Updated: May 27, 2020
We often hear that if you want to become a better runner, you need to increase your mileage. While this is true to some extent, there definitely is a point where those junk miles start to do more damage than good.
How many miles a week should you run?
Running has an incredible ability to fit into everyone’s lives, no matter how different or unique we all may be. Running can have a place in the life of a busy single mom, a chemical engineer, the music teacher next door, and the cashier at the grocery store.
Which means that the number of miles we should run each week varies for everyone.
Even with knowing this, it’s sometimes hard to not play the comparison game and feel like your running mileage is too low.
Seeing that a friend finished their 5k a few minutes faster than you did can be a little discouraging. Hearing your coworker share that they fit in a 12 mile run before work has a way of making you feel like you’re not doing enough.
However, it’s important to remember that our bodies respond to physical stress in different ways.
Optimal running mileage varies for every person.
And most importantly, many runners thrive with low running mileage.
It’s easy to get caught up in feeling like we are not doing enough. We obsess over the low mileage we are running, the fact that we run less now than a year ago, or that we’ve put in fewer miles during this busy season.
This obsession often leads to an unhealthy view of how many miles we should run each week.
Some people thrive running 3 days a week.
While others might need 6 running days to see any physical improvements.
However, for most of us, running is just a hobby. We fit it into our busy schedules because we love the sport and enjoy all of the benefits it brings. But no matter how much we love running, many of us don’t have time to run triple digit mileage or complete two-a-day workouts.
Low mileage running has many benefits.
Most of which are often overlooked.
It actually is possible to become a better runner while putting in less mileage.
How Running Lower Mileage Made Me a Better Runner
My journey with low mileage training began in a rather conventional way.
The very first time I signed up for a marathon, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Like many others, I’d run a half marathon before, caught the running bug, and wanted to do more. I signed up for a marathon and downloaded the first training plan that I could find.
From there, I began to complete the runs as scheduled, and was lucky enough to make it through training without serious injuries. Race day went really well, so I stuck with the plan and continued on for my second marathon.
As the years passed, I established a training groove.
During the off season, I find success with running lower mileage.
I try to avoid signing up for any races that will require me to run high mileage throughout the winter, since the weather in Michigan is very unpredictable… and I really despise the treadmill.
Running lower mileage provides my body and mind with a break before increasing my mileage again in the spring.
One winter, though, I signed up to run a 25k in the spring. While the bulk of training doesn’t take place in the prime of winter, training did begin in the midst of a snow storm.
Prior to training for this 25k, I had taken two months off to recover from the New York City Marathon. After a full two months off and a few weeks of low mileage, I knew that I would have to make a serious running comeback in order to train for this 25k.
However, I wanted to try something different this time as I returned to running long distances.
I created a low mileage training plan.
>>Download my training plan here for free!
Although I would be training for a long distance race, I wanted to run fewer miles than usual during training.
The original hope was that this would leave room for unexpected winter weather, while also providing ample time for cross training and strength training to avoid the temptation skip these workouts.
I ran just 3 days a week during training.
I began incorporating speed workouts for the first time ever. Each run and workout had a purpose besides just crossing it off my training plan. I was running lower mileage but making sure every mile counted.
When transitioning from the typical high mileage, 5 day per week training plans used for most distance races, lowering your running mileage while hoping to improve can feel silly. It sounds contradictory, and for most runners – just downright lazy.
But sure enough, it can work. Training with lower mileage certainly has its benefits. It cuts out junk miles, forces us to prioritize, and takes away excuses to skip all those “extras” that we should be doing.
And most importantly?
It helps us discover our body’s optimal running mileage.
After finding so much success with less mileage, I have adopted this method of training that includes running just 3 days a week for quite a few spring running seasons now.
This year I am especially excited about where training has taken me so far, and am feeling better than I ever have before.
Learning how many miles you should run each week involves more than researching a number. It requires time and awareness, as well as trial and error as we adjust our training plans.
Running lower mileage has made running feel easier.
It is so tempting to pick out a “cookie cutter” training plan, throw yourself into training and brush off the signs of overtraining or burn out along the way.
So many runners finish a training season feeling overly tired, exhausted and bordering on injury. We attribute these feelings to a tough training season, take a quick break, and then repeat the cycle.
But it doesn’t have to feel this way.
Running feels almost too good to be true now. Each time I head out for a run, I wonder when my streak will end and I’ll face another bad run.
Low mileage running allows me to appreciate and enjoy myself during the run, as opposed to just running to cross it off a training plan.
Finding your optimal running mileage is a game changer.
When you find that sweet spot and learn how many miles you should run a week, you’ll find that your fitness still improves while avoiding injury and overtraining.
When I started running less, I actually found more success.
While my speed workouts still felt challenging, but I finally had success hitting paces that are new to me with each run. I cut nearly 30 minutes off my half marathon time and PR’d in the marathon by 12 minutes – all in just one training cycle.
Long runs still have those typical long-run-ugh-moments, but my legs feel fresh and my body is energized every day. The mid week miles that dragged on during marathon training now help improve my mood and allow me to de-stress.
With all this positive progress, I’ve come to realize that running easier lately is not due to chance, but rather, the change in my training.
Learning how many miles I should run.
Running lower mileage has helped me get faster, more efficient, and improve my endurance. This might not be a method to use year round, but when timing is right, it certainly makes a difference.
Take the time to really evaluate your running mileage during training.
- Do you feel best when you are running 3 days a week? 6 days?
- How many miles can you run while still feeling properly rested, energized and fresh for each run?
- At what point does your body and mind begin to feel fatigued?
Running lower mileage each week has encouraged me to have a clear purpose for each run, which helps me avoid junk miles that serve no purpose yet add to my fatigue.
When running 3 days a week, I have a speed day, long run day, and one mid week run for some easy miles. On non running days, strength training, yoga, and cross training help improve my fitness and help me stay injury free.
If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “how often should I run?” – well, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.
Many newbies believe that in order to become a better runner you need to run more often. This concept makes sense in theory – given that practice makes perfect. However, there does come a point where you are doing more harm than good.
Each person has a different optimal running mileage.
Finding the right balance of mileage is something that is different for each runner. Taking the time to find your sweet spot is well worth the effort. Running will feel easier than ever before.
Today I am vouching for the fact that it is in fact possible to make running easier by running lower mileage.
Get rid of those junk miles that you complete just to cross a day off your training plan. Don’t be afraid to try something new – and remember: sometimes less is more.
More Running Mileage Resources:
- 9 Surprising Ways to Make Running Feel Easier
- How to Safely Increase Your Running Mileage
- 30 Ways to Become a Better Runner
- 5 Strategies to Push Past a Running Plateau