While the concept of “more is better” doesn’t always hold true, increasing your weekly running mileage can help you get stronger and faster with strategic planning.
Weekly running volume is one of the most important metrics you can track in your training. By taking a long-term approach, you can build mileage safely over time to improve your running and racing.
Most runners have heard of the 10% rule for increasing mileage. The math is simple: You take the mileage you ran the previous week, and increase it by 10% of that amount. While the concept of increasing mileage gradually is important, this rule doesn’t work well at the low or high ends of the spectrum.
Rather than blindly following the 10% rule, it’s more effective to use the concept of baseline mileage to help you determine the best way to increase weekly miles.
WHAT IS BASELINE MILEAGE?
Baseline mileage is simply the amount of mileage you can comfortably run, week in and week out. While you may have “peak weeks” in training with higher mileage, and recovery weeks with less, these are usually short, controlled deviations from your more typical mileage.
To help determine your baseline mileage, look back over your last 6–12 months of training. What is an average week? What mileage can you run on a regular basis without feeling overwhelmed? Consider both mental and physical factors — sometimes mileage above your norm feels intimidating, or it can result in fatigue, soreness and unusual aches and pains.
The most useful part of baseline mileage is it is tailored to you and your training. “Normal” mileage can vary tremendously from one runner to another. Competitive college athletes may run anywhere from 50–110 miles weekly, while post-collegiate runners and elites are even higher, from 70–120 miles per week or more.
If you’re an amateur runner juggling a job and family, those numbers may sound overwhelming. If you’re new to running, they may seem unimaginably high! Remember to think about your running as a long-term project. Beginners should spend several years building a solid base with 20-, 30- and 40-mile weeks. Only then should you consider building your weekly mileage to 50 or 60 miles or more.
HOW TO SAFELY INCREASE YOUR MILEAGE
Once you have determined your baseline mileage, you can plan how to increase it. Remember to do this gradually and strategically. Most injuries happen when you’re building mileage too fast and rushing your training. Thinking about the mileage you run each year is one way to help you focus on the big picture rather than the short term.
Consider these numbers:
- 1,000 miles in a year = 19 miles per week
- 1,500 miles in a year = 29 miles per week
- 2,000 miles in a year = 38 miles per week
At a minimum, think about increasing your mileage as a six-month project. If you’re staying healthy and feeling good, you can tackle another gradual increase over the next six months. With steady progress over several years, you can increase your annual mileage by 500 or 1,000 miles. The impact on your fitness will be enormous!
The 10% rule breaks down when you are increasing from your baseline mileage, especially if you are already running about 40 miles each week. Following this rule, you would increase from 40 miles to 44 miles, then 48 and 53. This is definitely too aggressive and will likely lead to injury.
If you are running above your baseline, plan to increase by 5–10% every other week. Using the example of a 40-mile per week runner, this increase would go much more gradually from 40 miles to 42 to 44, etc. This is more sustainable and less likely to lead to injury. In addition, remember not to ramp up the intensity of your workouts at the same time you are increasing mileage.
At the other end of the spectrum, following the 10% rule can make your mileage increase too slowly. Take a 30-mile per week runner who just finished a goal race, then took a week off. If they start back with a 15-mile week, a 10% increase would have them upping by only 1–2 miles per week for more than a month. A more realistic plan would take them from 15 miles to 25 miles then back to 30, since this was their original baseline.
Throughout your training, make sure to vary your runs so approximately 80% of your time is spent running easy, with only about 20% at a higher intensity. Polarize your training with the principle of keeping your easy days easy (and short) and your hard days hard. Avoid running the same mileage and the same pace, day in and day out.
As you build and maintain mileage, remember consistency is always better than sporadic mega weeks of training. When you’re sustaining higher mileage, you’ll be at less risk than if you are constantly trying to “ramp back up” from time off or low mileage.
It takes planning and creativity to build your mileage while balancing training, fatigue and recovery, but the long-term improvements are well worth it.