The key to being a successful runner is consistency. So, that leads one to believe that the more you run, the better you’ll be. This is true, up to a point. And, that point is different for everyone. So, how can you tell: how many miles should I run a day to be the best runner I can be?
I got caught up in mileage during my last marathon training block. The people going for the same time goal were running 100 miles a week, so that’s what I thought I needed. My mileage increased from the mid-50’s to the upper-90s over the course of a few months.
During that time, I was amazed by how well I was handling the training volume. However, in retrospect, I can now see I was hanging on by a thread.
My easy runs felt hard. My double run days put a strain on the family schedule. I felt like I could never eat enough to get full. I was giving my kids iPad so I could nap. I was short-tempered with frequent kid wake-ups at night or bedtime stalling.
And, then on one fateful day, I tripped while running during my mid-week long run—and that’s when things started to really unravel. I injured my hamstring and have since been on a cycle of setbacks for the past two and a half years.
How I learned I was running too much
In retrospect, a hundred miles may help other runners get faster. But it was a breaking point for me. We all have our own personal limits. Even if physically, I could have managed higher mileage, it was a strain on my family and my role as a mom and wife.
Indeed, the around-the-clock demands of a mother runner are likely higher than those without kids. I certainly don’t get 9 hours of sleep a night like twenty-something elite runners!
(Interesting note: research by WHOOP found that those who modulated workouts based on recovery were about 32% less likely to get injured. Get a $30 discount on a WHOOP here.)
Every runner must find their sweet spot in mileage. And there are different variables in determining this. In this article, I’m going to help you answer the question: how many miles should I run a day?
Does running a lot make you faster?
First thing’s first: Yes, the more you run, the better at running you will become.
Your body gets more efficient at using energy as the density in your capillaries and mitochondria increases with running. This results in being able to run longer and faster over time.
Related: 9 Running Hacks that Will Make You Run Faster
Runners who are new to running or run lower mileage will see more gains. These gains level off the more you run. This is what famed running coach, Jack Daniels, calls diminishing returns:
- If training is doubled from 20 to 40 miles per week, the percent of potential (peak ability) is increased from about 50% to about 75%
- Doubling training from 40 to 80 miles per week increases the percent of potential from 75% to about 90%.
- Fitness gains level off between 70 and 120 miles while injury risk increases.
Still, research by another renowned running coach Dr. Jason Karp found a correlation between training volume and faster race times in women who qualified for the Olympic Trials marathon.
Should I run a certain amount to run a certain pace or distance?
There is no magic number of miles to run to achieve a specific race time or run a specific distance.
The more miles a week you’re able to run while feeling physically and mentally recovered, the faster and longer you will be able to run. It is very individual.
Therefore, one runner may be able to run a Boston Qualifying time with 40 miles per week while another may need to run 60 miles per week. While some may never be able to qualify for Boston.
Every runner has a sweet spot of how many miles a week they run in which they see performance gains and don’t get injured, sick, or burnt-out, says Karp.
The trick is finding that sweet spot before you get broken.
Related: 9 Mental Training Tips for Runners from Sports Psychologists
How can I tell how many miles a day should I run (or how many miles a week should I run)?
Runners need to pay attention to how their bodies and minds feel during training to determine how many miles they run.
We are all unique. We have different bodies. We have different minds. We have different stresses and demands in our lives. When looking at mileage, it is not an apples-to-apples situation.
So, figure out what kind of fruit you are to determine what kind of mileage is sustainable.
To do this, look at:
- Your background: how much running history do you have? What was your peak mileage? How did you feel during that peak mileage? Are you injury-prone?
- Your schedule: What is your schedule like? How much time a day do you have to run? Are you able to recover afterward? Will you be able to sleep enough per night to recover from your training?
- Your training response: How do you feel on your runs? Are you able to recover between runs? Are you able to achieve quality sessions (speedwork) with the mileage?
- Your ability: How fast is your pace? Are you spending lots of time on your feet when you run?
All these factors help determine how much you should run a day and how much you should run a week.
You may be able to physically handle running 80 miles per week…BUT you have small kids and don’t get a solid night of sleep most nights. This factor will hurt recovery and heighten the risk of getting a running injury.
Related: 6 Steps to Return to Running After Injury
OR, you may be able to physically handle running 10 miles a day, but you don’t have the time to do it at this stage in your life.
All these factors come into play when determining mileage goals.
Is it better to run for time or distance?
For most runners, it’s better to focus on running for time rather than distance. Your body doesn’t know how far you ran. Rather, your body knows how much time you spent on your feet.
This is an important distinction for slower runners. An 8-mile run for someone who runs a 7:30 pace will need to simply block off an hour to run. For a slower runner, 8-miles may be upwards of two hours and require more recovery time.
Running for time rather than miles makes it easier to fit running into your schedule. You know exactly how long it will take to get dressed, warm-up, run, and recover. It also allows runners to stay true to their easy pace which is key to getting fitter and preventing injuries.
Related: Benefits of an Easy Running Pace
Laura Norris, the Mother Runners co-coach and coach at Laura Norris Running, advises:
- A well-trained runner should spend no more than 90 minutes a day running.
- A mid-week workout can be slightly longer.
- A weekend long run can be 25-30 percent of the weekly mileage.
- If you’re spending more than 90 minutes most days running, you’re running too much.
How much should I run in a day?
Thus, it’s impossible to say that a runner needs to run a certain mileage a day to achieve a certain race goal. However, studies do show that physiological adaptations begin to occur at 30 minutes of running, so it’s best to aim to run for running at least a half an hour in a run session.
“Thirty minutes is ideal, much better than 20, but not much worse than an hour,” said Daniels. “A 10-minute run is certainly better than nothing, but at that clip, you spend almost as much time showering and getting dressed as you do in your shoes.”
This comes with a caveat: if you’re a beginner runner, you will need to work up to this time and you will likely need to begin with a run/walk regimen.
How many days should I run a week?
It’s better to first increase the number of days you run a week to increase weekly mileage than elongating running sessions. By increasing the number of days you run a week, you multiply the training stimulus and thereby multiply the physiological adaptations such as capillary and mitochondria density.
Therefore, running three days a week is better than two days a week with the same mileage. Running four days a week is better than running three days a week with the same mileage, and so forth.
However, runners should also pay attention to how many rest days they need. For example, a runner may need 3 rest days a week. At this point, you increase the amount of running you do per day.
How should I increase my mileage per week?
Mileage should be increased in a systematic way. A running coach is best to guide you based on your running ability.
A standard way to increase running mileage is by 10 percent each week with a twenty to thirty percent reduction in mileage every fourth week to allow your body to absorb the stress.
Is it better to run more or faster?
It is better to run more up to a point at which point it’s important to do speedwork. Your pace will plateau with only easy to moderate paced running. To run faster, you must run fast.
Thus, training volume is important but not at the expense of training intensity which really moves the needle in maximizing cardiovascular and neuromuscular fitness.
Your training volume should be at a level that doesn’t inhibit your training intensity. Or, in other words, quantity should not negatively impact the quality of your running. If you are running so much that you don’t feel recovered enough to run harder workouts, then you are running too much.
How do I know if I’m running too much?
There are signs you are running too much which have been associated with what’s called Overtraining Syndrome, “a condition of maladapted physiology in the setting of excessive exercise without adequate rest.”
15 Signs You Are Running Too Much
Here are 15 signs you could have Overtraining Syndrome and/or are running too much:
- Decreased appetite
- Low libido
- Declining or plateaued performance
- Not recovering between runs
- Easy runs feel hard
- Hard workouts feel really hard
- You feel lethargic or exhausted most of the time
- You have difficulty sleeping
- You’re irritable
- Your resting heart rate that is 3-5 beats higher than normal
- You feel unmotivated
- You can’t focus
- You’re getting injured
- You have lots of aches and pains
- You’re getting sick frequently.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s time to reduce your mileage or take a break from running.
I can help you find your sweet spot of mileage. Check out my coaching services to learn more about how we can work together!