Spring is in the air. And runners come out of their hibernation and start running in the fair weather. They soak in the sunshine. The chirping birds. The cherry blossoms. But also, flirt with injury—because most runners suffer from the disease of “too much too soon.” So how do we increase running mileage safely?
I want to help you reach your spring running goals and summer running goals by increasing mileage in a sustainable way that gets you fit and keeps you off the sideline.
A lot of runners get injured because our cardiovascular systems adapt faster than our musculoskeletal systems. So, as we run, our hearts and lungs get stronger and push the pace before our bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscles are ready. Eventually, they get pushed too hard and break (or get inflamed or torn).
In this article, I’m going to share with you how to safely increase running mileage so that you can enjoy the beautiful spring weather with no pain.
First, I will answer:
- How do I increase my mileage running?
- How quickly can you increase mileage running?
- What is the ten percent rule?
So, let’s get going.
How do I increase my mileage running?
The best way to increase mileage running is to not increase too much. For most runners, adding no more than 10 to 15 percent of total mileage a week will keep them healthy while progressing fitness.
Read below for more details on how to increase mileage running.
How quickly can you increase mileage running?
If you want to quickly increase mileage running, you’re bound to get injured. In really no case should you double your mileage, or progress more than 10 to 30 percent week over week. Adding 10 percent a week is a safe and simple way to increase mileage.
Related: 36 Running Tips to Try in 2023
What is the ten percent rule?
The 10 percent rule states that a runner should not add more than 10 percent of total running volume week to week. Therefore, if you run 15 miles a week, the next week you would run 16.5 miles. The rule is a standard rule not backed by science but is a conservative and safe approach to increasing mileage.
7 Tips to Safely Increase Mileage This Spring
Okay, now here are the ways to safely increase your mileage running this spring.
Track your mileage.
First and foremost, you need to track your mileage so you know how much you’re actually running. You can do this in your smartphone notes, on a paper calendar, in Excel using an app like Strava or Map My Run, or in a journal like Lauren Fleshman’s Believe Journal.
I use Strava and the Believe journal to get more gradual about how I’m feeling mentally and physically about my training. My Garmin watch also logs my mileage.
Related: Garmin Metrics Explained
By tracking how much you are running, you’re able to ensure you are staying consistent and not running too much too soon.
For example, for a week or two, running may be difficult due to weather or life—and then you have an open week with beautiful sunny days and carpe diem on your runs. This is dangerous as you could jump from a couple of miles of running up to 20 miles in a week. This is a recipe for injury.
So how do you increase running mileage? You must increase mileage gradually. The most oft-used benchmark for increasing running mileage is increasing mileage no more than 10 percent a week, aka the 10 percent rule.
Related: How Much Should You Run in a Day
For example, if you are running 20 miles a week, the next week you would only two miles.
The ten percent rule is not grounded in science and there are exceptions to every rule. It’s a good measuring stick to start with but your running experience and injury history play a role.
For experienced runners: if you are an experienced runner coming back from a break, you can likely increase your mileage more quickly. For many runners, you would do a reverse taper, adding as much as 25-30 percent of weekly mileage at a time depending on the length of the layoff.
Here are caveats to the 10 percent rule:
- If you are a new runner, it may be better to repeat weeks of running volume before increasing mileage.
- Many running coaches subscribe to famed run coach Jack Daniels’s increase-adapt pattern where you hold mileage steady for 3-4 weeks to allow for skeletal adaptation. Then you increase mileage by 30 percent.
- If your training volume is low (below 15 miles per week), you may be able to add more than 10 percent per week.
- Higher mileage runners will increase by less than 10 percent a week because 10 percent is a larger number. Lower mileage runners can increase more than 10 percent otherwise they would only add a mile at a time for months.
- Once you hit close to your baseline, you hold mileage steady or increase only 5 percent a week.
- All runners should include a cutback week (more on this below).
Related: Benefits of an Easy Running Pace
Reduce mileage regularly.
Regardless of your running experience, every runner should increase what is called a “cutback week” or “down week” in which overall training volume is reduced by 20 to 30 percent to allow the body to recover, absorb the training, and build back stronger.
These cutback weeks are typically placed every 3 to 4 weeks, sooner if a runner is injury-prone or brand new to running. After you reduce mileage, your body is then ready to take on more stress and progress the training.
Repeat training weeks.
It can also be helpful to repeat training weeks including volume and mileage to allow your body to adjust before introducing more stimulus. For newer runners, or runners who have taken a long break, I will hold the mileage steady for several weeks before progressing to ensure the body is adapting to the new stress.
Introduce a new variable one at a time.
There are several ways to introduce training stress to push your body to adapt to be stronger and faster. These ways include more mileage, hills, and faster running.
However, you don’t want to introduce more than one of these variables at a time. This is another recipe for injury. Instead, you want to build your base of mileage first. Then once you are in a good steady spot where your body has become comfortable with the mileage, then you can introduce speed, such as strides, or hilly terrain or hill repeats.
Related: How Running Strides Makes You Faster
If you are an injury-prone runner or a runner who uses more fast twitch muscles than slow twitch (e.g. you are a boss at sprints but long, slow runs tire you out), it’s a wise idea to decrease mileage when introducing speed or hills.
Getting a running coach can help guide you in this programming.
Related: 10 Reasons to Get a Running Coach
One of the biggest mistakes new runners—well, all runners—make, is running a majority of their runs too fast. For most runners, eighty percent of your running volume should be at an easy pace.
What do I mean by easy? I mean that it feels comfortable and controlled. You can hold a conversation. You don’t feel gassed when you’re done. You aren’t wanting to stop during the run. For most mother runners I coach, their heart rate is below 150 (but this is determined by many variables, including age).
Why is running easy so critical? Because running easy is gentler on your joints, bones, muscles, and soft tissues. It allows your body to still adapt by doing things like creating more capillaries and mitochondria so you can use oxygen efficiently—but without the stress.
This allows you to run more without getting injured.
For most new runners, all of your mileage will be easy. But after you’ve built a steady base, you can start introducing speedwork (first with strides) to help wake up those fast twitch muscles and allow your body to move more efficiently.
Have a ceiling.
You can’t increase mileage until the end of time, there must be a ceiling. For instance, this marathon training cycle, my mileage reached 80 miles per week. If I subscribed to the ten percent rule, my training load would be climbing well into the triple digits—not sustainable for me and most certainly a divine recipe for injury.
Most runners will have a baseline mileage that they will stick to for a training cycle (about four months). Then it’s natural to cycle down and build back up again—usually ten percent more than the peak mileage of the previous cycle.
For example, I returned from a long break due to multiple injuries last year. My training cycle back built me to the upper 60s. For the next cycle, my mileage peaked at 80 miles per week—a ten percent increase. However, for my next training cycle, I won’t necessarily increase into the 90s as I feel 80 is my ceiling. It feels just hard enough without riding the redline.
Being honest with how you feel is key. You don’t want to feel overly tired, taxed, sore, or dreading your runs on a regular basis. These are signs of overtraining syndrome.
Your running mileage should feel a bit outside your comfort zone and satisfying—but not burdensome.
If you want guidance with your run training, including strength training, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:
- Postpartum Training Plan
- After a Break Training Plan
- 5k Training Plans
- 10k Training Plans
- Half Marathon Training Plans
- Marathon Training Plans
- Strength Training Plan