You signed up for a race … so you wonder: how many miles a week should I run to reach my goal? A weekly or monthly mileage target seems like a logical place to begin laying out your training schedule.
But is it?
Take the experience of Ryan Hall, for example, a very successful American elite marathoner with a PR of 2:04:58 (at the 2011 Boston Marathon). Right out of college, he began his career as a professional marathon runner, regularly logging 110 to 140 miles per week. You can read more about his training here and here, but suffice it to say, Ryan took an extremely high-mileage approach. Sure, to compete with the world’s best marathoners you need to train a lot, but Hall acknowledges that his emphasis on high weekly mileage may have been counter-productive.
“What I would say now, looking back, is I wish I would have never added up my weekly mileage. [Instead I should] Work out hard and then recover really well, and don’t worry about running volume, just for volume’s sake.”
–elite marathoner Ryan Hall, who retired from the sport at age 33.
Hall learned the hard way that his training mileage was unsustainable. And that lesson came in the form of recurring bouts of extreme fatigue that plagued his career and eventually led to his retirement from professional running at just 33 years of age.
From the mindful running perspective, his fatigue level is part of his body’s natural biofeedback system sending the message that his training volume was excessive. From this perspective, fatigue isn’t an obstacle to be overcome or “push through” but rather, is a guidepost for adapting and improving one’s training techniques. Fatigue in runners is actually very common, and something with which I also have personal experience.
But you don’t have to be a professional marathoner or ultrarunner to experience extreme exercise-related fatigue.
When the body is unable to recover sufficiently from all the various types of stress to which it’s exposed, it breaks down more with each workout and you lose fitness rather than gain it. If left unchecked, a simple case of fatigue, which can normally be corrected with a couple weeks’ rest, can deteriorate into a more severe case of adrenal fatigue.
So what can you learn from Ryan Hall? The first question to ask yourself when planning your training plan is not, “how much mileage should I do?” but rather, “do I trust my body to tell me what it can handle?” A yes answer means you’re ready for a mindful running approach for your next race. Certainly, to run a marathon for example, you need to have the endurance to cover 26.2 miles.
However, weekly mileage is only one training metric, and more and more experts agree that it’s not the most important one for determining success.
Less quantifiable metrics, such as the quality of your recovery, sleep and daily energy and motivation levels reveal far more about the productivity and quality of your run training.
From week to week these factors will ebb and flow in their effect on your training quality. Their effect on your ability to train is called Mindful Running Readiness. Mindful Running Readiness (MRR) is your capacity for training based on your total stress load. When stress is high, such as poor sleep and a bad day at the office, your MRR is low, which means you have a limited capacity for handling a tough workout.
Some of the ways the body tells you that your mileage is too high include:
- lingering fatigue for hours or days after a long run or race
- waning motivation for running
- running feels like a chore instead of fun
- excessive stiffness or soreness at the beginning of a run
- disrupted sleep patterns
- weight gain despite increased activity level
- declining performance in speed workouts or races
But when you’re well rested, well fed, hydrated and emotionally psyched, then your MRR is high, which means you’re ready to take on more mileage.
As you start training for your next race, get clarity on how stress is affecting you and whether your weekly mileage is getting you closer to your goals or putting you at risk for burnout.
Download a sample of the Mindful Running Training Log to get started.
Are you running the right weekly mileage?
Use this 12-page sample to track training trends and lifestyle factors that tell whether your mileage is too much, too low or just right.