The 20 mile long run is not the only significant factor during marathon training. Weekly mileage is one of the most important factors runners consider when choosing a marathon training plan. You want to run enough miles to prepare yourself for the demands of the marathon, but not to so many miles that you burn out, over train, or get injured.
I followed the Hansons Marathon Method for my first marathon, which left me feeling tired with 60 mile weeks with 16 miles as the longest weekly run. Granted, it’s normal for the first marathon training cycle to feel more tiring because you’re running further than ever before.
When I wrote up my training plan for the California International Marathon (which I start training for next week), I prioritized weekly mileage, but I didn’t elevate it as the ultimate priority as I felt it had been when I used Hansons (cumulative fatigue was the most important principle behind their method).
Rather, as it is when I write up one of any athlete’s training plan, weekly mileage during marathon training is an organic result of numerous factors.
What are the factors to consider when determining average weekly mileage during marathon training?
- Your running background and current fitness
- Your injury risk
- Your marathon goals
- Intensity vs. Volume
- Your schedule
(1) Running Background and Current Fitness
Your running background and current fitness are the primary factors to consider when deciding how many miles per week to run throughout marathon training.
Before you plan out your peak weekly mileage, you must consider what sort of mileage you have been able to handle safely and healthily before in training. Yes, healthily – long-term health matters more than a single race. If every time you exceed run 50 miles per week you experience a stress fracture, then your body can’t handle that mileage.
The 16-20 weeks of marathon training are ideal for increasing your mileage. However, don’t increase too drastically past what you previously handled. If the most you’ve ever run in 35 miles per week, don’t aim to run 70 miles per week. If you’ve been running 30-45 miles consistently for over a year, then you can safely strive for 50-55 miles during your training.
You must also consider time on your feet. One of the reasons elite runners can tolerate weekly mileages upwards of 100 miles per week is because they cover more miles in less time. 10 miles as an easy run isn’t as bad when you consider elites are running that in 75 minutes or less. Most elites also split their daily mileage into two runs per day.
Dr. Jason Karp argued for running by time in a recent podcast interview: “Your legs have no idea what 26.2 miles are… Your body knows two things: how hard it’s working and how long it’s working. So your body senses that it’s working 3 hours at 80% of your VO2max. That’s what your body knows and that’s what represents the stress.”
So instead of always looking at miles, think about time on your feet. If you ran 12 miles or more every day, you would likely spend more time running in any given week than even the elites. When considering how long you want to run on your easy days or quality workout days, consider how much time those miles will take at an appropriate pace – you may be better off running 7-9 miles on your easy days.
(2) Injury Risk
As this Runners Connect article affirms, higher weekly mileage increases your risk of running injury. While running more than just 10 or 15 miles per week does habituate your bones, joints, and muscles better to the stress of running,
Exercise physiologists including Dr. Tim Noakes believe that exceeding 75 miles per week flirts with injury too much and is the point of diminishing returns for most recreational runners training for the marathon distance or shorter. (If you are training for an ultra marathon, the rule of specificity encourages you to up your mileage, but you are doing fewer speed workouts so it balances out the injury risk scales).
(3) Marathon Goals
Your weekly mileage will differ if your primary goal is to finish the marathon versus qualifying for the Boston Marathon. While every runner is different, most runners will find that running more miles per week improves their finish time. Training volume boosts your aerobic fitness and fatigue resistance, both of which are key for running faster over the course of 26.2 miles.
To even complete the marathon distance, it’s advisable that you run at minimum more than 26 miles per week during your peak weeks at training. If you’re doing less than 30 miles per week, cross-training is recommended as well. For more experienced runners, 40 miles or more per week is recommended to build your marathon specific fitness (unless, of course, injury history or health issues deter you from running this volume).
(4) Intensity vs. Volume
55 miles of easy running in one week accumulates less fatigue and places less stress upon the body than a 55-mile week that includes a VO2max workout, tempo run, and long run. There are numerous physiological benefits to running faster, including improved aerobic capacity, increased fatigue resistance, and a higher lactate threshold, so you should not neglect these types of workouts just in order to run more mileage for the sake of mileage.
This is where each runner must self-assess past training and find what works uniquely for them. Each of us thrives on a particular balance of endurance, speed, strength, and mobility/flexibility training.
Each runner’s ability to balance intensity and volume varies, so you must find this balance through trial and error – and perhaps a knowledgeable running coach.
(5) Your Schedule
Overtraining occurs due to a lack of recovery. When you consider that many high-mileage elites spend their free time recovering from running, it makes even more sense how they can tolerate mileage that would injure many of us.
If you are marathon training during a busy time at work/school or you have young children at home, you must account for how work and family will factor in as well. You can’t ignore these things in order to run 70 miles per week, nor should you borrow the time out from sleep (because you need sleep to recover!). It sounds like common sense, but we have all experienced times in our lives where we try to take on too much and end up like too little nut butter spread over too many apple slices – worn thin.
The number of days you run will also determine your weekly mileage during marathon training. For example, renowned coaches including Pete Pftizinger and Brad Hudson recommend not exceeding approximately 55 miles if you 5 days per week.
Whether you run 35 or 70 miles per week in marathon training, always remember to increase your weekly mileage safely
How many miles per week have your run during marathon or half marathon training?
What’s your biggest obstacle when it comes to increasing your running mileage?