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Does weekly running mileage matter?

From casual joggers to elite marathoners, running, one of the simplest and most accessible forms of exercise, has participants from all walks of life. A common question among runners of all levels is how much should I run, and what is the optimal weekly mileage. The short answer is that it depends. Individual differences in body composition, training history, and life circumstances make a one-size-fits-all approach to mileage recommendations impossible.

This post explores the variations of running mileage, leveraging findings from a comprehensive study by Gordon et al. (2017) on the physiological and training characteristics of recreational marathon runners.

The myth of the ideal mileage

Traditional running wisdom often suggests higher mileage is better. This belief stems from observing elite athletes whose high-mileage routines correlate with their performance. However, for the majority of runners, particularly recreational ones, such a straightforward approach may not only be ineffective but potentially harmful.

The Gordon et al. (2017) study sheds light on this by examining recreational marathon runners across different finish times. The study found significant variations in training habits and physiological markers between faster runners, who complete a marathon in under three hours, and slower ones, who complete a marathon in over four and a half hours). Notably, training frequency and the absolute training speed were more predictive of marathon success than merely the distance run per week.

Individual needs and goals

What, then, should determine your running regimen? The answer begins with personal goals and current fitness level. For beginners, the focus should be on gradually increasing mileage at a comfortable pace, prioritizing consistency and injury prevention.

More experienced runners might experiment with higher mileage while mixing in other training forms, such as speed work or hill runs, to avoid plateaus and improve specific performance aspects.

Training of elite athletes

Examining elite runners' training, we find routines finely tuned to their physiological needs and race demands. Elite athletes commonly run between 120-160 kilometres per week, distributed across various workouts designed to enhance different aspects of running performance, such as aerobic capacity, lactate threshold, and running economy.

However, these high volumes are often the product of consistency and gradual adaptation. Attempting to maintain this mileage without comparable preparation invites injury and burnout.

Minimum and maximum effective dose

For recreational runners, the "minimal effective dose" to see improvement can be surprisingly modest. Many can see significant benefits from running just 20-30 kilometres per week. This volume is enough to enhance cardiovascular health, promote moderate weight loss, and build a base for more intensive training.

Conversely, the "maximum effective dose," which is the point at which more mileage brings diminishing returns or even negative effects, varies widely among individuals. For some, this could be 50 kilometres per week, while others can handle over 100 kilometres without adverse effects.

The key is careful monitoring of physical and mental signs of overtraining, such as prolonged fatigue, decreased performance, and loss of motivation.

Putting it into action

Ultimately, the best running mileage is highly personal and should be adjusted based on individual responses to training. This approach aligns with the insights from Gordon et al. (2017), suggesting that training frequency and intensity, tailored to personal thresholds and recovery capacities, are more critical than the sheer volume of kilometres run.

As you consider how to adjust your running routine, think less about hitting a specific number and more about how your body responds to different training loads. With a thoughtful approach to mileage, coupled with appropriate recovery and nutrition, runners at all levels can achieve their fitness and racing goals sustainably and enjoyably.

Preparing for a marathon?

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  1. Gordon, D., Wightman, S., Basevitch, I., Johnstone, J., Espejo-Sanchez, C., Beckford, C., ... & Merzbach, V. (2017). Physiological and training characteristics of recreational marathon runners. Open access journal of sports medicine, 231-241.


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