How Much, How Far?
Determining the right amount of easy running, speedwork and long runs is a fine art.
As a running coach, the most frequent questions I get are about how to balance training. Things like how many days per week to run, how many days of speed work, and how far to go on long runs are among the oft-asked questions I receive. The answer, of course, is that it’s complicated. But there are some basic guidelines you can follow in order to get it right.
Let me start by saying that training should be different for every single runner. So much depends on your years of experience, the distances you are training for, and the goal paces you are after. So while a runner with five or six years of experience might be able to handle a 50-mile week when training for a marathon, a newer runner would be better advised to stick to lower mileage, even if training for that same marathon.
My goal as a coach is always to get my athletes to the starting line fit and healthy. As such, I am always going to recommend a less is more approach. You want to walk that line of mileage/speedwork that gets you as fit as possible while staying healthy.
That being the case, the majority of any runner’s miles should be in an easy zone. That is, a pace that is easy to maintain and allows you to quite comfortably carry on conversations. Many runners think there is nothing to be gained here, but that could not be further from the truth. When you run easy, you build a healthy aerobic base from which to launch all other training. You also help build more capillaries at this pace, which ensures more blood flow to working muscles.
Working under the assumption that you have a good aerobic base established, let’s talk about how much speedwork to include in a schedule. As a rule of thumb, I recommend that speedwork shouldn’t make up more than about 10 to 15 percent of your weekly miles. When I say that, however, I am referring to harder, interval-like speed. There’s always room or race pace mileage in there as well, especially in the case of a marathon.
So let’s use an example to put this all into a good framework: Say you are training for a marathon, have been running for five years and are hoping to set a PR at a nine-minute pace.
In this case, a typical peak week of training might go something like this:
- Speedwork on Tuesday—warm-up for two miles, then run five miles at an 8:30 pace; cool down two miles.
- Wednesday—Easy four mile recovery run
- Thursday—Six miles easy with a few strides at the end
- Friday—Marathon pace run—One mile warm-up, six miles at 8:55 to 9:00 pace, cool down two miles.
- Saturday—long run of 20 miles with miles 10-18 at marathon pace
- Sunday—Easy four to six miles to recover
So as you can see, the bulk of the mileage is at an easy pace, but there are some nice, race-pace specific miles in there also. The athlete would be tired at the end of a training week like this, but not so much that they couldn’t handle the training paces set out.
The longer you run and race, the better you become at knowing what your body can handle and what formula of training works best for you. If you are unsure where to start, there are plenty of great training programs on line, as well as coaches to help you along the way to a more individualized approach.
For most runners, some trial and error is in order before arriving at that magic formula. But by erring on the side of caution when it comes to mileage and pace, you can hopefully stay healthy and continue to learn and grow as a runner.