I want to stress that we are all individuals — in that vein there are no magic bullets, no quick fixes, no secret recipes to success. We all have a different training style that suits our body, personality and mental strength.
So a question I’m always asked is:
“How many miles are enough for me?”
It’s a question that has been hotly debated for years! Should I train low mileage-high quality or high mileage-low quality?
To be honest the best answer is found somewhere in between.
In my mind the perfect training plan has you smartly increasing your mileage with a solid mix of high intensity and low intensity.
That’s why mileage is tricky…
Finding what works for you.
So how many miles should you run?
There are runners who are built to run 120 miles per week but there are also runners who can only handle 30 without coming up injured! Those 30 will need to be at a hard pace to make up for the lack of quantity but if done right those runners can still run incredible times.
In a perfect world where every runner is built the same and races happen in a vacuum. But it doesn’t…
I would argue that high mileage (done right) can lead to a bigger improvement than a more low mileage plan. This has to do with the improvements that only happen on a molecular level when you spend hour upon hours on your feet. (I would also argue that there is a mental toughness component that comes from taking yourself to the wall on your mileage training, but I will cover this in a later article.)
We all have a personal peak mileage and a personal peak race — it’s important to find out works best for you individually.
The Aerobic base
Authur Lydiard is the man who popularized building a big aerobic base before moving into more specific training. He coached a group of New Zealand runners, headed up by Peter Snell, that would go on to dominate the world stage. This is when a man by the name of Bill Bowerman brought Lydiard’s training philosophies back to the University of Oregon and the rest is history.
Think of the Lydiard system as a pyramid — the base of that pyramid being the amount of easy runs you put in. That base allows you build the rest of your pyramid, the bigger the base, the bigger the pyramid… hypothetically.
For years this “revolutionary” approach to distance running is how we coaches trained our athletes. Of course there was still a love for the old method that primarily relied on interval training multiples days a week… but the damage had been done and “periodized” training was here to stay.
In my own experience this can be modified a bit and if you’re more of a Jack Daniels (not that Jack Daniels) or Joe Vigil descendant like me than you would know that this philosophy isn’t the end all be all. I feel like the best set up for a training cycle is a steady diet of mileage, tempo runs, and mile pace work to build efficiency .
However, there is no denying that with just easy running alone and spending time on your feet then you will see a big benefit to your general aerobic system as well as:
increased bone density
increased capillary density
improved Vo2 max
improved running economy
usage of fat as fuel
development of slow and medium twitch muscle fibers
Mileage has it’s benefits but ultimately it comes down to what your body can handle. This depends a lot on your genetics but with the right amount of experience, trails and testing you can do a lot to optimize your performance.
Trial and error and research and obsess and learn and pass on to others…
So back to your question, “how many miles are enough for me?”
To be honest I don’t know — because I don’t know you, yet! However, I can tell you that more mileage is better than less and there’s no way of knowing until you get out there. With the right plan and progression you should be able to find your ideal mileage within a few weeks.