Increasing Mileage

I received a comment/question from a reader a couple weeks ago and thought the topic warranted it’s own blog post since it’s such a popular topic among runners I thought you guys would have some great information as well.

When you first began running did you go through aches and pains as your mileage increased?  What advice can you give a new runner?

I have done a post on high mileage before which has some helpful tips on how I handle, and why I run, the mileage I run (high being a relative term).  Increasing mileage without getting injured is a pretty common inquiry from runners, especially new ones, so hopefully this post is helpful.  

Although I don’t have a definite answer because every runner is different, I do have what has worked best for me.   

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Build It Up

Be smart about your mileage increase and build it up slowly.  If you have been running 30 miles per week for the last 6 months, don’t turn around and start running 50 mile weeks without building up your mileage in between.  I like to have a strong solid base at X miles before I start to increase to a higher number of miles.  The 10% rule is a safe rule that runners like to use to measure their mileage increase (increasing no more than 10% your total weekly mileage week to week). 

I don’t really follow the 10% rule much these days,  but I know what my body can handle pretty safely and know what signs to look for that I am pushing the limits.  If I was building my mileage higher to something that is a standard base mileage for me (in marathon training), I would definitely be more conscious of my increases and measure them more closely.

A recap of my marathon training cycles to show mileage/speed build over time:

#1: Peaked at 40mpw with occasional speedwork and 4 days of running.
#2: Peaked at 50mpw with one day of speedwork a week and 4-5 days of running.
#3: Peaked at 55mpw with one day of speedwork a week and 4-5 days of running.
#4: "Marathon May" short cycle, piggy backing off of #3.
#5: Peaked at 61mpw with one day of speedwork a week and 5-6 days of running.
#6: Peaked at 66mpw with one day of speedwork a week and 6 days of running.
#7: Peaked at 62mpw with two days of speedwork and 6 days of running.
#8: Peaked at 70mpw with two days of speedwork and 6 days of running
#9: Peaked at 67mpw with two days of speedwork and 6 days of running
#10: 13 days after #9, not much running at all, recovery was key
#11: Peaked at 57mpw, winging it with speedwork, 6 days of running

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Run Easy

A big no-no for me and many runners is building mileage while also increasing speed.  When you are increasing your mileage, you have to understand that you are going to be tired and your legs will need their recovery time.  Make sure to run your recovery runs easy and not push the pace too much on other runs, especially when entering into unchartered mileage territory for the first time.

I still remember my first 50 mile week ever.  I was exhausted and I finished the week in tears.  I was so upset with how “slow” my long run was, and it wasn’t even slow!  I had been so used to seeing certain paces on my long runs, but as I was building to a new weekly mileage high, I had to slow it down to compensate.  Make sure to take a step back and look at the big picture of your overall week. 

You can also see with my recap above, that I worked speedwork into my training plans as I went.  I started with occasional speed work, worked in one day a week and eventually had a tempo run and track workout in the same week.  Building my overall weekly mileage took time, as well as building in speed work and increasing days of running.  Patience is key!  

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Training Pain vs. Injury Pain

I think one of the hardest things to learn as a runner is what is normal training pain and what is injury.  When you are training for a big race, you hurt.  I don’t think I have ever gone into a marathon without some nagging ailment, but they were training pains, not injury pains.  You have to know the line for your own body and make sure you listen and don’t cross over to the bad side.

The first time I did the Pfitz 12/55 training plan, my shins ached nonstop.  I constantly wore compression socks, used my ice bucket and babied my shins.  After my marathon I made sure to take extra recovery time, and the next time I trained on the same plan it wasn’t so bad.  I still usually think of my shins as a tender area during training, but it isn’t nearly as bad as it used to be.

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Injury Prevention

When increasing your mileage, it’s really important to make sure you are taking steps to prevent injury.  While those steps are different for different people the ones that have worked best in the past for me are icing, stretching, ART, foam rolling, trigger point, compression socks, rest days and sleeping!

Some past posts on injury prevention:

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Listen To Your Body

I think this was one of the most important things I learned when I first started running.  Your body will talk to you and tell you when you need a rest day, when you need to slow down, or when you can keep pushing it.  It’s ok to take an extra rest day if you need one.  It’s ok to deviate from a training plan if you need to.  Know your body, listen, be nice to it and hopefully you can increase your mileage and stay injury free.

It’s been a long process for me and luckily my body has handled whatever I throw at it pretty well.  This did come with many different aches and pains, but luckily nothing ever turning into serious injury.  Running hurts sometimes, but taking care of your body and making sure you are taking the right injury prevention steps is a big key to success.  Also knowing your body to be able to figure out the difference between training pains vs. injury pains.

Any other tips to increasing mileage?  What has worked for you?

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14 Responses to Increasing Mileage

  1. Lisa Fine October 25, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

    Great points! I agree with so many of them, though I haven’t been able to handle the ice baths yet, but maybe that’s because I tend to cool down after a run pretty quickly, so ice baths sound unbearable.

    I’ve had some knee pain on and off the last few weeks, and am trying to get into a better routine with rolling twice a day. Even though I don’t feel like doing it (why is it such a pain when it only takes five minutes), I have been trying to force it. That and doing more crunches to strengthen my legs.

    • Aron October 26, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

      Totally understand the pain of rolling… I don’t know why it’s so hard sometimes!

  2. wymberley October 25, 2011 at 5:48 pm #

    I have my first marathon in 19 days. I have my 20 miler scheduled on Thursday and my legs are killing me. How important is this run? I cant seem to get fresh legs and I have nagging IT band. Should I push through or start my taper?

    • Aron October 26, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

      I think it just depends on if they are tired from training or if it’s injury pain… you definitely don’t want to hurt yourself with only 19 days to go! But it’s not unusual to have really tired legs right before taper. Go with your instinct on which it is – good luck!

  3. Rena @ milehogger.blogspot.com October 25, 2011 at 6:12 pm #

    Thanks so much for this post. I haven’t gotten in regular runs last month, so I’m taking a few weeks without speed work just to build up my mileage before I really start training for my A race in January.

  4. Marlene October 25, 2011 at 6:19 pm #

    Excellent post and great topic – this will be helpful to many! I think you covered all the bases? The biggest thing for me is taking recovery seriously – recovery runs, rest days, ice baths, proper sleep/hydration/nutrition etc. When we push our bodies the way we love to do, we need to respect it too!

  5. irunthere4iam October 25, 2011 at 9:27 pm #

    Great points! Back when I was in a college, I was able to accomplish 80-85 mpw, but it was such a HUGE time commitment. I had to wake up before work/class and run, then run again in the afternoon and do my really long runs on the weekend.

    I loved the high mileage and felt good, but the time it took wouldn’t work for me now.

  6. Kelly October 26, 2011 at 4:56 am #

    great post, Aron!! Love this information, and totally agree that it’s important to understand the difference between training pains and injury pains. That can make a big difference in things turning into something worse and sidelining you for a long time. Also agree that sleep, easy runs and deviating from the plan are totally necessary! Other than that, I think I’m still learning myself exactly how my body reacts to increases in mileage :)

  7. The Runners Bug October 26, 2011 at 5:35 am #

    Nice write-up! I consider myself somewhat knowledgeable about training, but it’s always great having a refresher and this is a great overview for new runners. Thanks for writing it.

  8. J October 26, 2011 at 5:49 am #

    Great post! I was just looking back at my stats from this summer and summer 2010 and comparing how I did. I can see that I have really increase my mileage and my training has improved but it has been a slow process. I have learned that recovery runs are key! Giving your body the rest it needs to vital to running faster!

  9. Tracy October 26, 2011 at 11:02 am #

    Thank you so much for this post! I ran my first half marathon this past Sunday. It was the best experience ever!! Even though, I didn’t make my goal time I ran the entire 13.1 miles. I couldn’t believe I did it. This post is really helpful since I’m a new runner and don’t want to overdo it. I’m looking forward to the 2012 running year!

  10. Amy October 26, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

    All good points! I think the hardest, and maybe most important to learn, is the last one. Listen to your body. No matter what the almighty training schedule says, if you need an extra day off TAKE IT! I think as a new runner this was the hardest part for me to learn. The lesson was forced on me after I pushed too hard an ended up with an unhappy IT band. Caused a DNS for marathon #2. Now I know. Thanks for your posts.

  11. Naomi October 27, 2011 at 7:30 am #

    I truly believe that when you get into marathons, it takes your body a year or so to adjust to it. In speaking with Sandra, it sounds like we both had leg issues with our first 2 marathons but the more we kept at it, they just kinda went away. I’ve only done 3, and am training for my 4th full, so I don’t have a whole lot of experience to draw from, but it’s been interesting to see how my body has adapted to it.

  12. Hemarie @ I Sweat Pretty October 29, 2011 at 8:55 am #

    I loved this post!

    I’m currently training for my first full, and have to constantly remember to apply what I learned while training for half marathons: foam rollers are my best friend; ice baths are a necessary evil but sometimes you can isolate the torture with a bucket; listen to your body; hydrate before, during and after runs (I always forget the after part); and don’t discredit the “shorter” runs (What? Only 10 miles tomorrow?). I’ve had 8-mile runs that were harder for me then my current longest run of 16 because I didn’t prepare properly.

    What a fun learning process! (and by “fun” I mean “painful”)

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