How to Increase Running Mileage Safely

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Ready to up your mileage? Here are a few ways to do it safely. How to Increase Running Mileage Safely www.runnerclick.com

So you’ve just completed your first 5K and you loved it! Now, you’ve set your sights on a 10K or even a half marathon. But, how do you get there? How do you increase running mileage gradually to adequately prepare for longer races, all while avoiding injury?

It turns out that there are plenty of ways to safely up your miles so you are ready for that next—longer—race.

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The old school 10% rule

Based on the theory of gradual adaptation, the 10% rule states that you should never increase running mileage more than 10% over that of the previous week.

So, if you are running 10 miles per week, the 10% rule would have you increasing your mileage to 11 the following week, 12 after that, 13 next, and so on.

Although that may seem to be painstakingly slow—you have a half marathon to train for!—it will safeguard you from overuse injuries such as shin splints and runner’s knee.

Probably the most difficult aspect of the 10% rule is the mental one. You felt great in that 5K and you are eager to log more miles and run longer races.

But, left to your own devices, you might find yourself increasing your mileage too quickly which can make you more susceptible to injury and illness and that can dramatically curtail your training and have you cheering from the sidelines on race day.

A study published in the October 2014 issue of the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy supports the 10% rule.

Researchers followed 873 new runners during their first year of taking up the sport. Of those runners, 202 had injuries during that period. Researchers compared the mileage of those who were injured and found that those who increased their mileage by more than 30% had a higher rate of injury. Those injuries included runner’s knee, iliotibial band syndrome, and shin splints, among others. Study authors noted that those who increased their mileage by 10% or less over a two-week period had fewer injuries.

The 10% rule is a time-tested and proven way to safely increase running mileage. It requires patience and the ability to keep yourself in check though. If those aren’t your strong points, there are other options that may be better suited to your mind-set.

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The equilibrium method

As you might expect, Jack Daniels, the world-renowned running coach, exercise scientist, two-time Olympic medalist and author of Daniel’s Running Formula, has his own method for increasing running mileage.

He suggests not following the 10% rule and instead recommends running the same amount of mileage per week for at least four weeks. This allows the body to adjust to a specific level of stress before increasing volume, in this case, miles.

His principle is to increase your weekly mileage by as many times as you run per week. So, if you log seven runs per week, you can safely increase your mileage by 7 miles. Then you would stay at that mileage for four weeks before increasing it again.

He cautions never to increase your weekly mileage by more than 10 miles per week.

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The down week way

Although it seems counterproductive, the down week way of increasing running mileage actually includes a week of decreased mileage in your training program.

The reasoning behind the down week is that it gives you body the chance to recover from particularly strenuous workouts, a string of races or just the additional stress of running more miles.

A week of reduced mileage gives your leg muscles the chance to heal more completely than if you continued with the same or even more mileage.

A 1990 study showed that a protein—creatine kinase—which is an indicator of muscle inflammation and damage, dropped by almost 60% in 10 highly trained distance runners during a down week.

The study, “Reduced training maintains performance in distance runners,” was published in the February issue of the International Journal of Sports Medicine.

A properly timed down week can mean the difference between having an overuse injury and staying injury-free.

A 2012 study found that injury rates start to creep up when weekly running mileage increases by about 25 to 30 percent. Published in the June 2013 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the study was titled “Can GPS be used to detect deleterious progression in training volume among runners?”

So, if you have been increasing your weekly mileage and running more miles than you ever have, the recommendation is that you incorporate a down week into your training every three to four weeks. During the down week, you should decrease your weekly mileage by approximately 30 percent.

The down week method is especially helpful if you have suffered from overuse injuries in the past, a stress fracture in particular.

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A sneaky way to increase running mileage

Ensuring that you warm-up and cool down properly are important for any runner but even more critical for those who are putting additional stress on the body in the way of more miles.

And if you are recovered from a previous running injury, the warm-up and cool-down are critical for helping to keep you injury-free.

Adding a few extra miles before and/or after your main run is fairly easy especially because they will be at a slower pace and intensity which translates to less impact and stress on the body.

A very slow warm-up jog or jog/walk of 5 to 10 minutes could add a mile to your daily total while gradually increasing your heart rate so that when the warm-up is over, you are ready to run at an increased pace.

Similarly, a cool-down jog or jog/walk of 5 to 10 minutes could add another mile or so to your total while gradually decreasing your heart rate and allowing you to incrementally slow down and control your breathing.

An appropriate cool-down allows your body to return to homeostasis so you can resume or start your daily activities with a spring in your step instead of dragging your heels.

No matter how you choose to increase your weekly mileage, the most important thing is for you to listen to your body and error on the side of caution and fewer miles if necessary.

Increasing your mileage safely can be like taking two steps forward and one step back. It may be better, in the long run, to maintain or even decrease weekly mileage for a time so that you can make a greater gain in the future.

Sources

  1. Amby Burfoot, The 10-Percent Rule, website
  2. Jack Daniels, How to Increase Your Weekly Mileage, website
  3. John Davis, Why Are Down Weeks Good for Runners?, website
  4. J.A. Houmard, D.L. Costill, J.B. Mitchell, S.H. Park, R.C. Hickner, J.N. Roemmich, Reduced training maintains performance in distance runners., online journal
  5. R.O. Nielsen, P. Cederholm, I. Buist, H. Sørensen, M. Lind, S. Rasmussen, Can GPS be used to detect deleterious progression in training volume among runners?, online journale
  6. Susan Paul, The Smart Way to Increase Mileage, website
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