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How Many Miles Do You REALLY Have To Run In Training?

One elite runner and coach breaks down those magical mileage numbers to hit before running a race. But is there an actual number?

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As always it’s hard to narrow down one question from all the topics you guys throw at me. I promise I’ll get around to yours in my future Women’s Running blogs. A fan question from Luciana Bellocchio for this week: How many kilometers (miles) should I run per week to be prepared for 21K (half marathon) and 42K (marathon)? What is the minimum mileage for finishing both distances in a good way?

Mileage: Why is it important, and what’s the right amount? Every runner is going to have their own “sweet spot” of mileage that they find works for them. Much of it depends on your life schedule, how long you’ve been running, the events you wish to train for, hours of sleep you get a night and your injury disposition.

A principle I like to use when assigning mileage to the athletes I coach is, how much can you run without getting hurt? This may sound strange, but in order to improve over time in distance running you simply have to run more. One of the greatest distance coaches was Arthur Lydiard, who once said, “Your aerobic development is a gradual thing. It takes years and years of marathon-type training to develop your aerobic capacity to it’s fullest.” For the half marathon and marathon distance, you want to build a good foundation of mileage so when you get to the race, your body has run through that fatigue before and knows how to handle the last few painful miles.

The Beginner: Let’s say you’re new to running; you just got the bug and you’re starting out with two to three miles three times a week. You’d want to build this weekly mileage of 6-10 miles up to 20-25 miles a week for a good 6 months before you think about signing up for the half or full. The idea here is to simply get your legs, feet and muscles used to pounding and adapting at a slow rate. You’re learning what pace means, figuring out your stride and gait and making sure injuries don’t pop up in the process.

Related: 0 To 5K To Half Marathon Training Plan

The Curious: You’ve been running between 6 months and a year, and it seems the next step is to sign up for a race. You’ll want to be sure you have run the distance, or close to, in practice before and completed some workouts where you were running intervals faster than “easy” pace, where you wake up feeling tired and sore. Soreness and fatigue is a good thing; it means your body is adjusting to the training and making progress toward recovery and getting stronger. There is a line between fatigue and soreness that you have to be careful not to cross too much though; that’s what leads to injuries. This goes back to my principle about running the most you can without getting injured. If you want to not only run the half and full marathon but also race it, your body needs to be prepared.

Whats the magic number? Like I mentioned earlier, there is no right mileage for everyone or even for the distance you’re training for. I would set some parameters for the half and full. Before you run a half, you’ll want to have completed the distance, or close to it, as a long run at least four to five times. Now, running twice a week with one 4-miler and one 13-miler won’t quite prepare you for the distance as well as having one to two workouts, one to two easy runs, and a long run will.

The marathon is a different beast in itself. If you’ve only run three times a week with your longest run being 10 miles, could you finish a marathon? Yes, most humans have the physical ability to actually run 26.2 miles. Will it be fun or comfortable with that background? Absolutely not. The idea behind mileage with marathon training is to be executing workouts and long runs while fatigued so when you line up for the race, your body has already practiced running on tired legs and knows how to push through. For a professional runner whose job it is to train and recover, you might see a range of 90 to 140 miles a week when training for the marathon. For someone who’s been running many years and is experienced but works full-time, they might run 50 to 70 miles a week. The majority of the pack training for the 26.2 adventure might average 30 to 50 miles a week. This would be the minimum I would recommend to really feel prepared and ready to race the marathon.

Related: One Runner Says This Happens In The First 7 Minutes Of A Run

What’s different about marathon training versus other distances is you don’t have to actually run 26.2 miles in practice to know you can run the marathon. The idea in running mileage during training and working out on tired legs is what simulates that last 10K of the marathon. A 16-mile marathon tempo run in the middle of your high-mileage week will feel like the last couple miles of the race since you’ll be tapered (or backing off miles) and fresh on the starting line.

Takeaways: Work on gradually increasing your mileage over time to avoid injuries and overtraining. Incorporate one to two workouts into your weekly schedule to change pace from easy days and develop your speed. Don’t copy a friend’s mileage even if you’re training for the same race. They may be able to run 60 miles a week, but you work more hours and are prone to some overuse injuries, so maybe 45 miles is your sweet spot. Be careful in your approach to ramping up mileage, but also be willing to take some chances if you are looking to improve your times. Find someone to guide you or be a sounding board and bounce off training philosophies. Lastly: Be patient, and be in it for the long haul.