As a runner, you hear a lot of “rules” for running. The best time of day to run, how many miles to put on your shoes, what you can or can’t eat before a long run, and the lovely “10% rule”. The 10% rule says that you should only add 10% to your mileage every week to build mileage safely.
And if you’re like me, you heard this rule, but you didn’t ever really track your weekly mileage. For years I just tried to run further and faster every run. Or I followed a specific training plan for a race and saw my long runs increasing, and assumed I was increasing safely. Sometimes I ended up injured or burnt out because I wasn’t paying attention to my weekly mileage, intensity, and recovery. Because just like any “rule” when it comes to fitness (or just about anything in life!) it can be a good rule of thumb, but it is unique and individual to you.
When I became a running coach, I learned how important the number of miles you run is to your success in this sport. If you are serious about running, tracking your weekly mileage and knowing how and when to build it is an extremely important and helpful tool to continue to improve your running consistently and safely.
Benefits of Building Mileage
- Running more makes you a better runner.
This one seems obvious, right? But you often hear things like “yoga made me a better runner” or “strength training made me a better runner”. While those things can strengthen your body and make you less prone to injuries so that you can run consistently, the best way to become a better runner is by running more. “Practice makes perfect” – right? Running more mileage per week accomplishes that.
2. More aerobic running builds your aerobic base.
Another pretty straight forward rule –but most people aren’t running aerobically. If you’re huffing and puffing through every run, you’re probably running too fast and need to slow down for most of your mileage. Slowing down and increasing miles simultaneously is a way to safely build base mileage, which also leads to becoming a better runner.
3. Running more miles increases resilience.
Running more can help train your brain and your mental game, too. The longer you’re out on the roads or trails, the more you can strengthen your “fatigue” muscle. You can actually train yourself to become less fatigued, both mentally and physically, by pushing those boundaries. You can do so by adding more time/distance to your runs (and therefore, building your mileage). Over time, you become more resistant to tiring out and can go further, longer, and harder from a psychological and physiological standpoint.
How to Increase Mileage
1. Be Consistent
To build mileage safely, you should to be consistent with your running schedule. This takes time and prioritizing your runs. If you want to increase safely week over week, you have to do so gradually over time. Consistency in your training is the best way to ensure that gradual, steady build. Find out what your current running schedule looks like and increase mileage on 1-2 runs per week.
Try to spread out this mileage throughout the week — don’t schedule 3 mile easy runs M-F and then increase your Saturday long run to 20 miles. Your long run should only be about 30% of your total weekly mileage.
2. The 10% Rule
The 10% rule is a good rule of thumb when it comes to increase mileage. This ensures a gradual build up. You can continue to increase by 10% for 3-5 weeks at a time, and then have a “cut back” week in your program so your body can recover from the new stress (more miles).
This is something to consider when you choose an online training plan. How many miles are you currently running? How many miles per week does
Week 1 of the plan require? You should build up to that before a goal race, rather than going from zero miles per week to 30 miles.
Count up the weekly mileage in a training plan and make sure it’s increasing ~10% (unless you are working with a coach or have other running experience to go off of).
3. Change Only ONE Variable At a Time
Speaking of the “new stress” of building miles — you should only introduce one new stressor to your body at a time. This means that when you’re building mileage, it is NOT the time to also increase your intensity.
Do not try to tack on extra speed work sessions or drastically increase your days per week running while in a mileage increase phase. Building weekly miles should be a slow and steady process for your body, so it can adapt and recover to the new stimulus and prevent overuse injuries.
4. Be Patient
Increasing mileage safely takes time. Do not get wrapped up in how many miles another person is running per week, what their paces looks like, or how many workouts they are doing. An individualized plan built based on YOUR running history and focusing on your strengths and weaknesses is the best way to be a better runner. Comparing yourself to others is not a good approach to improving!
Don’t rush the process — if you increase mileage patiently, you can do so consistently. And a gradual, steady increase is the best approach for a safe, healthy, and successful build up.
5. Analyze and Evaluate
If you are building your base mileage, you should be looking at your training logs week over week and reassessing if it’s safe to continue to move up. Are you getting injuries or aches and pains? It may be time then to back off the “building” phase because you’ve reached a peak mileage that suits you currently.
From there, you can benefit from the foundation you’ve built, and “hover” at your mileage sweet spot. This is not a sign of losing fitness or improvement, either! You can now increase intensity or other variables to continue to improve your running (remember Rule #3!)
Considerations When Increasing Mileage
- Do you have the time it takes to increase mileage right now? What other priorities might you have instead of more time out on the roads/trails?
- Do you have any niggles, aches, pains, or serious injuries? Those should be rehabbed before changing any major variables in running.
- Is your current mileage giving you the desired results? If so, consider staying where you are! If you hit a plateau, revisit building mileage and use it as an “experiment” to see if it’s right for you.
- Do you prefer speed sessions or cross-training? If so, building these long, slow base miles might not be right for your current training preference.
- Are you recovering at your current weekly mileage? If you’re constantly fatigued or getting injuries, you’re probably not recovering properly. Now is not the time to increase another stress (more miles) on your body.