No matter where you’re at in your running journey, knowing how many miles to run from one week to the next is key to your success. After all, running too many miles too soon, can cause overload and lead to injury, says Meghan Takacs, a USATF-certified running coach.
“Finding the right mileage for where you’re at in your running life is just like getting the right shoe,” adds Matthew Meyer, RRCA-certified run coach, ACE-certified personal trainer and coach at Mile High Run Club in New York City. “When you find the right fit, your body is taken care of and you can make steady progress.”
Unfortunately, knowing how many miles to run per week isn’t as simple as it may sound — especially if you’re a beginner. We asked a few running experts to break it down.
HOW TO FIGURE OUT YOUR IDEAL WEEKLY MILEAGE
Your ideal weekly mileage is based on your goals and experience.
Beginners, for example, may want to start with a goal of running 10 miles the first week, Meyer says. Ideally, you’ll establish a solid walking routine first, and transition to running (or rather, a run/walk routine, where you alternate segments of running and walking) once you can comfortably walk 10 miles a week for two weeks with no injuries, says Janet Hamilton, certified strength and conditioning specialist, registered clinical exercise physiologist and owner of Running Strong in Atlanta, Georgia. “Always listen to your body and make sure that it’s tolerating each progression along the way,” she adds.
REMEMBER THE 10% RULE
No matter where you are in your running journey, start where you’re at. In other words, don’t dramatically increase your mileage from one week to the next in an effort to speed up your results or training. Instead, aim to add no more than 10% to your weekly mileage. “I’d use [10%] as a ‘speed limit’ and tell people don’t go beyond that, but it’s also OK to increase [mileage] more slowly than that,” Hamilton says.
If you’re a beginner and you manage to run 10 miles one week, aim for no more than 11 miles the following week. Ease up a bit after 3–4 weeks to give your body a chance to recover before you start building up your mileage again, Meyer says.
TIME OVER DISTANCE
If you’re a beginner, you could also run for time instead of distance. Elizabeth Corkum, a USATF-certified running coach in New York City and owner of Coach Corky Runs, is a fan of new runners focusing on the time spent running, as opposed to mileage. “This way, the pacing and speed becomes less of a motivator and the body can really run by feel,” she explains.
As with mileage, the amount of time you spend running depends on your experience level, but you could start with the goal to meet the current physical activity guidelines for adults: 150 minutes (that’s 2 1/2 hours) of moderate-intensity cardio, or 75 minutes (that’s 1 hour and 15 minutes) of high-intensity cardio per week. Keep your running pace slow and easy, and take walk breaks when needed.
Meghan Kennihan, a USATF-certified running coach and personal trainer in La Grange, Illinois, recommends starting with 20–30 minute runs. “Then, when you finish the 20–30 minutes, you can see how many miles you ran and go from there,” she says. Once you feel more comfortable with your running routine, you can start counting miles instead of minutes.
CONSIDER YOUR GOALS
Eventually, the style of the mileage will likely become more important to you than the total number of miles — especially if you’re training for a shorter race like a 5K or 10K. When training for these kinds of races, you’ll want to incorporate tempo runs (comfortably hard, 10–20 seconds faster than your average pace), speedwork and hill repeats into your training. Meanwhile, longer races (anything over a 10K) is all about time spent on your feet, Takacs says.
How many miles you dedicate to each type of training depends on your experience level, goal (e.g., training for a 5K is different from training for a half-marathon), how many days a week you have available to run, and how well your body responds to the different types of workouts. So, if you’re at the point in your training where you’re ready to dive into a specific program, your best bet is to work with a virtual or in-person coach.
Until then, build your mileage carefully, “and focus mostly on aerobic running to build a solid foundation before thinking about hard, long or structured runs,” Corkum says.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Above all, be patient. “The biggest takeaway when it comes to weekly mileage is that it’s not just one week that will make you a better runner,” Meyer says, “it’s the weeks and weeks of steady, balanced and incremental building of mileage that you see real progress with.”
If you’re a beginner, try this one-week routine from Hamilton: