How Much Should You Actually Run per Week?
So you’ve decided that 2018 is your year. The year in which you’ll take up running, sort out your diet and get fitter, healthier and happier than ever. Congratulations! It’s a decision you’ll never regret.
You’ll soon discover, though, that the road to becoming a consistent runner is paved with many challenges. It’s a road riddled with freezing early-mornings, endless mind battles and more laundry than you could have ever imagined. Sounds like fun, right? Because it isn’t. Not at first. Becoming a runner sucks before it gets better. But it does get better. If you keep at it, in a sensible and informed way, it’s guaranteed to get better. And, when it does, you’ll start reaping the countless, scientifically proven benefits of running. And you won’t want to stop. Promise.
Getting the Basics Right
So why then do so many beginner runners quit before they get to the good stuff? The answer is simple: They don’t tackle this potentially life-changing journey in a prudent way. And why should they? Because jumping in, all fired up with enthusiasm, but ignoring the ground rules, is sure to leave you burnt out or injured before you can say “hill repeat”. It’s that simple.
So do yourself a favor and do things right from the get-go. Get the green light from your doctor before you start. Get fitted with a good pair of running shoes that are right for your feet. Invest in some functional, comfortable running gear. And, perhaps most import of all, resist the urge to get so swept up in enthusiasm that you go too far, too fast, too soon. Because if you do, the chances are good that you’ll soon find yourself exhausted, hurt and ready to quit.
Then, once the basics are in place, the next obvious question is this: How much should you be running every week? Surely the more you run right from the onset, the sooner you’ll start seeing (and feeling!) progress, right? Wrong. Beginner running is the one place where less is definitely more. (Within reason, of course!)
So How Much Should You Be Running in a Week?
So exactly how much should you be running in a week in order to see results and reap rewards, but also not injure or overtax yourself? While the question is a simple one, the answer is understandably more complex. Runners are all unique, with different genes, sporting and medical backgrounds and different jobs, goals and aspirations. To date science has also not been clear-cut in pinpointing a one-size-fits-all approach to training mileage. According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, a running regime consisting of no more than three running days per week was best in reducing mortality. The ideal running pace was identified as slow to average, with no more than a total of one to 2.4 hours spent running per week. And while these figures sound ideal for beginner runners, seasoned runners might frown at its prudence.
A review study, published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings in 2015, appear to echo these findings. The review concluded that running as little as five to six miles per week can significantly improve an individual’s health. The lead author of the review also stated that as few as one to two runs per week can be very beneficial.
A third study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in 2014, found quite the opposite, though. The latter study concluded that a running frequency of six times per week, with a total running time of nearly three hours, resulted in the lowest risk of death.
So which is it then? It’s important to note that all of the mentioned studies had their limitations, including study size and set-up. And therefore perhaps the most important and encouraging take-away should be that even a little jogging was found to be more beneficial than no jogging at all. Running five to ten minutes per day, even at a speed of slower than six miles per hour, was found to markedly reduce the risks of death from all causes, and specifically cardiovascular disease. So your decision to get moving was undoubtedly the right one.
Some Guidelines to Find Your Sweet Spot
But that still doesn’t fully answer our question. Surely there must be some set of guidelines in terms of the ideal distance or time run per week in order to keep you safe, but still allow you to progress? Thankfully there is. Former Olympic marathoner turned running coach, Ed Eyestone, lists the following six rules for determining your weekly mileage sweet spot:
- The longer the event you’re training for, the higher the mileage you’ll have to put in. An ultra-marathoner will quite obviously have to put in more miles than a 5K fun runner.
- Your mileage requirements will increase if your performance goals increase. Someone aiming to finish a race will therefore require less mileage in training than someone aiming for a new PB or an age-group win.
- Take cognizance of quality miles. In other words, slightly lower your weekly mileage if you’re going to clock quality sessions like tempo runs, track workouts and hill repeats. These types of workouts obviously take more out of your body than simply running at the same, slow to easy pace on all your weekly runs.
- You become good at what you continually practice. If you always run long, slow miles, your body will become used to running long, slow miles. This will serve you well in preparation for, say, a marathon, but will do little to improve your 5K time.
- Always allow for adaptation when going longer. However tempting it may be, never increase your long run mileage by more than 10% per week. It is important to give your body enough time to adapt to an increased work load before increasing it even further.
- Health trumps injury every time. Clocking high mileage from the get-go will almost certainly sideline you with niggles or injury sooner or later. So rather be conservative with your mileage and increases to stay in the game.
Have a good, long look at the mileage you have planned for this week and see if it ticks all of the above boxes. If it doesn’t, scale down.
Some More Concrete Guidelines
And if Eyestone’s guidelines are still a bit vague for your liking, consider these general guidelines:
Most elites can safely clock 70 to 80 miles per week when training for a 5K, 80 to 100 when training for a 10K, 10 to 110 when training for a half marathon and 100 to 140 when training for a marathon.
The rest of us are, however, better off sticking to figures that are somewhat more conservative. This includes a weekly mileage total of 20 to 25 miles when training for a 5K, 25 to 30 miles when training for a 10K, 30 to 40 miles when training for a half marathon and 30 to 50 miles when training for a marathon.
The Importance of Sticking to a Training Program
So if you’re just starting out, find a running program that ticks all the above boxes and works up to the general mileage guidelines listed for mortals. Many running coaches advocate programs that spread weekly running mileage out over at least three days, and then allow for some form of cross-training on at least two non-running days. And once you’ve found your ideal program, stick to it. Do not exceed the listed daily and weekly time and mileage goals, even if you feel like it. This will give your body enough time to adapt to the rigors of running without risking injury; something that will pay off in future.
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