Adding Mileage Safely for Running

Avid runners often make the mistake of increasing mileage too quickly. It is better to conservatively build mileage—and thus avoid injury—than to be too aggressive in adding mileage, only to incur an injury.

This column offers suggestions on how to add mileage safely. However, above all, a runner must to listen to his or her body. Pain exists for a reason, and should not be ignored. In order to become a successful long-distance runner, miles must be added gradually, without fear of injury and with plenty of rest.

A common mistake runners make is attempting to build speed while simultaneously building mileage. When you begin training, difficulty is measured by time spent running or distance of a run. Only after a runner has established a solid base should speed be a consideration. It is important to not attempt to increase speed before attaining your desired weekly mileage.

Popular exercise physiologist Jack Daniels suggests that a runner adds no more than four miles per week to his or her total weekly mileage.

Daniels also advises against increasing mileage more than every three weeks. A runner’s body needs time to adapt to the new stresses of the increased mileage. Do not push your body too far. For example, if you are feeling tired or sore at the end of three weeks, hold the same mileage another three weeks before increasing it again. Always remember that recovery time varies for every athlete.

Another frequent mistake is adding days to a running schedule while adding distance to total weekly miles. If you add another day, it is important not to add mileage to the week. Reduce the distance of your runs each day so that the total weekly mileage remains the same, but is spread out over more days. Keep any new schedule for at least three weeks before adding more mileage.

It is essential that athletes develop a solid foundation of technique (see last month’s column) before attempting to build mileage. Then, mileage should only be developed as far as the athlete’s technique can sustain. If you are breaking down form wise, stop!

Injury prevention during mileage building also requires good shoe upkeep. Running shoes should always be replaced every 300-500 miles.

Keeping a daily record of your training will help you avoid increasing mileage too quickly. It’s tricky and dangerous to rely solely on your recollection.

Cross training is a popular alternative for too aggressive mileage addition. Different muscles are used in cross training so therefore you avoid overuse injuries. Water running should be used as a viable alternative that works the same muscle groups.

Consider adding basic strength training to your schedule. When muscles are stronger, your body will be better able to handle the demands of increased mileage.

Finally, regular flexibility exercise such as yoga and Plates help keep your muscles loose, limber, and strong.

Athletes are, by nature, competitive people, and restraint is often difficult. We often push our bodies too far when trying to achieve our goals. However, with the proper education and insight—and the desire to be injury-free for our entire running career—mileage building can be accomplished safely and successfully.

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