Unlocking the true potential of your running journey is an exhilarating pursuit. It’s not just about reaching new milestones; it’s about pushing your limits, improving endurance, and becoming a stronger version of yourself. However, when it comes to learning how to safely increase your running mileage, there’s a vital aspect that cannot be overlooked: staying injury-free.
We have all been there. Feeling great and getting the work done. But we start increasing our weekly and monthly mileage to hit those goals and injury or illness sets in.
Injuries can be a major setback, hindering progress and dampening motivation. This article is all about how to safely and effectively increase your mileage without those setbacks.
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Benefits of Increasing Running Mileage
Increasing running mileage offers a multitude of benefits. It enhances cardiovascular fitness, builds endurance, and boosts overall performance. Most of us that run get the bug and are always striving for longer distances in races, so increasing mileage is the way to get there right?
Builds Aerobic Capacity
Enhancing your aerobic capacity is the cornerstone of improving endurance, making it probably the most crucial aspect of becoming a better distance runner. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or just starting your running journey, prioritizing aerobic running is essential.
By incorporating regular aerobic workouts into your training regimen and gradually increasing your mileage at an aerobic pace, you can effectively build your aerobic capacity. This not only optimizes your running performance but also lays the foundation for long-term progress and success on the road.
Increased Running Efficiency
Improving your aerobic capacity, through increased mileage, not only has the potential to boost your running performance but also enables you to become a more efficient runner. When your aerobic capacity improves, you can cover greater distances or achieve faster speeds while utilizing less energy.
It’s worth noting that increasing running mileage is not the sole factor in improving running efficiency, but it undoubtedly plays a significant role. By incorporating other elements such as proper form, strength training, and interval workouts, you can further enhance your running efficiency and unlock your full potential as a runner.
Prepare for Race Fatigue
As you increase your mileage, fatigue becomes a regular friend during your training sessions. However, it is during your weekly long runs, even outside of race prep phases, that you can best simulate and prepare for race-induced fatigue.
By consistently incorporating longer runs into your training routine, you prepare yourself with the necessary mental and physical resilience to handle the demands of races. The experience gained from covering greater distances during training allows you to navigate challenging race moments with greater confidence and stamina.
Maybe the most sought-after benefit? Simply put, the result of all the other benefits is faster race times.
Risks of Increasing Running Mileage
It’s crucial to know the potential risks associated with sudden mileage increases. Overloading your body without allowing it to adapt can lead to injuries such as stress fractures, shin splints, or muscle strains.
Risks to runners from increasing mileage too fast include:
- overuse injuries
- muscular imbalances
- mental burnout
By being aware of these risks, you can approach mileage increases with caution and take preventative measures.
Assess YOUR Current Level
We aren’t as in shape or able to do as much as we sometimes think. Before we start to come up with HOW to increase mileage we need to know where we are at currently. This means that assessing our current mileage and endurance capacity is of paramount importance when starting a plan.
Take the time to evaluate and become more self-aware of what you really are capable of doing and recovering from. You might be able to log 30-mile weeks currently, but are you recovering well? If you are always tired and show other signs of overtraining, it is time to take a step back and reassess your current level.
Developing a Safe and Progressive Mileage Increase Plan
A safe and progressive approach is the key to successfully increasing your running mileage. Rather than making sudden leaps, it’s important to build up gradually. The old standard of 10% each week in distance is out!
We need to increase for a week and then maintain for a week, allowing your body time to adapt and recover. Incorporate rest days to avoid overtraining and give your muscles time to repair. By following a structured plan, you can reduce the risk of injuries and maximize your potential.
There are many plans and strategies you can use to increase your mileage and time on your feet. You can add a few minutes at the end of each run. You can progressively add time or distance to your one long run a week. OR you can start adding in one smaller run each week.
Knowing how much to add is difficult, as there is no magic number that can be applied to each runner. But applying a consistent strategy of small incremental increases every other week has been shown to be the safest way in my experience.
Beginner vs Experienced Runners – How to Safely Increase Mileage
For beginners, the increase in mileage game is completely different than it is for those with more miles under their belts.
Safely Increasing Mileage for Beginner Runners
Your priority as a beginner should not necessarily be increasing mileage in the sense that we are talking about here. Your goal as a beginner is to build a good base of running. Usually in the 10-15 miles per week range. No more than that really.
As a newbie, you should be running 2-3 days per week for 1-4 miles. You should NOT be working on increasing your mileage every week. Find a good beginner training plan that works up to 3 30 minute runs a week. Once you are able to do that consistently for 3-4 weeks, you can look at your total mileage when you run those 30-minute runs to assess where and how to add on miles.
Increasing Mileage without Injury for Experienced Runners
I know I said the 10% rule was out, but it is a good starting point. But you need to adapt it to fit you personally. Sometimes it will be less than 10% such as if you currently run 40 miles a week and want to add in some more miles you might add another 3-mile easy run into your schedule.
If you are running a higher volume already and want to add a long run your percentage of increase might be closer to 15%. It all depends on where you are at in your running journey and what you can recover from consistently.
What does it mean to Recover Well?
This is where runners can really shine in listening to their bodies (they can also really struggle too). As a runner, you need to pay attention to what your body is telling you.
Signs that you aren’t recovering from the load you are running include pain that is popping up, feeling extra tired during all of your workouts, not being able to hit your normal paces because of fatigue, and just feelings of fatigue throughout the day. Another sure sign of not recovering well is if you are getting sick.
So pay attention to what your body is telling you, you can learn a lot and adjust accordingly.
Final Thoughts on Increasing Mileage Safely
There is no magic number that guarantees you to achieve your running goals. Instead, prioritize consistency, avoid stupid training mistakes, and only increase your mileage when you feel prepared and at ease. Your mileage progression may exceed or fall short of a 10% increase, but the key is to tune in to your body’s signals and respond accordingly.
The rule of injury prevention in runners is simple. Strength train, recover, and don’t do too much too soon
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All information should be used as a tool for more knowledge on the subject topic, to use as references for later articles where applicable, or just to keep it in mind during future exercise routines or activities.
This article is not meant to give medical advice or to replace professional health care. Should any ailment occur please contact your doctor or physical therapist immediately to keep yourself safe and prevent further damage.
The author is not liable for any personal or commercial damage directly or indirectly related to the content hereof. You are responsible for adhering to local laws and regulations regarding health & safety, including proper use of equipment or safety gear, and compliance with governing healthcare associations, and state, and federal regulations.
How to safely increase running mileage each week
Dr. Abby Siler, PT, DPT is a Physical Therapist with 10 years of experience in a variety of settings. She has spent the majority of her time treating athletes in orthopedic clinics and worker’s compensation cases. She is a runner herself for the past 15 years and a lifelong athlete. Dr. Abby loves to teach runners how to stay injury free and out of her clinic.