:
- First-time/Novice: 20-29 miles per week
- Intermediate: 30-45 miles per week
- Advanced: 45-60 miles per week
Weekly Mileage for a 10K
If your goal is to finish a 10K, you do not have to run high weekly mileage. For competitive runners, weekly mileage for a 10K might be surprisingly high. While 6.2 miles may seem short compared to a marathon, a 10K is still an endurance event.
Training intensity does influence weekly volume for 10K training. If you do a lot of speedwork, that should be accounted into your total training load. For intermediate to advanced 10K runners, weekly training will still involve a long run of 10 or more miles per week.
General recommendations for weekly mileage for a 10K:
- First-time/Novice: 10-20 miles per week
- Intermediate: 20-35 miles per week
- Advanced: 40-55 miles per week
Weekly Mileage for a 5K
Similar to a 10K, weekly mileage for a 5K will vary significantly based on experience and goals. Competitive runners may do more mileage for a 5K than novice half marathoners or marathoners do. As with the 5K, the more speedwork you do, the more your weekly mileage should be balanced with that. This is why competitive 5K athletes run less total weekly mileage than competitive marathoners.
General recommendations for weekly mileage for a 5L:
- First-time/Novice: 8-15 miles per week
- Intermediate: 20-35 miles per week
- Advanced: 40-55 miles per week
How Many Miles Should You Run Per Week, Recapped
As you can see, numerous factors go into determining how many miles you should run per week. Your stage of life will even affect mileage; you may find one year you can handle higher weekly mileage, then you need to scale back, before building again. Listen to your body, but also do not be afraid to challenge yourself.
Want to learn more about how to develop an effective training plan? Get more science-based running advice from the Foundations of Running e-course!
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