Is Weekly Running Mileage Over-Rated?

When I was in college, I used to obsess over weekly mileage.  I felt fit when I was running 70 miles per week.  But if the mileage dipped to 68 or 65 because of a shorter workout or a missed morning run (sometimes we ran twice a day), I thought I had a mediocre week of training.

Do you focus your running mileage too narrowly? Think long term!

Cross-country season was more extreme.  During July and August leading up to my senior year, I was hitting 80+ miles per week.  This wasn’t enough to guarantee the fitness I was looking for, so I added 4-5 hours of pool running and cycling to my weekly program.

If I missed a pool workout or a ride, I got pissed off.  I wanted every week to be better than the last – more volume, faster runs, more hill repetitions, and more strides.  I wanted perfection.

Don’t be Shortsighted

Now, I realize I was being too dramatic.  My focus was on minutiae – day to day and week to week improvements.  This type of improvement has its place, but it can be dangerous.  I was putting too much stress on my body in too little time.

When you focus on trying to be faster or running more on such a small timeline, like week to week, you can set yourself up for injury, abnormal fatigue, or potential over training.  This short-sighted view of your training won’t produce the best long term results.

In my example, what is the long term result of me missing a morning 5 miler?  At 80+ mile-per-week level, not much at all.  I was already giving my aerobic system a great stimulus with a 16 mile long run, a 12 mile medium-long run, and several workouts at 10+ miles.

I realize now that missing a short workout or even an entire day’s worth of training does not jeopardize the quality of the week’s training.  I missed one day, not a week.  One rest day does not change the fact that for the other 6 days I was averaging 11-12 miles per day and training great.

Taking a Longer View

These days, I don’t pay as much attention to my weekly mileage.  Sure, it’s important.  I try to hit a certain weekly mileage goal (right now my goal is 67).  But if I have to cut a workout because I’m sore or if I miss a run because of a bachelor party weekend, I don’t stress.  It’s not important in the long run.

What really matters is long term consistency.  I focus on monthly volume improvements over the past year and my best year of training.  My best year in terms of volume was 2007 where I ran 2,825 miles.  2008 would have easily beaten this total but I took 3 months off from normal training to focus on triathlon.  My running volume was cut significantly as I focused on biking and swimming.

So my best year I averaged about 54 miles per week or 235 miles per month.  My 2010 goal is to consistently run more than that.  I’m not stressing over running 90 mile weeks or having to hit 80 miles in one week.  If I hit 3,000 or more miles this year, that will be an improvement and something that I’m proud of.

My real goal is to run 3,500 miles in 2010 – this is ambitious and I have to focus hard on injury prevention and doing the little things to stay healthy.  I know this is a big goal and will require me to lead a very healthy lifestyle but the results in 2011 will be worth it.  With the right training, I can stay healthy and dominate 2010 and beyond.

Planning Mileage

Since month to month and year to year improvements are more important than weekly improvements, how does this fit into designing your best training program?  I would recommend spending an evening looking over your past training logs.  What was your best year of training?  Your best month?

Look at the 2-3 months leading up to some of your best races where you ran personal records.  What made those training blocks unique?  Maybe nothing, but I bet you consistently ran and did some great workouts.  That’s your goal for all of your training.  Consistency is king.

For example, if you ran your best 10k off 40 miles per week and two workouts per week for two months, model that in your new training.  Instead of running a lot more, focus on doing the same or slightly more monthly volume for every month.  In a year, you will absolutely destroy that old personal record.  And forget two workouts a week if your goal race is more than 3 months away.  Just focus on the mileage and a great long run.  Aerobic development is your objective.

Ultimately, quality training and consistency is king.  Whether you run 45 or 40 miles next week isn’t all that important, but make sure you are progressing on a month to month basis.  Develop your running efficiency and strength over the long-term.  Remember that running more consistently and at a higher volume is a skill and transcends just running as exercise.

This consistency applies to other aspects of your training including gym sessions and core, workouts, and dynamic stretching.  Focus on being a little bit more consistent than usual.  Big gains are sure to follow when you stop advancing too rapidly and focus on gradual improvement over the long term.

How do you focus on long-term improvement?  Do you obsess over the details of daily or weekly training or do you think of the big picture?  What helps you run more consistently month to month or even year to year?  Let me know!

Photo by eagle1effi
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