Build up your mileage

I can’t believe the marathon was nearly a month ago (November, where did you go??)! I’ve been having some good runs lately, so I thought I’d share my tips on building up mileage after a break. Let me know what you think!

Take a break – for as long as you need. Whether you’ve just finish a big goal race (like a marathon) or you’re just feeling stale, sluggish, and unmotivated (classic signs of overtraining), allow your body the rest that it needs. A healthy training cycle involves peaks and valleys – it’s not sustainable to run high mileage and workouts year round! After the NYC marathon, I took 7 full days off of running. I didn’t cycle, swim, or do yoga. I just…rested. On the 7th day I did a very easy elliptical workout, but I read a magazine and didn’t push myself at all. Since most runners crave exercise and the accompanying endorphin release, taking a break can be really hard. But if you want to have successful workouts and races down the road, you need this break. Instead of worrying about losing fitness, envision your damaged and tired muscle fibers healing themselves during your time off.

When you feel ready to begin running again, make your return to training fun. Even if you’ve been feeling antsy, your return to running might not be as blissful as anticipated. During my first few runs back, I felt blah and slow. To make the time more enjoyable, I scheduled running dates with my friends. I’m also not above bribery! Sometimes the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning is the promise of a post-run latte.

Look at your schedule and determine what your goals are for the next few months. Running just for fun can work for some people, but personally I like to have goals. Without something to work towards or a schedule to follow, I get very lazy. After this year’s marathon I thought about what I wanted to accomplish in 2011 (break 40:30 for the 10k, run sub 1:30 for the half-marathon) and then made these goals public. I’d like to run these peak races sometime in the Spring, so for the next month or so, I’m just working on building back my base little by little.

Once you’ve decided what purpose your running is going to have (i.e. to race a 5k, run a marathon PR, lose 10 lbs), sketch a rough training schedule. Make mini goals for yourself! Example – The Run for the Diamonds was my first “long run” since the marathon (10 miles total) and this Sunday’s 10k will be my first hard race effort. Whether your schedule is made on paper or in your google calendar, make it visible! I schedule my runs and workouts like appointments – they’re just as important to my well being!

Listen to your body. (Well, at least most of the time.) An often repeated bit of running advice is to only increase your mileage by 10% each week. I think that’s a fine suggestion for newbies, but if you’re used to running higher mileage, I don’t think you need to stick to that rule. Here’s my running schedule since the marathon-

Week One –

  • Monday 4.5 miles
  • Tuesday OFF
  • Wednesday 3.5 miles
  • Thursday 6 miles
  • Friday OFF
  • Saturday 4 miles, 25 mins elliptical
  • Sunday OFF
  • Total: 18 miles

Week 2 –

  • Mon 5 miles
  • Tues 5 miles
  • Wed OFF
  • Thurs 10 miles (incl. 9 mile race)
  • Fri 4 miles
  • Sat OFF
  • Sun 5 miles
  • Total: 29 miles

Week 3 –

  • Mon – 9 miles
  • Tues – 4 miles
  • Wed – 3 miles
  • Thurs – 7.5 miles
  • Fri – 4.5 miles
  • Sat – 3 miles
  • Sun – 10 miles (incl. 10k race)
  • Total: 41 miles

If everything goes as expected, I should be up to 40 miles by week’s end. Since I’m used to running 50-60 mpw, my mileage increases thus far have definitely felt manageable. I haven’t been tired or sore. And I’m feeling positive about running. All signs that my body is handling things A-OK. When I mentioned “listen to your body”, I added the caveat “at least most of the time”. My legs usually tell me if I’ve been running too much or not sleeping enough, but occasionally I just don’t feel like going for a run. What to do in this situation? Do I listen to my body and veg out on the couch? Or do I get my butt out the door? I almost always feel better after a run, so usually I try to stick to my training plan (enter the bribery system here!). But if there’s a day when the thought of running just seems completely unappealing – I give myself the day off.

When you don’t feel like running, how do you know whether you need a day off? Or just some extra motivation? What gets you out the door?

What’s your approach to building up mileage after some time off?

  • wow. where did november go. i can’t believe it’s been a month since NYC! when i’m lacking motivation i just tell myself “5 minutes. if i feel like crap after that then i can stop”. most days i’m good to go after that

  • I am UBER impressed how you’ve gotten back your base after the marathon! I decided to take a full 2 weeks off after the race because I was still sore in small spots about a week later and 2 weeks off was always my rule-of-thumb to take off in between seasons in HS and College. Just enough rest without getting too out of the routine. I’m slowly building up around 15-20 miles this week. Getting back into shape is hard, but I agree mapping out your goals and training schedule certainly helps!

  • Woohoo! Glad you wrote this post, especially the bit about violating the 10% rule. I know everybody (and every body) is different, but I’m always interested to hear others’ opinions on the matter.

    What gets me out of bed and on the roads? Admittedly it’s been tougher lately (post-marathon recovery, shorter days, errm, that Thanksgiving bloat, heh) but I remind myself of the time when I was too injured to run. Now, having the luxury of choice makes NOT running seem lazy!

  • Wah. I am taking an unscheduled rest day today for the following bad reasons: I’m tired. I have a mound of schoolwork to do. It’s cold. It’s past my prime running hour. I don’t feel like washing my hair. I don’t feel like taking a shower, in general.

    Terrible excuses, really. But the “good” reason is that I’ve run seven days in a row and could probably benefit from a day off. Womp womp.

  • I love your posts; so thoughtful and well-crafted.

    I’m almost exclusively a morning runner, and about 29-30 days out of the month, I pop out of bed pretty easily to do get it done. So if I wake up and can’t drag myself out of bed, I know it’s time for a rest day.

    If I start feeling peppier throughout the day, I might reconsider and do my workout in the afternoon, but usually once I reset my alarm and sleep in, I’m committed to the idea of a day off.

  • this was a great post. I am definitely on my way to burn out if I don’t figure out my plan and maybe take a break. Came just in time, thanks!

  • great post M-
    Most of the time my extra motivation to take a day off is to have a hard workout or a long run the day before; hence feeling less guilty! To get me out of the door is all mental; just telling myself that there’s a race on the horizon. However, there are times where I just veg out on the couch and do nothing – all about being flexible with the schedule.

    My approach is similar to yours in building mileage after time off as we dont stick to the 10% rule. 10% rule is kinda whack j/k!!!!; just build the mileage depending on feel. Usually after marathoning, I would take 2-3 days off and start the mileage cycle again.

  • I think my mistake was not taking enough time off after my last race. I just feel burnt out and unmotivated. Boo.

  • Great post – I admire that you keep track of everything and even schedule your “comeback” to running after NYC! I always need a break from keeping track of things, or else I go crazy. Recently running started being really unappealing to me for the first time in a long time, and I realized I’d been doing a marathon or 2 a year for the past 4 years, and that my body really needs a couple of months now and then to not really run that much and just do what I feel like day by day. Now I’m ready to get back into it!