In last week’s post about how to run a sub 1:45 half marathon (or any half marathon goal time, really!), I recommended that runners increase their weekly running mileage in order to improve their performance in endurance events.
When executed smartly, increasing your weekly running mileage will improve your aerobic capacity, build your endurance, and increase your ability to resist both mental and physical fatigue, amongst other benefits of running higher mileage. When done incorrectly, ramping up your mileage will cause overuse injuries, lead to overtraining, and mentally burn you out before you even toe the starting line of your goal race.
So how do you safely increase your weekly running mileage? When you increase your mileage and how you do so can make or break your next training cycle.
When Should Increasing Mileage Be Your Goal?
In a recent post on how to bring balance to your running, I mentioned how mileage should be a means to achieving a goal, never an end in itself. Wendy at Taking the Long Way Home recently posted about not setting yearly mileage goals, since those are not always conducive to the pattern of training, peaking, tapering, racing, and recovering that should structure our pursuit of race goals.
When you set the goal to increase your weekly running mileage, it should be in service of a larger goal, such as running your first marathon or finally nailing that PR. Rather than setting mileage goals for the sole sake of an arbitrary number, focus on how increasing your mileage will progress your long run, provide you with the base to do harder speed workouts and longer tempo runs, and prepare you mentally for race day.
Base building is an ideal time to increase your weekly running mileage, and so are the early weeks of a training cycle. In his book Run Faster from the 5K to Marathon, running coach Brad Hudson recommends focusing the first quarter or third of a training cycle on increasing your weekly running mileage as closely as possible to what it will be for the remainder of training.
For example, if you want to run 50-55 miles per week for most of your marathon training, you should increase your mileage to about 50 miles per week by week 4-6 of training, and then add marathon specific workouts in from there.
How Should You Increase Your Weekly Running Mileage?
The common rule of thumb is to increase your weekly running mileage by 10% every week. If you’re returning to mileage which you previously had experience in running, such as returning to your normal mileage after a post-marathon recovery break, this method works well and is simple to follow.
To provide an example for the 10% rule, if you are training for a marathon and begin at 30 miles per week, you can progress up to your goal of 55 miles per week with a weekly mileage schedule such as this (including cutback weeks, not including taper): 30, 33, 36, 28, 39, 43, 47, 35, 51, 55, 55, 42.
However, if you are new to running high mileage, are returning from injury, or want to quickly progress to a higher weekly mileage, Jack Daniel’s equilibrium method provides an alternate and safer method for increasing your weekly mileage.
Runner’s Connect clearly describes the equilibrium method on their website, particularly in terms of preventing injury. In short, the equilibrium method increases your mileage by 20-30% and then keeps you at that new volume for 3-4 weeks before increasing again. The purpose is to allow your body to adapt to the stress of higher volume before adding additional training stressors.
For example, if you’re currently running 35 miles per week, increase your mileage (while keeping most of your miles at an easy pace or slightly decreasing the volume of your usual hard runs) to 40-45 miles. Stay in your new range for a few weeks and return to your normal intensity after the first full week of increased volume. After 3-4 weeks at this new volume, back off of your intensity and increase your mileage again, this time from 45 miles to 54-58.
The equilibrium model is ideal for preventing injury. One of the most reliable ways to incur a running related injury is to increase both your volume and intensity at the same time, which is a trap that some runners can fall into when following the 10% rule and increasing their mileage every week. When you give your body 3-4 weeks to adapt to a new stress, your bones and tissues have time to rebuild and become stronger, rather than undergoing constant increases in stress and becoming weaker and more prone to injury.
How to Safely Increase Your Weekly Running Mileage
As I stated above, when you increase your weekly running mileage, it is advisable to temporarily decrease your intensity by shortening your hard workouts or only running easy miles. This is the value of doing a base building period, when you can specifically focus on increasing your weekly running mileage as much as you safely can. If you’re training for a race, smaller increments of building your mileage each week may be preferable, as this allows you to maintain the intensity that you need to specifically prepare for your goal race.
You should be sure to include cutback weeks when you increase your volume. Reducing your volume by 25% every 4-6 weeks will provide your body with the opportunity to recover. Recovery, as I’ve mentioned in many previous posts, is when your body is actually able to repair and adapt to the training stimuli you’ve applied, so don’t neglect these weeks! Additionally, cutback weeks reduce your risk of burnout by giving your mind and body a bit of a break from the stress of training hard.
In addition to cutback weeks, be sure to incorporate other effective recovery techniques such as foam rolling, sleeping 7-9 hours per night, and eating enough protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates.
Two-a-day runs are only necessary if you are running more than 70 miles per week, according to Pete Pfitzinger, the exercise physiologist and coach behind Advanced Marathoning. To quote Pfitzinger, “as you increase your training mileage in preparation for the marathon, you should resist the urge to switch from single runs to doubles…It’s better to get in longer runs and give your body 22 or 23 hours of recovery between runs” (Advanced Marathoning, 144).
When in doubt, be prudent. Prudence is a quality that involves exercising caution, accurately understanding your circumstances, and practicing foresight, which is the ability to judge how particular actions will impact your future goals.
So think about increasing your volume through the lens of prudence. Are you being cautious by gradually increasing your weekly mileage and taking the right steps to recover well? Are you currently in a situation where you can safely increase your volume, meaning does your schedule permit it, are you injury-free, and are you not struggling with exercise bulimia (amongst other factors)? Will this change to your training program help you reach your particular goal?
If you liked this post, you may also enjoy:
What are Junk Miles and How Do You Know if You’re Running Them?
5 Step Guide for Planning Your Annual Racing Calendar
Early Season Running Workouts to Safely Build Speed
How do you increase your running mileage?
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