How to Safely Increase Your Running Mileage

Here are some tips to safely increase your running mileage to avoid injury and burnout.

It’s that time of year where runners everywhere (at least those who live somewhere that gets an intense winter) start to get antsy. The cold, frigid months have shortened our runs or forced us inside to battle the treadmill. After a season of less intense mileage, we are fully ready to get back out there and prepare for spring. Spring and fall are the two biggest racing seasons of the year, and even though it might not seem like it – spring is just around the corner.

As spring looms on the horizon, runners are taking to new training plans and setting out to conquer those goals they set for the New Year. Many have set goals to run new races, or are getting back to a favorite distance after an off season. Whatever the case, most runners find themselves needing to increase their mileage as training begins for spring races.

Whether you are a new runner or seasoned marathoner, increasing mileage can be tricky. It’s easy to let the excitement of running in the fresh air get the best of you. Beginning a new training plan brings along eagerness that often causes runners to increase their mileage too quickly. Increasing running mileage too quickly may seem all fun and games at first, but can wind up causing injury and potentially keeping you on the sidelines for your next race.

How to Safely Increase Your Running Mileage to Avoid Injury and Overtraining

Here are some tips on a smart way to increase your running mileage as spring training season begins.

How to Safely Increase Your Running Mileage

Designate one day per week for long runs, and increase that distance by no more than 1-2 miles per week.

I always hated the “10%” rule. While I am definitely a numbers person, the last thing I want to do when I’m eager to head out for a run is calculate percentages. Adding up mileage and finding 10% to add on to my planned mileage is just too much calculation to handle when all I want to do is run. I find that thinking in miles, rather than percentage, is much easier to calculate. To increase your running mileage, the safest way is to consolidate the majority of extra miles to one run per week. The distance of this run should increase no more than 2 miles each week, especially in the beginning, in order to safely improve your endurance while keeping you injury free.

Incorporate “cut back” recovery weeks.

Incorporating recovery weeks every 4-5 weeks in a training plan is a great strategy. During marathon training, my recovery week long run is only 6 miles. During half marathon training the long run during a cut back week may vary anywhere from 3-6 miles depending how far along you are. Your midweek runs can stay consistent during a recovery week, but plan a significantly shorter long run. This cut back allows your legs some extra rest and recovery time before diving back in.

Be aware of your current running base mileage and incorporate that into your midweek runs.

When beginning a training plan, take inventory of you current mileage. Usually during base training, my runs vary from 3-5 miles in length. Knowing that I can comfortably run 5 miles helps me plan the length of my mid week runs. I usually designate the shorter distance for speed work or interval runs (for me, usually around 3 miles). The other mid week runs fall in the 4-5 mile range. If you’re regularly running 6-8 miles at a time before increasing your mileage, you might want to incorporate longer runs than this during the week. Everyone is different, so understanding your current fitness level is key to knowing where to start. Pushing yourself to increase mileage during the week and on the weekends will only lead to burnout or injury.

Focus on increasing your mileage first, before adding in any extras.

Spend the first few weeks of your training increasing your long run mileage and making sure your body responds well. Run familiar, shorter distances during the week. Adjust any distance as needed if you feel burnt out or are struggling to finish your long runs. After 3-4 weeks, if your body is adapting well to your long runs, then you can begin to add in a weekly tempo run or hill workouts. Adding too much too soon will send your body into overdrive and likely lead to injury. While it may feel okay for the first few weeks, over-training always catches up with you and might result in an injury just before race day.

There is nothing more exciting for a runner than a fresh new training plan. Signing up for a spring race brings a boost of motivation that is much needed during a dreary winter running season. If you are smart in maintaining your excitement, increasing mileage will feel natural. Enjoy pushing yourself to new limits, and remember to treat your body well for all the extra mileage.

Related: How to Build a Solid Running Base

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