How To Find Your Optimal Mileage Sweet Spot
Just yesterday while speaking with a colleague, I was asked how much I run each month. When I responded anywhere from 75-100 miles most months, she seemed shocked. “I feel like my body would start to break down if I ran that much,” was her comment. Maybe. Maybe not.
Determining how many miles you want to log each day, week, month or year is really a very personal decision. There are also many things to take into consideration when trying to hone in on your personal sweet spot.
Determining How Many Miles To Log
When a runner asks me if I think they are running enough miles each month, the first thing I ask is, “Enough for what?” That is typically met with a puzzled look.
Each athlete needs to ask him or herself what their purpose or objective is.
Running For Happiness
If you run because it makes you happy and you just enjoy doing it, there is no magic number. These runners are just looking to run when the spirit moves them to do so.
Maybe your preference is to run with a group or close friend. If that is the case, you are putting no pressure on yourself for performance and the numbers really don’t matter to you.
However, if you slack on running and let too much time pass between your runs, you can find it hard to do. My advice if you just want to run when you want because it is your happy place is to try to get out at least 2-3 times each week in order to keep some base. That way, you never have to suffer through reconditioning your body.
People who run strictly for cardiovascular benefits should relax. You can even get that through fast walking! If heart health is your primary goal, you only need 150 minutes of heart-pumping activity each week.
When you think about it, that does not have to equate to any particular number of miles spent pounding the pavement (or engaging in any other type of activity, for that matter). You just need to get your heart rate up and sweat a little!
What Are Your Objectives?
This is the biggie for most people. When you consider what you are training for, there are a few key questions in order to determine your optimal mileage as you prepare.
Essential questions include:
- What distance race are you preparing for?
- What is your goal for that distance: Completion? A personal record? Something else?
- What is your race experience?
- What is your training experience in regards to distance, mileage, etc?
- What are you looking to get out of your training?
- How much are you willing to put into your training?
Okay rookies. Let’s dig in.
The distance you are preparing for is a key component to determining your mileage. If you’re training for a 5K, you obviously can run fewer miles than if you are training for a marathon. Makes sense, right? When you are training for a marathon your long run quickly gets into double digits, which adds to your weekly and monthly mileage very fast.
So then we need to drill that down a bit more. On your first marathon, if you are just doing it for the experience and to see what you can do, you can get by with way fewer miles than if you are gunning for a PR. My friends who are training for a Boston Marathon Qualifying time (BQ), often log twice as many miles as my friends who are working toward completing a marathon. Your goals for the specific race really make a difference.
Both race and training experience also matter. If you have run dozens of 5Ks and you are hoping for a personal record (PR), you may decide to log a bit more miles. However, another school of thought might have you cutting back some on the mileage, and focusing on more speed. For some athletes, dropping overall mileage a bit and spending time on speed is a great way to get faster. If your goal is speed, your sweet spot for that moment might be less than other times in your year.
In addition to that, if you normally run about 60 miles a month, you can’t suddenly double that without risking injury. Remembering the 10% rule, where coaches encourage you to only add mileage by about 10% each week, you should not jump up in mileage too quickly. This is one respect where your training experience matters.
Another consideration is what you are looking to get out of your training. Personally, I am at a place in my life where I am running for general fitness and stress release. Having said that, I like to sit somewhere between 80 and 100 miles a month. I can do that without risking injury. This seems to be a sweet spot for me. Honestly, I can even slack one week and pull a low mileage week, then make it up the next, without problem. The balance seems to work for me.
The last piece to think about is what you are willing to invest in your training. You can want a BQ time, might hire an amazing coach, can buy the best equipment, but if you are not willing to invest the hours necessary pounding the pavement, you won’t get the results you are looking for.
To find your personal sweet spot and to remain satisfied with your training, the best thing you can do is be honest and upfront with yourself about how much time and energy you plan to invest. Your optimal mileage to reach your goals may not match up with the time you have (or are willing) to invest.
What Is Considered High Mileage
Whenever I talk to athletes about mileage goals, the conversation often turns to high mileage. When I discuss high mileage, I always preface it. High mileage for me looks much different than high mileage for someone else.
My daughter ran 130 miles last month. That was her highest mileage month ever. I have friends who routinely run 180-240 miles a month. That’s high mileage for them. For me? That is not even something I can fathom or wrap my head around.
Guess what? When I just started out and ran two miles three days each week, looking at my first half marathon training plan that had me running anywhere from 12-20 miles each week in the first month made me sweat!
The point is, high mileage and optimal mileage differ from one athlete to the next. It’s your journey. Personalize it and make it your own.
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