How many miles a week you should run depends on what you are training for

miles per week

Runners are always looking for an edge – to get faster, to run farther, to stay injury free.

I can preach to you about the importance of nutrition, or staying hydrated, or even the kind of shoes you wear. But I believe the single biggest predictor of race day performance – behind pacing strategy – is the number of miles you run per week in a given training program.

You want to run your best marathon? Well, 25 miles a week isn’t gonna do it. And likewise, if you are training for a race of a much shorter distance, you probably don’t need a calendar full of 20-mile Saturdays to achieve your best 5K or 10K.

So how do you determine how much mileage is right for you? The answer depends on a couple of things: What race you are training for, and how experienced of a runner you are.

Disclaimer: Obviously, the more miles you run, the more fit you become. To run my best, I usually add 5 to 10 miles a week more than the chart above recommended. For instance, I’m doing 50 to 55-mile weeks during marathon training, minimum. But I know a lot of people who’ve PRd on less mileage, and so I think the blog post on this headline could easily be: The least amount of miles you can run and still put in a decent race.


What are you running

From Hal Higdon to Jack Daniels to the publishers at Runners World, there are tons experts who can give you advice on how many miles you should log each week. And really, each person has his or her own magic number. A 100-mile week for someone like Ryan Hall will not work for most of us 30- and 40-something weekend warriors who have jobs and families. (If you want to hear it straight from the experts mouths, I recommend buying one of these books:)

So I like to base my weekly mileage on what races I have upcoming. Let’s take the marathon distance. In the leadup to this race most of us throw in anywhere from two to five 20-plus mile runs during a typical 16-week training schedule. And these 20-mile runs come at the end of our peak weeks during marathon training.

But we know we can’t rest for six days and then run a 20-miler on the seventh. Just like we need to run 20-milers to help us prepare for the marathon, we need to run a certain amount of mileage during the week to prepare us for our 20-miler – or whatever the long run for that week is.

And so what we need is a base to support our long runs. And there is a general rule of thumb that goes like this: Your long run should be no more than 30 to 35 percent of your total weekly mileage. And the lower that percentage, the better. If you run 5 days a week, and four of your runs total 20 miles, you’ll need to run half of your mileage in one day to get in a 20-miler.

So if you are running 40 miles a week, your long run should probably be no more than 14 miles. To get in a 20-miler during marathon training, your weekly mileage total needs to climb into the high 50s. (Just to be clear: I don’t mean that you need to run in the high 50s before your long run. In these calculations, your total mileage includes your long run.) In this scenario, someone training for a marathon would ideally have weeks that range from 40 to 60 miles.

(A quick aside: My best times for many of my races have come following weeks of high mileage. My best 5K (19:08) came while I was doing 50-mile weeks preparing for the 2009 Dallas White Rock Marathon.)

Of course, not every race is a marathon, and so you don’t need as much miles for shorter distances. I think if you are training for a half marathon, your long run needn’t be much more than the distance of the race itself. And so a half-marathon training program that peaks at 40 miles might be adequate for most folks, though personally, when I’m not training for a longer race, injured or taking a break from running, I keep the logbook at 35 to 40 miles a week year-round.

This kind of mileage has worked for me, and yet I know lots of people who’ve had faster races on much less mileage. The key is to run enough mileage where you feel comfortable going into a race, but not too much where you are tired before a workout or even unable to complete one.

How experienced you are

We know that the more miles you run – injury free, the better a race performance you are likely to have. But you can’t go from running 15 miles a week to 70 miles a week overnight because you’ll just set yourself up for injuries.

Most experts agree that you should not increase your weekly mileage by more than 10 percent. So, if you are at 30 miles a week, your next week shouldn’t be much more than 33 to 35 miles. During this increase in mileage, you should hold at that figure for two weeks to let your body adapt, then maybe cut your mileage by 25 percent before increasing another 10 percent.

For example, you are running 25 miles a week. You increase 10 percent to 28 miles (rounded up from 27.5) and stay at 28 miles for two weeks, then you can cut back one week to 20 miles to give your body a rest and let it make the adaptations before increasing another 10 percent to 31 miles a week. And whatever you do, do not increase your speed during the same time you are increasing your weekly mileage. Doing this just invites disaster in the form of injuries or sore bones and muscles.

Veteran marathon runners know the limits to their bodies and can go from weeks in mid 20s mileage to mid 40s, though the smart runners still increase their weekly mileage slowly and with care.

The key is to listen to your body and if you need a rest day, by all means, take one, or even two.

4 thoughts on “How many miles a week you should run depends on what you are training for”

  1. That is interesting that your best 5K came during high mileage marathon training. I recently ran a 5K using RW Run Less, Run Faster. Only 3 runs/per week: speed, tempo, and long. The runs were all high intensity paces, there were no easy runs or recovery runs. . I felt good leading up to the race. But on race day, my legs just didn’t have it. I ran out of gas by 1.5 mile, I couldn’t keep my goal pace I trained for (6:20) I did PR, but I didn’t hit my goal time that I was training for.

    Now I am using a higher mileage program for my next 5K. We’ll see how it goes.

  2. The post is informative and I have read it at the right time. When is the right time to practice? Should one run in the morning or in the evening?
    Daniel Messi recently posted..max workout

  3. Great info, but what about the taper? I can find info about Half and Full Marathon tapers, but is there a good rule for shorter races? I think taking it easy the week before a 5k race would even be good, but I never seem to do it. I’ve done it for 10k, but worry about being stiff before the race so still stay out there; And now I have a 10 miler (Disney’s Tower of Terror) coming up but don’t quite know how easy I should take it the week of the race. Note: I’ve only been running since the end of Jan. 2012 and love it. I’ve seen a dramatic improvement by following plans of distance and alternating weeks of speed training. I still envy the sub 8min milers but I did manage to hit that in a 5k last month (just once though). 😉 My magic distance right now seems to be 10k. It just seems like the prefect balance, but I have this 10 miler this month a half Dec. 1st then a full in Jan 2013. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m definitely trying to figure out the magic numbers before the race. Not that I’ve figured out how to stop myself from coming out of the gate too fast yet. Doing a race with a negative split is still something I have to work on. Sorry for the ramble…Cheers.

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