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Mileage and Performance

In the book Bowerman and the Men of Oregon, author Kenny Moore writes, "There are only two training questions, both simple and haunting...What should I do and how much should I do it?". We invited Hansons Marathon Method author and professional runner, Luke Humphrey, to discuss the merits of adding mileage and how much mileage you should add to your marathon training program.


As athletes and coaches, a lot of our discussions involve our weekly mileage. There is a lot of talk in many new “minimalist” type training programs revolving around the idea that we can cut many of the so-called junk, or easy, mileage and put an emphasis on more quality with less frequency during the week. While I have seen people have some short term success with this type of program, I remain an advocate of running the mileage you are capable of in order to sustain long term development and maximize performance. However, with that said, I receive a lot of questions about mileage- whether running too much and getting injured, or wanting to run more without knowing how. Let’s discuss some of the factors you should consider when settling on your peak mileage for a segment. (note: we are discussing marathon training for this particular discussion)

The first item you should consider is your goal. I know it sounds obvious, but knowing what you are looking to do, gives you an idea of what you need to accomplish in your training. For instance, if you are looking to simply complete a marathon, then your weekly mileage can be far less than that of someone looking to qualify for the Olympic Trials. Take the Hansons Marathon Method as an example. Our Advanced program peaks out around 65 miles per week. In my years of coaching this method, I have noticed that the men running this program who are competitive can get under 3 hours fairly comfortable and women can get down to the 3:10 range. (I would say up to the Master’s range for both groups, then we need to add another discussion topic) If they want to run faster, then we need to talk about adding to the weekly volume. Luckily, with the way the program is designed, adding mileage to the easy days and long runs makes adding volume quite doable.

Quick Reference:

Goal:

Men Peak Mileage

Women Peak Mileage

2:30-2:45

80-90 miles/week

90-110 miles/week

2:45-3:00

60-80 miles/week

80-90 miles/week

3:00-3:30

50-60 miles/week

60-80 miles/week

3:30-4:00

40-50 miles/week

40-60 miles/week

The next step you have to consider is outside forces- which might include work, family commitments, etc. Adding more mileage means committing more time to training. If you cannot commit more time at the expense of other more important prioritize, then you may want to consider backing off your original goal. 

One of the most common reasons for shying away from more mileage is the fear or history of getting injured when increasing mileage. When I really get into athletes who state this, I have found that the cause isn’t the mileage itself, but how they structure it. One, the athlete adds way too much too soon. No, I’m not going to tell you 10% every third week, or 1 mile for every run you run during the week. Those are very basic guidelines, but you do need to allow yourself time to adjust. So, if you are running 60 miles a week and want to go to 80, the first week adjusting shouldn’t be 80. Give yourself a good 4 weeks to get up to where you want to be. With that said, I would run the mileage and keep the intensity manageable.

Intensity is also key when adding mileage. You’ll probably have to be doing some workouts during your ramp up period. I don’t see big issues with that. What I do have issues with is when people run their easy days and recovery days too fast. You have three main factors involved with training- Frequency (days/times you are running a week), Time (or  volume), and  Intensity. The more you adjust, the more likely you are to have something go wrong. So, take your easy days easy. Don’t make large adjustments to both intensity and volume. Volume first, intensity second.

Considering all these factors may seem like adding mileage may not worth the gain in performance. That is really up to the individual. Everyone has different situations and I feel that everyone needs to take a realistic approach as to what they can do. Personally, I feel that you can do the mileage and are looking for increases in long term performance, then do it. Adding mileage can be gradual while still yielding cumulative adaptations. As you can see in our chart, not all increases in mileage need to be drastic to reach a higher level in performance ability. Take these considerations and use them towards your next training block!



Luke Humphrey has been a member of the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project for 10 years. While training with the program he matriculated from Oakland University with a M.S. in Exercise Science and founded Hansons Coaching Services. He recently co-authored the book Hansons Marathon Method with Keith & Kevin Hanson. The book has become a top-seller in the Health & Fitness category at Amazon.com.