“If you want to run faster, just run more”. If you’re a seasoned runner, you’ve likely heard this or similar advice at some point in your running career, and to a point its true.
The great Gerry Lindgren is rumored to have averaged over 200mpw while continuing to improve. Higher volume does tend to correlate to faster times for long distance races. But this is not a linear line and, even more importantly, it does not apply equally to all athletes. Take Noah Droddy as an example; an elite half-marathoner with a personal best of 61:48, who had averaged around 70mpw prior to a spree of good performances which saw him qualify for the Olympic Trials at multiple distances and nab a second place finish at the USATF 10 Mile Championships in 47:28. Relative to the other elites competing in these fields, Droddy was running significantly less mileage. The same can be said about athletes like 800m American record holder Donovan Brazier who runs less than 35 miles in a week, or 2x NCAA champion Justyn Knight whose peak collegiate mileage was between 55-60mpw.
Finding the perfect balance between stress and recovery is an art form as much as it is a science. Being able to decipher how much volume you can add before it begins to outweigh the body’s ability to repair itself is one of the most important skills a coach can have as it won’t be the same for every athlete.
Think of stress as a teeter-totter, with one end representing volume and the other representing intensity. As one goes up, the other goes down. In other words, if one end is heavier, then the other must get lighter. However, if you keep adding weight to both sides then the teeter can’t totter and it will eventually break. Your body is no different. As we increase the intensity of our training, through workouts and races, we need to compensate by lowering the volume. If we add too much intensity and too much volume all at the same time, our risk for injury increases. While the general rule stays the same, each athlete will have their own “balancing point”.
Some athletes thrive on higher volume with lower intensity (Gerry Lingren), while others find successon higher intensity but with lower volume (Donavan Brazier). Some athletes find balance in a moderate volume, moderate intensity zone. Too often, runners are in a rush to add volume. They think more volume is the quick trick to getting that BQ. Add volume, collect your golden ticket, done. While it is true that more mileage can correlate to improvements in performance, it is not a hard fast rule and it is never a quick procedure. It is a process of finding the right balance between stress and recovery for your body and, more than anything, discovering the approach that allows you to be consistent cycle after cycle.
Building fitness is sort of like a game of Chutes and Ladders. Each week of training that we log is a move forward. Slowly we make our way up the board. However, if we get ahead of ourselves we begin to risk injury or, in terms of the game, “landing a slide”. The more we push the intensity and mileage thinking its the ladder shortcut to a PR, the more “chutes” we risk landing on. Take enough chutes and soon you find yourself back at the beginning. For me, lowering my mileage has allowed me to find consistency. It allows me to get in the appropriate volume of threshold and high-end aerobic work necessary for 5k and 10k, while also emphasizing recovery. My weekly volume is high enough that I can safely perform the types of tempos and steady states I need, while still low enough that I can recover on my easy days and enter my workouts fresh and ready to go. Most importantly, it has allowed me to do this month after month without ending up in the doctor’s office. Leaving the ego of high mileage behind and listening to my body has allowed me to stay injury-free, motivated, and able to build off of previous work without setbacks.
In the end, consistency is more important than mileage. Be
honest with yourself, and/or with your coach, so that you can build a program that suits YOUR needs, as it is better to toe the line 10% undertrained than 5% overcooked. A six to eight month window of moderate volume in which you leave most workouts thinking “I could do another rep!” will yield far better results overall than a two month window of high mileage where you finish workouts wondering if you can even do the cool down.
While flashy speed sessions and big weekly totals look great on Strava, ‘likes’ don’t win you races (plus, nothing gets more ‘likes’ than a killer race!). Forget about what your rival is doing. Whatever allows you to get to the starting line healthy with pop in your legs is the best training you can possibly be doing, because it is what will allow you to keep doing it week after week.
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