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Find your weekly mileage sweet spot

how many miles per week should I run

Next time you toe the line at the start of a race, survey the runners around you. Ask the runner to your left how many miles he or she ran per week leading up to the race, and then ask the runner on your right the same question. Chances are you'll get two different answers.

Some marathon training programs have runners peak around 70 miles per week. Others peak at 40 miles. Pro runners regularly log triple digit weeks. But which approach is really the best?

Less is more vs. the more, the merrier

For decades, recreational runners and scientific experts have tried to determine which strategy is optimal: high-mileage or low-mileage training. Despite research and tales from very opinionated runners and coaches, there's no clear winner in this race.

Some of the best distance runners in the world regularly aim for 130 to 160 miles per week. At the same time, plenty of runners follow the FIRST training program, developed by exercise physiologists and sub-2:50 marathoners Bill Pierce and Scott Murr. FIRST has helped runners achieve personal records — and stay injury-free — by running just three days per week. The FIRST training plan stresses the quality of miles rather than the quantity.

According to running coach and author and former Olympian Pete Pfitzinger, “more is only better to a point“. Everyone has their own mileage sweet spot, and the goal is to find how many miles per week work best for you without your body breaking down. And you may actually end up improving your marathon time by cutting down on your weekly mileage.

Your ideal miles per week

Rachel Booth — winner of Disney's Princess half marathon in 2012 and 2013 — told runners at this year's Princess Half Marathon expo that running and racing are not one size fits all. Booth, a former pro runner, confessed that when she used to run more than 70 miles per week, her body couldn't handle it. Today, she runs 50 miles per week — her mileage sweet spot.

“I get in quality miles without overdoing it, feeling overtired, or getting injured,” Booth said.

Finding your ideal mileage range is just like finding your perfect shoe, pre-race meal, and recovery method: it requires trial and error.

Booth said runners should follow the following tips to find their ideal weekly mileage:

  • Follow the 10 percent rule if you're a beginner. Up your weekly mileage by no more than 10 percent each week. This conservative approach reduces the risk of injury and prevents you from doing too much, too soon.
  • Tweak your training once you've been running consistently. If you've been running a consistent number of miles for a few weeks, you can probably afford to add in another day of running or tack on a couple of miles to an existing run. The key is to just make slight changes to your training every few weeks to keep the risk of injury low. See how your body reacts, and adjust as necessary.
  • Keep a training diary. Note your mileage, workouts, and how you feel both mentally and physically. Be detailed and review the diary regularly throughout training. Then, compare your training and race times to each other. This log can help you determine what mileage your body responds best to.

Are you a high-mileage or low-mileage runner? How many miles do you run per week?

Written by Jenilee Matz, MPH. Jen is writer, runner, and new(ish) mom living in the suburbs of Charlotte, N.C. You can follow her at www.runnerstrials.com and ask her a question below!

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