Marathon Mileage: Why Quality Matters

Why does marathon mileage matter to run fast over 26.2 miles? Well, mileage itself is not a guarantee of a great performance. It is the quality of the work being done that will distance the athlete from his or her competition. So, if you are running too much of your marathon mileage too slow it will only make you a long, slow marathoner. The majority of the runners I work with are going after specific times for their chosen distance. So, we have to stress the athlete anaerobically enough in order to get the highest return on their time investment. A common mistake marathoners make is running too aerobically for too high of a percentage of their marathon mileage. My goal with this post is to share some tips and tactics you can use to get better results.

I was able to lower my marathon personal best from 2:43:36 to 2:19:35 using one specific tactic, longer and faster long runs. Again, if your mileage is run too easily it is not going to improve your body’s lactate tolerance. Why do the best middle to long distance runners make it look so easy? Is it because of talent? Perhaps, but they have also spent sufficient time training far below their goal race paces. So, their marathon race pace feels more like a tempo run than an all-out effort. Again, it is training the body to handle higher amounts of lactic acid build up that makes the difference.

Why is a Marathon 26.2 Miles and Not 26?

The International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) were the ones that made the distance 26.2 miles back in 1921. The first marathon was run in the 1896 Olympic Games where the winner ran 2 hours and 58 minutes. Of course, the first recorded Olympics were held back in 776 B.C. So, competitions have been held for a long time. The marathon is one of the most difficult of all running events. Yes, there are people out there that are also competing in 50k ultramarathons as well. Also, runners who race in 50 mile and even 100+ mile road races. The best way to improve your marathon time is to spend more time training well below your goal marathon race pace. You still need to run volume. I always advise my athletes to spend 4 weeks running easy, aerobic marathon mileage before starting one of our 16-week marathon training plans.

It is important to build a strong foundation of easy, aerobic running first. The athlete will be better prepared to move into the specific marathon training phase if they do this. Again, it is not easy to run fast over any distance. It takes the body between 3 to 4 weeks to adapt to any stress load that you are placing on it. So, you first have to condition the ligaments, muscles and joints first. Then, start focusing on higher quality running. The main focus here is to clear lactic acid faster than it is building up. In addition, maintain marathon race pace longer than your competition. You also need to pay attention to your nutrition and hydrating well in your race. One major mistake I made was thinking I could race a marathon without drinking. So, you need to drink and not just sip in your marathon races.

Is 30 Miles a Week Enough for a Marathon?

Yes, running 30 miles a week is enough to prepare for a marathon. That being said, is your goal to run a marathon or race a marathon? If it is to race a marathon than your marathon mileage needs to be centered around your goal race pace. Of course, starting and finishing a marathon is a huge accomplishment. Yes, you can still race a marathon running 30 miles a week. Again, the mileage focused on quality versus quantity is going to help you succeed in this event. Runners that are spending adequate time below their goal race pace are going to be successful. There are runners running 100 miles a week who don’t get the results of some athletes running 30 miles a week. Why? The percentage of the marathon mileage being conducted is more focused.

In addition, they are training smarter. Remember, it isn’t about the volume you are doing as much as it is the quality of the work you are doing that counts. The best long distance runners make it look easy for a reason. One of the biggest reasons is they have taught their bodies to burn fat at race pace. Why do runners hit the so-called “wall”? They run far too aggressive early in the race, go into oxygen debt and start slow down or have to stop later. In addition, they are not hydrating well in the race and become dehydrated.

Also, they started their taper 3 weeks out rather than 10 days like I teach within my running courses and private community. Of course, a 3-week taper still works for many other runners. That being said, I have set personal bests from 5K to the marathon using a 10-day taper.

How Many Marathons do Elite Runners Run in a Year?

I usually run 2 marathons per year. One in the spring and the other in the fall. The majority of other elite runners in the marathon do so as well. Of course, there are other elite runners who run several marathons each year. It seems some of them can run world-class marathon times every other month or so. Again, we all come from different backgrounds. There are many talented runners out there. That being said, what you lack in talent can be made up with your work ethic. I didn’t have a lot of talent and ended up running 2:19:35 for the marathon. My marathon pace came out to 5:19 per mile or 3:18 per kilometer over the entire distance. No, it didn’t happen overnight and I had several failures before I ran that fast.

marathon mileage
Undergoing a Vo2max stress test at the Olympic Training Center with Dr. Randy Wilbur (in blue shit behind me)

You are welcome to visit our about page if you would like to know more about my athletic background. How often are you mentally rehearsing yourself running in a way you are dreaming about? One of the biggest mistakes marathoners make is focusing only on physical training and neglecting mental training. The best middle to long distance runner know how important mental training is. So, you have to visualize yourself succeeding. Spend 10 to 15 minutes rehearsing yourself performing at a high level. 4 to 5 months is plenty of time to train properly for a marathon. In fact, the training plans here at rundreamachieve are 16 weeks in length. Again, always focus on spending 4 weeks running easy, aerobic marathon mileage before you start 16 weeks of marathon-specific training.

How Many Miles a Week Should I Run for a 4 Hour Marathon?

I would focus on between 45 to 60 miles a week to break a 4 hour marathon. Remember, a marathoner seeking to break 4 hours needs to hold 9:09 per mile or 5:41 per kilometer. So, focus on training around 40 percent of those miles at or below your goal marathon race pace. Again, if you run too many miles too slow it is only going to build endurance. Yes, you will be very fit aerobically but not anaerobically. You will be able to hold sub 4 hour marathon pace for a portion of the race. That being said, it will be extremely difficult to hold the pace for entire race distance. What I don’t want for you is to experience disappointment. The marathon takes a great deal of time, effort and commitment to get right.

So, the goal here at rundreamachieve.com is to train my athletes to get results. In addition, to use leverage. We all know how to work hard. Also, we know many athletes who work extremely hard and never achieve their time goals. The reason isn’t because they don’t have what it takes. A major reason is too high of a percentage of their weekly mileage is spent running too easy. For example, 5 to 15 percent or lower. So, to run under 4 hours or faster you need to look at your mileage. What percentage of that weekly mileage are you spending at or far below your goal race pace?

Can You Train for a Marathon in 10 Weeks?

Yes, of course. I would recommend 20. So, spend 4 weeks of easy, aerobic running first. You can then start one of our 16-week marathon training plans. The reason is you have to have some form of general fitness before starting harder training. It is a wise move on your part to build the foundation first before moving toward faster running. The best middle to long distance runners know that you cannot rush the process of getting into great physical and mental shape. Yes, 10 weeks is still sufficient time to train for a marathon. That being said, I have always taught that longer is better. The better prepared you can be prior to the start of your marathon the better off you are going to be.

I am also a big believer in longer tempo runs. Of course, you can still get a huge physiological boost from a 3 to 4 mile tempo effort. That being said, we are training for the marathon here, not a 10K. So, longer tempo runs ranging from 7 to 14 miles in length will better equip you over 26.2 miles. Remember, it takes between 3 to 4 weeks for the body to adapt to the stress load being placed upon it. So, be patient with yourself. It takes time to adapt to the workouts. The benefits of the harder, anaerobic training that you are doing today will be seen many weeks from now.

Closing Thoughts

I also recommend practicing better hydration in your long runs. I would sit out water bottles every 3 miles or 5 kilometers in your long run route. The reason for this is you can practice drinking in training. Also, that you will know come race day how much fluid your stomach can take. Again, you don’t want to neglect this vital component of marathon success. The body needs proper fluid and calories during a race of this distance. You can do everything correctly in training but if you neglect this you can ruin your marathon finish time. What do the best long distance runners do in their races? They are hydrating well.

I have discussed some of my top recommendations for performing at a higher level in the marathon in this post. I would also highly recommend subscribing to the RunDreamAchieve YouTube channel. My goal there is to create weekly video content to help runners of all abilities get to the next level in their training and racing. Are you ready to become the best marathoner you can possibly be? Click on any of the green buttons located within this post to learn more about our resources available to you here. I look forward to hearing about your new personal bests following the RunDreamAchieve training philosophy.

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