Nathan Pennington Running in The Distance

The Proper Amount Of Mileage For Marathon Training

Mileage For Marathon Training

Mileage for marathon training doesn’t guarantee you success at any distance.

There is always that question in the back in the mind that asks ‘is this going to work’. What I have to tell you from my own experience is you have to try.

mileage for marathon training

You can’t look back at your life years down the road and question if you did enough or too little.

The only way to find out is to give it your best shot.

Sometime is works, other times it may fail but being afraid to fail will stop you from seeing your true potential.

I had to learn the hard way.

I was coached by the 1985 Boston Marathon Champion, Lisa Rainsberger, who let me learn on my own back in 2008 that running higher mileage doesn’t guarantee you faster performances.

I chose to experiment with my mileage after running a small marathon personal best at the 2007 Grandmas Marathon (2.40.02 and still in 2.22.00 pace through 20 miles), felt that trying 140 mile weeks may take me to the next level.

I failed miserably that day but learned so much. Lisa, in true Boston Marathon champion fashion, told me ‘well you had a descent first half’.

We didn’t stop when the chips were down.

140+ mile weeks left me exhausted, stale and running poorly. I ended up breaking 2.20.00 on 90 mile weeks.

You must stay hungry, stay foolish – Steve Jobs

Do Not Be Afraid To Fail

It isn’t how much mileage you are running but how you are running the miles.

You have to experiment, find out what works best for you.

I certainly feel there is a point in training where you get a negative return on your training investment, the higher you go in mileage.

There are runners training at 50 miles a week who get the same results as other runners training upwards of 100 miles per week.

Base Mileage

The general rule for mileage is never to exceed more than 10% per week. It is a good step in the right direction but the truth is, everyone is individual.

Do what works for you.

Mileage for marathon training should be setting you up for success, not the other way around.

Some of the best runners in the world are not calculating every mile they run and not concerned with going over the 10% rule.

The key is finding what works best for your body and making adjustments as you go.

I start off very slow when I take time off from training.

I am 5’11” and currently 158 pounds (a tie for the heaviest I have ever been in my life) and my race weight is 145-48 pounds.

I value that time away from training to re-charge the batteries and get back into heavy marathon preparation.

Allow yourself time to re-charge and re-group because you are going to need it when it comes to the marathon.

It matters with all race distances.

Base mileage should consist mainly of easier mileage to help build the resistance to training you will need when the heavier training begins.

By The Inch It’s a Cinch, By The Yard It’s Hard

Cliche saying, yes, but very true.

You don’t want to start too fast into a training block.

If the highest you have ever run in a week in 50 miles, trying to run 40 miles your first week back into training after a 3-month layoff is not only un-wise but can lead to an injury.

It takes time for the body to adapt to the stress you place on it. Will your first few weeks feel ackward just starting back?


The hardest part early on in training is wanting to run your miles as effortlessly as you ran them in past training build ups.

Take your time, you will get back to that level.

running a faster marathonThe body does adapt and I know the majority of you who are reading this realize this, but part of being a great runner is having the patience to let your body adapt to the stress you are placing on it.

I say it more for my readers who perhaps are struggling with weight, starting a new training build up or who may be struggling with the motivation to get out the door to get back into that fitness level.

Stay Positive Throughout

The name of the game when it comes to mileage is just staying persistent, holding fast to the goals you have in mind and sticking with it.

It is about progression and having the patience to continue to build when your mind already has you at the finish line in goal time.

The body takes approximately 21 days or 3 weeks for any physiological adaptation to occur.

You can’t be in a rush but know that you are in control.

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I’ve never been what you’d call a real high-mileage runner. Some people think I should be. But there’s a fine line between knowing what works for each individual.- Meb Keflezighi – 2004 Olympic Marathon Silver medalist

I have days, especially now that I am back into marathon training, where I want to pick up the pace.

I have done this long enough to know the pace will drop and the miles will become more controlled a few weeks from now but I have to be patient.

I am in control and know the adaptations will occur.

I know my fitness is coming when I am running long runs at 5.20-45 per mile pace, now, being only my second week back into training, is not the time for that.

It is about building and the same goes for you.

Have the patience to persist. Give yourself sometime to get back into feeling great again.

Don’t let the early build up make you feel as though you will never get back to the fitness you once had.

You will!

How Much Is Enough?

The proper amount of mileage depends on what your goals are.

If you are training to lose weight simply running more miles can help you do that.

It can also help your body burn off excess calories throughout the day by increasing your metabolic rate by training in the morning.

What you don’t want is to get diminished returns while training. If you are feeling overly fatigued, stressed out and not hitting paces can mean you need to back off your mileage.

Take Time Off

You will not lose any fitness taking a day or two off if need be.

I know how we, as runners, can become overly concerned that if we take a few days off we are going to lose our fitness, what we have gained.

The truth is, sometimes, taking some time off is exactly what is needed and this is where experimentation in training comes into play.

I had to know if running 140 mile weeks was going to take me from 2.19 to sub 2.10 in the marathon. Running 7 days a week, 20 miles per day didn’t equate to sub 2.10.00 marathons.

I learned quickly that it wasn’t the answer but I had to know.

I run better at 90-120 miles per week but I also know there are marathoners in this country and around the world who may have broken 2.20.00 on less.

The 40% Rule

What you have to do is start slow. I usually try to start off around 40% of my highest mileage week. So, if I was training at 100 miles a week.

I’ll start off at a maximum of 40 miles the first week back.

This may not work for you but it isn’t an aggressive goal. It is conservative, which is what you should be early on in your training build up.

What works for me may not work for you. Evaluate your past training. Ask yourself. What did work and what can I do differently to create a breakthrough this year in my racing?

Keep in mind, it isn’t how many miles you are running but what you are doing with those miles. Are you practicing your goal race pace?

Are you running recovery days easy enough to recover? Are you running everyday harder than you should?

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.-Albert Einstein

These are vital questions that you have to ask yourself. Writing down your goals is important.

You can train at marathon pace and achieve new personal bests but part of that comes form knowing how much is enough, how often and having the courage to back off the pace when you know you should.

So, what is the proper amount of mileage for marathon training?

The purpose of this post wasn’t truly to answer it but to make you answer it for yourself, to make you think about your past and consider trying something new you can start today that will impact your future racing.

If this resonates with you and you’d like to share this post.

Please do.

If you’d like to leave a comment and tell me what has hampered or really helped your training and racing, I am all ears.

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3 responses to “The Proper Amount Of Mileage For Marathon Training

  1. I used to be that guy that thought that hey, if I just keep running and running……and running, I will lose weight and get faster. Did I lose weight? yeah, a little, but as soon as I stopped running it would come back. Since my first Half Marathon in 2010, my times actually got worse. This year is quite different. I have an edge over some runners that are self coached, but if you take to heart and mind what is read in this post and others you will gain improvement – if you put it into practice of course. What did it for me this year was not just a different approach in my way of training, but an overall change in the way of life including a closer walk with God, diet, meditation, sleep, etc. Once you figure this out, everything will fall in place. The act of running in itself is not the one entity that will make you a better runner. It’s not about miles ‘to an extent’. It’s more about HOW you run those miles. It’s also about what you have written about before in what you do when you DON’T run that counts. As far as the 10% rule, I think it’s a good guideline. I don’t think it is something that is etched in stone. It all depends on your last week. As you also said before, this sport is not an exact science. It’s about a journey with peaks and valleys. Sometimes things might not turn out the way you have anticipated. You may have trained and everything go right, and then things do not work out. You have to learn how to be adaptable to changes and be willing to go back to the drawing board. Sometimes you will succeed. Sometimes you will fail……miserably. You have to accept your failures along with your victories. It’s what you do afterwards that makes you a champion. It doesn’t matter if you are trying to break 6 hours for the marathon, or trying to break 2:20. Dig Deep, find what works for YOU! Don’t be afraid to experiment! Then attack it with all of your attitude, strength, power, and vigor! Be the best you can be!

  2. Thanks for the comment Kenley. You are ready for that half brother. Just play it cool, total relaxed race week, in control. It is so important to let go of any stress the morning of, let everyone else be tense, nervous, worried, not you. Appreciate the feedback.

  3. Thanks for the comment Kenley. You are ready for that half brother. Just play it cool, total relaxed race week, in control. It is so important to let go of any stress the morning of, let everyone else be tense, nervous, worried, not you. Appreciate the feedback.

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