How Much Mileage Should You Run During Marathon Training?

The marathon holds a special place in many runners minds: it’s the ultimate test of endurance, grit, and mental toughness.

marathon

Every day, I get questions from my readers about the marathon:

  • “Should I take a gel every 4 miles or every 3 miles during the race?”
  • “What brand of salt stick do you recommend?”
  • “Should I race in compression socks?

But the most important factor that affects how well you’ll race is not any of the above issues.

It’s how much weekly mileage you’re capable of running.

The principle is simple: run more and you’ll race faster.

Consider:

  • My college cross country coach (only half jokingly) prescribes more mileage to fix any problems with your running
  • Jay Johnson has said, “For the average runner, running more will lead to faster running.  End of story.”
  • Renowned UC-Boulder Cross-Country coach Mark Wetmore says, “The cornerstone [of our program] is the long-term, patient development of the aerobic metabolism.”

But it’s not just coaches who are advocating for higher mileage for improved performances… runners are realizing it, too.

How Do BQ Marathoners Train?

Strava published some fascinating data on the training of marathoners that I suggest everyone look at. Here are the highlights.

Faster runners run higher weekly mileage:

strava-marathon-mileage

Slower runners do more short runs and fewer “mid-distance” runs of 5-10 miles:

strava-marathon-long-short

And in this Runner’s World graphic, we can see that faster runners also run slower relative their abilities:

boston-qualify-marathon

Now we know: it pays to run easy!

How Do We Learn From This Data?

First, I don’t think any of this information is groundbreaking. This should not be your “ah-ha!” moment.

We’ve known for years that high mileage produces faster runners. And this data confirms two principles that we already know:

1. Running more helps you race faster

Is this any surprise? I’ve written about the value of high mileage for years:

2. Running easy is critical for balance.

Most runners are amazed at how easy “fast” runners train most of the time.

Here’s a great litmus test: if the best runners in the world run easy for most of the time, why can’t you?

And if you’re in doubt, just slow down. Slower is better than faster when it comes to training!

How Much Mileage Do SR Marathoners Run?

Now, the fun part: how much mileage do YOU run?

In the comments below, I want to hear from marathoners in the Strength Running community. Let us know how much weekly mileage you put in during your peak training.

I think this will give us a good idea of the ranges that are possible – and encourage us all to to run a little bit more.

Because when our capacity for work increases, so does our capacity for speed.

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Comments

  1. David Damron says:

    Never ran more than 49 miles in any training week ever. 10 marathons, 11 years in. Includes current BQ attempt to come at NYC and CIM in coming weeks. Most training has been three or four 5-6 mile runs per week with a weekend long run. Sometimes add a 7 or 8 on easier long run weekends. Best marathon times have occurred in last few years: 3:50, 3:46, 3:42, 3:33. I know Jason knows but I’m a 33 yo (almost 34) Colorado runner. My opinion: I like relatively easy midweek runs, push hard in weekend long run. – – – – – – – – not saying any specific way is right or wrong; just sharing my approach

  2. Stan Kowalski says:

    Hit my BQ with a 3:32:52 3 weeks ago …trained to a peak of 70 miles a week…( 57 years old )

    • Mark Conca says:

      Stan, that is exactly what I need to do. So how did you do it? Did you buy a training plan? Were you always a runner? Thanks for the info. Mark

  3. Sean Harrington says:

    For me, when training for a marathon, most of my weeks are in the 30’s and I’ll have a month in the low to mid 40’s, prior to tapering. I’ve run three marathons between 3:12 – 3:20. Looks like I’ll need to up my mileage to brake 3:00!

  4. Paul Kuzma says:

    I run on avg 50-60 miles a week while training for a marathon. I will have a “surge” week where I increase the mileage to 70-80 miles but then back off. Most miles are at an easy pace. I alternate 1 long run and tempo run each week. Long runs are 22 miles max. Also, the closer I get to the race, the stricter I get with my diet. Times have gone from 3:13 in 2013 to a recent PR of 2:57 in Sept 2017. More miles works!

  5. I started my marathon training for Richmond, which is 2 weeks away, back in June. I’ve gone from 20-25 mile weeks to 35-40 mile weeks and above. My average run now is 6 to 8 miles per run and I run 4 to 5 runs a week. I’ll be in the 4 to sub 4 hour range but this is my first marathon and I took 10 years off from running after I got out of the military. Good news is that I’ve dropped 25 pounds and a lot of inches.

  6. Charlie Nix says:

    44 miles/week

  7. Jason, thank you for your emails and educational information. I am a 54 year old athletic male who is just starting OCR with my sons. I’m a good sprinter, but not a good runner. My question is this; I know I do not have a good aerobic base, based on the MAF test, and when trying to run at that heart rate have to walk a lot. My “running” is more of a shuffle, which is not great form or cadence. I can’t maintain a cadence of 180 and a heart rate in the MAF zone and get a good workout in. Do you recommend I focus on maintaining the 180 cadence and just walk a lot (running for only 30 second bursts), or something different.
    Thanks for your help.

  8. Alyssa Young says:

    I was running about 35 miles/week during the peak of training for my first marathon in September. I was training with a goal finish time of 3:59, and was on track for that pace, until my knee started hurting halfway through the race and slowed me down. I finished in 4:13. Now I need to try again. 🙂

    My “normal” mileage (I’m not currently training for anything specific, just maintaining) has been about 15-20 miles.

  9. Cynthia Salazar says:

    I qualified for the Boston Marathon on my first attempt at the marathon-distance by running up to 55 miles a week. Most of my runs were anywhere from 1:30 to 100 slower than my race pace.

    Since then I have completed 2 more marathons with same plan and BQ’d again with an even faster time and my other Marathon was in Boston this last April. Needless to say I am going back to Boston April 2018 with the same plan or maybe even add 10 more extra miles a week – up to 65.

  10. Erin Rock says:

    Great post! As a coach myself I found this fascinating yet totally unsurprising. This drives the point across on the biggest mistake runners make- not going easy enough on easy days! Thanks!

  11. Training for my first marathon this year I peaked at 37 miles over 12 weeks. I finished in a time of 3:25:12
    I’m hoping to increase that to 50-60 miles for this time next year

  12. Natalie Sanger says:

    I recently BQd for the first time after 4 attempts and ran a 3:28! My coach had me running a peak of 60 miles and I ran every day except 1. I had one mid week “middle range” workout (8-11 miles), 2 recovery runs (bt 5-7 miles), 1 long run and 2 aerobic runs (between 6-10 miles) per week! I feel like this worked for me because every run had a purpose. Aerobic runs were for increasing my aerobic base (ran about 30s to 45s slower than race pace), my recovery runs were really slow (ran about 1:00-2:00 slower than race pace), and my workouts I actually got a lot out of because I was recovering properly from my other runs and not running “hard” every day! This was my highest mileage, and most structured and consistent training plan I’ve had so I agree with the research!

  13. I think faster runners running slower relative to their BQ pace (or 10k pace or whatever) is just a function of an “easy” pace being at a relatively restricted range that’s pretty similar regardless of your ability. I’ve read that normal runners can keep pace with elites who are doing easy runs, and they’re surprised to be able to, but it’s because of this phenomenon. But when an elite really opens up and lets it rip, they’re going to be in their dust because of the massive gap in even tempo/steady-state paces between an elite and a normal human. But I’m a pretty slow runner and I may be wrong. 🙂

  14. Trained on average for last marathon 30-35 miles a week ran 2:58. 35 Years old. Now training for marathon 25-30 miles a week bc that’s what life gives me. Seeing what I can do on that. I mist mention I am a triathlete that continues to ride and strength train. Different things work for different ppl. I didn’t grow up running and started as an adult

  15. Steven Rein says:

    I always seemed to get hurt when I got over 45 or so per week. At 62 holding off marathon training for BQ this year. Got down to a 4:01 2 years ago, but with them moving the time to get in any more it kind of sours me as so many think they made it and then month later are kicked out because of the moving target. Maybe I try again next year, but I need real cool weather to breath and with some minor heart issues it seems harder this year so just going the slower Ultra route this year.

  16. I ran my first marathon (3:16) in April this year. My peak week (3 weeks to the race) was 49miles. Last Sunday I ran my second marathon (2:51). Mileage in peak week was 59. In other weeks my mileage varied between 25 and 50. My third marathon will be in Boston in 2018 🙂
    Started running as an adult in January 2015. My age group is m45.

  17. About 30/wk avg but more during heavier training and peaking at 40 or a little more. First marathon this weekend; we’ll see how it goes. I also read the article about MAF. I have been following MAF dietary guidelines, largely, for about 5 mo. Basically, cutting sugar is definitely a good idea, and reducing my bread and past intake seems to have been too. My long and easy runs have tended to be more-or-less around MAF HR for my age. But I never stopped doing speed and other work; just used MAF as a vague guideline for recovery, easy, long runs. I don’t know if I would get faster if that was ALL I did. I just like doing speed work. For one, increasing leg turnover seems really important. I did wonder: doesn’t this article slightly contradic the MAF article? I know you’re not saying to ONLY do slow, easy miles. But the basic conclusion is that MORE slow easy miles makes you faster, full stop. And you argue sort of the opposite in the other article. Not trying to be critical, just geniuinely curious for your thoughts.

  18. George Woodward says:

    15 or so Marathon – 6 BQs.
    Standard is a 18 week program.
    Start 40 or so, peaks 4 weeks out at 63.
    One 20 mile long only – 4 weeks out 16 easy, 4 at MP.
    How that goes, my friends, tells me everything.
    Speed on Tuesdays, longish MP runs on Thursdays and long runs on Sunday.
    Everything other than Tues/Thurs is easy.
    I never miss a run, just find a way to fit it in.
    By the way, I am 62,

  19. For me, I think the biggest takeaway is the difference in pace compared to ability. The BQers run a significant amount below their BQ pace while non BQers run faster compared to their abilities. This probably allows the BQers to run the higher mileage and be able to recover for the next Running session. (This goes along with the polarized type of training that Matt Fitzgerald promotes in his 80/20 Running book.)
    That said, I think # of miles is deceptive. Someone who runs at 10 minutes per mile has to run more than 40% longer in duration to reach the same number of miles as someone who runs a 7 min/Mile pace. Hopefully the 10 min/Mile Runner will start closing the gap but I imagine it would take a significant amount of time to get there.

  20. I’m a 52-year old guy. Started running in my late 20s, ran 6 marathons but then took a break from distance running for a number of years. I picked it back up in 2010 and have not looked back. I average 45 – 50 miles per week during a training cycle, usually running 5 – 6 days a week. Typical week includes 2-3 shorter (4 – 5 miles) runs, 2 middle-long (7 – 12 miles) runs, and one long run (16 – 22 miles) on Saturday. Combination of easy and fast runs during the week. Finding time for a 10-12 mile run during the week can be a challenge, but I make it work. I max out at 55-57 miles about three weeks before a race. I’m trying to average 5 marathons a year so I can join the 50 states’ marathon before I hit 60. Race times typically range between 3:10 and 3:20, although I did pull a 3:06 out of somewhere last year.

  21. I can attest that lots of easy mileage is key to big marathon improvements. I didn’t believe it until I tried it myself.

    In 2015 I ran 60-100km per week with a lot of tempo and interval work and set a PB of 2:53:34 – my first sub-3. In 2016 I upped my peak training to 110-140km a week, cut down on the tempo and intervals a bit, and pulled my PB down to 2:47:31. This year I upped my peak training to 130-170km a week (whilst training for the Comrades ultra-marathon), cut the tempos and intervals even more, and smashed out a new PB of 2:43:39 @38yo the week after a 170km training week.

    I’ve set new PBs in all distances except 5K & 5M (I’ve not really raced these this year) off this training which was roughly following the 80/20 principal (it was closer to 85/15) with all of the low intensity being done at or below MAF.

  22. I ran around 50-60 miles/week with a max of 65 during 2 weeks. Finished Berlin Marathon in 2:36:49

  23. Since 2014 til now I ran three marathons: Ljubljana 2014, 3:13:14, Ljubljana 2016, 3:10:09 and Belgrade 2017, 3:11:51. In the 24-week preparation period, I had an average of about 34 miles as roughly predicted by your table. The maximum(peak) was about 52 miles. However, my overall average(last 3 year) is around 24 miles. Since I am 63 years old, I’m not sure should I be able to increase mileage.

  24. Paul Herzog says:

    I think. I hit 65 miles at my peak but typically my weeks were in the mid 50s. My last three marathons have been around the 2:54 – 2:59 zone. Thanks for the posts Jason and podcasts, I always enjoy them.

  25. Eric Hallam says:

    I qualified for Boston 3 months after completing my one and only Ironman. My wife asked me if I was going to do a marathon just to see how well I could do not being tired at the start of the marathon. I signed up for the ADT Marathon (a great BQ marathon all downhill from Palmer Lake, CO to downtown Colorado Springs, CO). I ran a 38 minute PR in the marathon which was almost 5 minutes under the BQ time. At this point I decided that I had qualified through training luck, just running what I felt or had time for, it was time to buy a training plan. So I bought the Jack Daniel’s “Daniels’ Running Formula – 2nd Edition” the biggest change to my training from his plan was the incorporation of speed work. I basically ran as hard as I could all every time I ran. Using the plan I did to speed days a week that was interval sets and then 3-4 days of base miles. I must say I loved intervals, I had never done them before and it made training so much fun for months. The only other thing worth mentioning about my training is until I started training for the Ironman I had never run over 200 miles a month, and typically average 115 miles a month (unless I am specifically in a marathon training cycle), some of my friends joke with me that at 20-30 miles a week I am “barely even a runner.”

  26. CIM in about a month will be my 5th marathon and my peak week will probably be just over 50 miles, maybe 53-54? This training cycle I will have had 4 weeks at 50 miles or just above, the rest of the weeks in the mid-upper 40s. Prior to this training cycle I ran Boston earlier this year with similar mileage and then ran consistent weekly mileage of around 40 all summer. I think this consistency over the summer has helped me hit tempo paces I have not previously been able to run. My marathon PR was my BQ at 3:32:27 in May 2016 and I’m hoping to go mid-3:20s this time around. I do run most of my runs at an easy pace of 9:15-9:30 which is 1:30-1:45 slower than my marathon pace, and I find it easier to slow my easy runs down the higher my mileage gets. I run 5-6 days a week, 3 runs 6-7 miles, one run 4-5 miles, a middle distance 10-12 miler and a long run. I don’t tend to race a lot. Seems to fit the above graphs pretty well!

  27. So far, I (mid-30s) have run 5 marathons; I’ll exclude my debut and one where I was recovering from a strained Popliteus. The other three were 3:02 / 3:06 / 2:59, with the peak training week* amounting to 50 / 36.5 / 46 miles, respectively. (* typically part of a 5-wk series of alternating high and medium volume)
    I mostly trained 3x/wk except for the latest marathon, with 4x as base and 5x in the peak weeks, which was manageable thanks to doing most miles notably slower than goal pace. What worked well for me was a quality, hard workout the day before the weekly long run, helping to keep the latter slow enough; mid-week I’d do another easy medium-long run, sandwiched by two days of medium-intensity short runs.

    Now, what is your take on these on-line race predictors?
    When I plug my HM / 10mi / 10K times into some recent predictors that claim to be more realistic, they spit out that I could only match my 42K PR by training 50 miles/week #on average#. That is 1.7x what I actually did, and more than I’d be comfortable with… Further, these calculators suggest I should train #100+ mi/wk on average# to reach my full potential, but that would leave me completely drained – and jobless ;-). Sure, running more makes you better at running, but doesn’t there seem to be a tendency to exaggerate the importance of volume?

    • I’m unaware of any pace / equivalent performance calculators that estimate recommended weekly mileage totals. Where did you see this?

      • For example this one: https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/marathon-calculator/
        And at Runner’s World: https://www.runnersworld.com/tools/race-time-predictor
        The “Read more” link at the first calculator and this article explain that both (*RW: if optional fields are filled out) use a formula published in 2016 by Vickers: https://www.runnersworld.com/marathon-training/heres-a-better-marathon-time-predictor

        Average mileage is taken as an input but the first calculator lets you vary that easily to “fit” your target time. Plugging in a fast HM of 1:20:49 and a hard 10mi of 1:03 or a hard 10K of 36:30, it tells me that I could beat my 42K PR only when I would train over 50 mi/wk on average.
        Of course, I understand that in reality, increasing weekly volume significantly should also improve race times on the shorter distances. That aspect is not taken into account if one just shifts the mileage bar in the calculator. However, my point is that in reality, I trained not 50 but “only” some 30 mi/wk on average for that 42K PR. So either I suck on the shorter races (relatively speaking :-)), or Vickers’ formula is based on data that is biased towards rather high-mileage training regimes. IMHO: don’t just train #more#, train #more effectively# (too).

        I myself use Riegel’s formula but personalized it by fitting the exponential factor to past PRs on various distances (and including a climb & descent correction for non-flat courses). This gives me rather reliable race time predictions – or is that a self-fulfilling prophecy? 😉 Anyways, for each PR I never had the feeling that I could have gone much faster at all.

      • “… or Vickers’ formula is based on data that is biased towards rather high-mileage training … train #more effectively#” – let me clarify that. It seems that much of the underlying data was actually not at all limited by training volume but by other aspects (at least compared to my own performances). Yet Vickers’ formula is based on mileage as the only extra regression parameter, which artificially inflates (exaggerates) its role.
        Now, Vickers does mention the benefit of intervals in his article (https://bmcsportsscimedrehabil.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13102-016-0052-y), and also e.g. optimizing race nutrition plays a role. Such factors may offer bigger gains than just sending your training volume through the roof!

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