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How to Ramp Up Your Mileage to Get in the Best Shape of Your Life

Posted Jun 30 2011 7:00am

Earlier this week I wrote about the importance of running a high volume training program for most of the year. The benefits are undeniable:

  • Increased running economy and efficiency
  • More endurance through a higher aerobic capacity
  • Injury prevention by adaptation to a higher workload
  • Ability to run faster, for longer

A lot of runners agree that high mileage is the best way to optimize your fitness. Below is some feedback from the earlier post on the importance of running a lot:

“Yes I agree…aerobic capacity is largely the engine that drives the car and your speed in distance running is largely determined by how large of an engine you have. The most effective way to increase that engine is by mileage and volume. The rest are just minor detail…” – Running L.

“I have to agree with the high mileage philosophy. I’ve been seeing (and reading) a lot about low mileage endurance training (specifically Crossfit Endurance) and, while I AM a lazy runner, I just can’t grasp the idea that one can run so few miles yet expect to run a marathon. To run faster you must, well, run faster and to run further you must run further…building a sound base will keep you healthy and your confidence will increase…” – Lynn

“Your article inspired me to go an extra mile on today’s run. I agree with high mileage and am working to slowly build my volume higher.” – Daniel

“Tried high volume 3 yrs ago and had an 8 minute PR on my marathon.” – Allen

You should be convinced that high-mileage is one of the best ways to reach your potential and run faster. But how exactly do you increase your mileage and how do you do it safely? You should already know that I think the 10% rule is incomplete at best and bogus at worst.

How to Ramp Up Mileage

There are better ways to run more. But first, I want to really define our terms. I received a message after my last article that encouraged me to make this advice more practical and the terms more concrete. Happy to oblige.

Run more: this means run more easy miles in your weekly training. If you currently run four easy 3-mile runs, then increase that to four easy 4-mile runs over the course of 4-6 weeks. You can then add another day of easy running. Build your base before you start adding in long runs and tough workouts.

High mileage: Like I mentioned before, this term is relative to your ability, injury-history, goals, and past training. What is high for you may not be high for a more experienced runner. Stay within your own personal limits.

Running Volume: This is just another word for mileage. It’s the total amount of running that you do, typically measured in a week period. Your weekly mileage or weekly volume are the same thing.

Adding easy volume at first and then tweaking other aspects of your training – like workouts, long run variations, and strength workouts – is a much easier route to running your best. Once a certain mileage is comfortable, you can begin to add intensity.

I encourage runners to run as much as their bodies are comfortable running. Never increase your mileage drastically and always pay attention to how your legs feel and your fatigue levels. It’s best to be conservative.

With conservatism in mind, I want to explain a concept that new runners often fail to understand: think about mileage in terms of months and seasons, not days and weeks. This will help you stay focused on long-term development and not rapid increases in mileage, which will only leave you injured.

I don’t want to beat a dead horse, so let’s recap this quickly: to start running more miles, you need to ensure that your body (infrastructure) can handle the additional running you’re about to do. You do this in a few ways…

  1. Get strong with strength workouts like core workouts, the ITB Rehab Routine, or by following a weight program.
  2. Stay flexible and avoid tight spots by doing dynamic stretching exercises and using a foam roller.
  3. Rest more. As 50k American Record Holder Josh Cox once said, “There’s no such thing as over-training, just under-resting.” I don’t 100% agree, but to a certain extent he has a point.

When I’m increasing my mileage, I focus on three aspects of “total volume:” weekly mileage, long run distance, and medium-long run distance. While I like to keep the weekly mileage constant when I hit a total I like (usually about 85 miles per week), the other aspects of mileage I manipulate to get more fitness gains.

Running 85 miles a week for me is hard; it’s a lot of running for most people.  Once I get there and run it for 2-3 weeks, I increase my long run and decrease my easy run – making the harder days harder and easy days easier.

Modulations in volume produce more fitness gains because you’re better off doing a 20 mile long run and then resting the next day as opposed to a 15 mile long run and then a 5 mile easy day. Efficiency and aerobic adaptations during the last several miles of a long run are far superior to the fitness benefits of an easy 5 miler the next day.

Of course, I’m over-simplifying a bit on this topic. But the general rule is to make your easy days easier and your hard days harder. Ryan Hall would agree with me.

This strategy focuses on quality over sheer quantity, but make no mistake that quantity is very important. You should start reducing quantity when it interferes with target long runs and race-specific workouts.

When you start thinking of mileage increases from month to month (rather than week to week) and focus on quantity and quality (NOT mutually exclusive), you’ll begin to find yourself running a lot faster.

Always find what works for you; certain weekly mileages may be wildly inappropriate for some runners while very conservative for others. Personalized training plans are better than cookie-cutter schedules.

What’s your experience with high volume? Have you been able to get comfortable with a mileage number that’s right for you? When did volume start affecting the quality of your workouts?

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