Mileage can be defined as the distance one accumulates over a period of time. For example, someone might say they averaged 50km/week over 3 months while training for a marathon.
Mileage can be a tricky topic. Runners are unique based on age, gender, athletic background, body type, time commitments etc. But together with pace, how much mileage to run is one of the most important aspects of a training program.
In this article, I would like to highlight a few key points:
- Consistent mileage over an extended period of time (years) is one of the key factors that determines your marathon result. This should not be a surprise, but in general, if you consistently put in more training, the better your time should be. Do note however, that your improvement and result is very specific to yourself. Often in training, we get caught up comparing our results with our peers, and in the process, get jealous and lose joy of running.
- There is a minimum mileage for marathon training. Again, this varies between individuals, but I would say less than 50km/week is going into the zone of being underprepared and risking injury. Of course, it is not impossible to complete a marathon and perhaps even do “well” on less mileage, but it is important to respect the distance and not risk injury unnecessarily.Many folks jump straight off the couch from hardly any running to trying to complete a marathon. For many of these folks, the hard truth is that they are not sufficiently prepared and should probably start off with shorter distances such as the 10k or a half-marathon first, so as to build up the training background sufficient to handle a marathon.
- Structure of mileage. If we were to average say 70km/week, how should we spread this out? Should it be 10km done seven days a week? Or is two days of 35km better? In general, it is better to have a variety of training stimulus, and we achieve this by varying the distances and paces run. A common weekly structure for distance runners involves a longer slower run on the weekend (e.g at least 2hrs), a medium long run (e.g 90mins) or a tempo run during the week, and a shorter faster run. Especially key in marathon training is the weekend long run, which in most training plans will build up to approximately 30km.
- Progression. Mileage takes time to build. In an age of instant gratification, we are used to seeing immediate, or at least, very quick results. But the reality is that our hearts, muscles and bones take years to adapt to the demands put on them during training. Even for the elite distance runners, what we often see is a progression where they average, for instance, 60miles/week in college, and then increasing by 10miles/week each YEAR.
As described earlier, mileage may be higher or lower for different folks. But what is also important is how to get the most out of our training mileage and be as efficient as possible, because although running more helps, it also takes us more time, and increases our risk of injury. Our objective should thus be to run X time off the lowest possible mileage.
Hopefully these pointers help you understand mileage a bit better and keep you running happy!