How to run 80 miles a week (or 60 or 40)

If you’re looking for advice or inspiration on core work or cutting sugar/alcohol/caffeine out of your diet, well, you’ve come to the wrong place. Sorry about that. But if you’ve ever thought “I would like to figure out how to run more miles!”, maybe I can help.

First, figure out your intentions. If you just want to run a lot of miles because you think that’s what you need to do to be a “real runner” or because it sounds impressive, that’s not a very good reason. Please re-evaluate and come see me again in a few months. I don’t run a lot of miles in marathon training just for kicks – there’s a whole lot of science that indicates higher mileage = faster race times. The amount of miles you run are not the finish line in themselves, rather they are the means to an end (hopefully a PR!). So I think it’s important to remember…if running more causes  you to become injured or burnt out, well then, it’s kind of pointless, right?

Okay, now that we’ve established you’re here for the right reasons, let’s begin:

1) You can probably handle a lot more miles than you think. In my personal (non-professional) opinion, competitive marathoners should be running 50 miles a week MINIMUM. If your goal is to just finish the thing, I suppose you can get by on a little less, but marathon training is supposed to be difficult. If you’re only running 35-45 miles max, a huge chunk of that is going to be your weekend long run which leaves room for very little actual training during the week. That being said, let’s not be stupid about it. If you’ve never run more than 20 miles in one week, now is not the time to suddenly try and double or triple that. You know a good way to get hurt? Run a lot of miles, run all of your miles fast, and/or don’t get enough sleep. I think you can probably do ONE of those things, but not all three. If you’re going to up your mileage, you better make sure the majority of those miles are slow and that you’re taking care of yourself (sleeping enough, eating well, etc).

“How long will this take?” you ask. Well, it could take years, but you’re planning on doing this for awhile anyway, right? In my early 20′s, I never ran more than 45 miles/week (and that was when I was part of a college team). As I was training for my first marathon in 2008, I reached 55-60 miles and it was a huge deal. A few more years went by and I decided to try 70 miles and then last year, I gave 80+ miles a shot. “That’s a lot of miles, Megan! I don’t know how my legs will handle it!” If you introduce something slowly enough, over time, your body WILL adapt. I promise.

2) Next step: actually running these miles. Some things that have helped me are as follows -

Make a schedule! If I see a 10-miler on the calendar for the day, I am much more likely to run that amount compared to “seeing how I feel when it’s time to run”. No. If I wait to see how I feel, I will likely feel lying on the couch with a bowl of popcorn. Training for something isn’t easy and if you allow yourself an out, it only gets harder. Unless you’re limping or running a fever, your daily mileage is not optional.

Make plans with friends. It’s 6am and raining (or 7pm and you’re hungry or your favorite Lifetime movie just came on TV or you’d rather go to happy hour) – how likely are you to motivate yourself out the door? If you’re someone who pops out of bed at dawn raring to go, well more power to you (also, are you a robot?). I, on the other hand, have some trouble. Knowing that I’m meeting a friend for a run makes me 150% more likely to actually run. I need the peer pressure.

Be creative with your runs. Have you tried the run-commute to or from work? The lunchtime run? The errand run? The post-dinner run 10pm? The destination run? If you’re going to run a lot of miles, you better keep it interesting. Another thing that helps: running doubles. If you’re pushing 65-70 miles a week, it’s probably a good idea to run twice a day at least once a week. I usually run a few shake-out miles the morning before track workouts or tempo runs. Otherwise, you’re going to have to run like 10 miles a day, every day, all at once and that can be a little tough to accomplish. But don’t get TOO crazy with doubles – you can’t split up your long run. That doesn’t count. Try starting out with an easy 2-3 mile jog in the morning (if you do speed work at night) or in the evening (if you do speed work in the morning). Try to allow at least 6 hours in between runs, if you can. And if you only shower after one of those runs…I won’t tell.

3) It gets easier. The more you do something, the easier it gets. Even if you don’t reach your mileage goal this training cycle, you’ll be that much closer next time around.  I remember when 50 miles/week was a big deal, but after a few years, it became the new norm.

I hope that was at least a little helpful! Now I’m going to talk about my own training, because really…who doesn’t love to talk about themselves?

Marathon Training, Week 10:

My peak week of training went really well. I ran a track workout on Tuesday 10/9  (8x600m @5k pace w/ 200m recovery), a few 800′s on Thursday 10/11, and a 22-miler on Sunday 10/14 with 8 miles at goal Marathon Pace (actual pace for the MP miles was a little quicker – 7:23 average). I ended up with 81 miles total for the week and while it was not super easy, it was definitely do-able. My legs seemed to handle the miles better than past peak weeks (remember what I said about it getting easier??).

Marathon Training, Week 11:

This week was the first week of taper and so far it’s been going okay. I’m going to net out with about 53-54 miles which is a bit lower than I would have liked, but I think it will be fine. Most coaches suggest that you run 70-75% of peak mileage during the first week of taper and 54 miles will only be 66% of last week’s peak mileage, but in the end…does that little bit matter? I don’t think so. I’m running the Runner’s World Half Marathon tomorrow, but NOT RACING. The plan is to start off easy and run a TBD amount of marathon pace miles. I’m going to see how I feel, but I’m hoping at least the last 6 or so are at MP (~7:35). After tomorrow’s medium-hard effort, I only have a few more workouts planned before race day: a tempo run this coming Thursday (10/25) and some MP miles the Tuesday (10/30) before the big day. I’m continually questioning whether I’ve done enough, what kind of shape I’m in, if I’m ready…but there’s not much more to be done now. You all know the phrase: The hay is in the barn.

Okay, enough running talk! Let’s me tell you about what I’m eating during the taper.

1) Birthday cake. This counts as carbo-loading, right? I followed Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for the yellow cake and the Savory Sweet Life’s recipe for chocolate butter cream. No substitutions. Birthday cake is not a time to mess around with apple sauce and yogurt. Use real butter and sugar.

2) Homemade pizza and baked shells. Nothing fancy about this recipes, just a good mix of carbohydrates (pasta/pizza dough), healthy fats (olive oil), veggies (spinach, marinara sauce, peppers and onions), and protein (chicken sausage, low-fat ricotta cheese, fresh mozzarella cheese). The baked shells were based on a recipe from the Kraft website, but slightly modified to include more veggies (yay, spinach, onion, and garlic) and I had to use fat-free ricotta cheese because that’s all Trader Joe’s had. However, there was so much other delicious cheese in the recipe that I didn’t really notice the difference.

3) Beets and beet juice. I’ve been getting beets any way I can – bottled beet juice from Whole Foods, beet salad, fresh beet juice from the local health food store. As described by this Runner’s World article: “It’s one of the very, very few such ergogenic aids that is backed by real science and has been verified in well-designed, ecologically valid performance tests.” Good enough for me.

4) Yogurt. I have been craving this like crazy, eating at least 2-3 servings a day. I’ve always loved Fage (try it with a spoonful of nutella mixed in!), but my latest love is the maple cream top greek yogurt by Brown Cow. Yes, it’s full fat, and it is DELICIOUS. I think I might choose it over ice cream occasionally….

5) Wine. Because it has antioxidants and stuff.  Don’t argue with me on this one.

What’s your usual race preparation plan? Extra sleep? Beet juice? Visualization? Potatoes, pasta, and bread?

  • AR

    YES. Yes, yes, yes and yes. MILES MAKE CHAMPIONS.

    Then again, so does motivation. As someone who hasn’t trained with anyone since the mid 90s, I’m still a little boggled by the idea of meeting people at any time of day…ESPECIALLY 5AM or whatever I see you doing on Four Square. (lolz.) I’d probably just text them and be like “SEE YOU IN 14 HOURS.)

    So yeah, I need to move to your hood, right?

  • runnerskitchen

    <3

    You definitely need to move here. I'd run with you at 6am…or 9pm! Leslie lives 3 blocks away and runs regularly. And it's pretty easy to rope others (Sarah, Kristan, Nicole, etc) into meeting in Prospect or Central Park.

  • http://twitter.com/swf527 Sofia

    you are a superstar, coach megan. don’t know how you squeeze in all da miles while also being a normal person (ie not runner weirdo), but you do it. diZamn.

    also, i want some homemade cake. or the motivation to make a cake. and that maple yogurt. mmm.

  • http://www.milestogoendurance.com/ Ryan Knapp

    I would be careful with painting the increase in mileage as the reason for success for many marathoners or long distance runners. You mentioned competitive, and there is a difference between a professional and someone in their first race, but we routinely have athletes/runners run 3-4 times a week, include strength training and go sub-3 hours. They max out at around 50 miles or so.

    Could they go faster with more miles? Maybe, but now I have to be very careful in planning schedules that revolve around and approach their breaking point.

    A better comparison IMO is learning what each person’s limit is and respecting that within their personal race goals. I also take into consideration form and nutrition as they play a crucial role in terms of mileage.

    A runner with poor form/economy and lots of mileage is at more of a risk for injury than someone (probably like you) that runs with improved form and economy.

    I’m glad you brought up the topic. I ask a lot of runners/coaches who I work with and the opinions on the topic vary greatly.

    Good post!

  • runnerskitchen

    I definitely agree that every runner has their own limit – for elite athletes it might be 120 or 140 miles a week, but for someone just looking to finish a marathon it might be only 40 miles a week. I definitely wouldn’t recommend a first-time marathoner (or recreational runner of any distance) ramp up their mileage without serious forethought. There are many approaches to training and for some, the risks of higher mileage outweigh any benefits.

    However, I think I’m pretty clear in my post when I specify that high mileage should be for very competitive runners, people who really want to push their limites – not just the average Joe. But I also think that increasing mileage is something that can be done over time. Perhaps an injury-prone (or new) runner can only handle 45 miles this training cycle, but after their body adapts and become stronger…maybe it can handle an increase. I think as with all aspects of training, you have to figure out what works for you and do your best to toe the line between becoming stronger and breaking down. It’s not easy!

    Thanks for reading!

  • runnerskitchen

    it helps when i have good running buddies!! :)

    also, re: the cake. i would share….but it is long gone. hehe. i hope to NOT be in the south this year for your birthday. then i can bake you your very own!

  • bethp262

    I agree on higher mileage=faster running. Ever since I ran an ultra earlier this year, I have PR’d at every distance.
    I am also running the RW half tomorrow! (Did the 5k and 10k today) I will keep an eye out for you and say hi if I see you. Although you will be several minutes ahead of me even not running your race pace! :)

  • runnerskitchen

    please say hi!! i don’t really know anyone else running the race and it will be nice to see a friendly face. :)

  • The Skipping Pixie

    Holy crap you couldn’t have written this at a better time! I’m struggling to increase my half PR and another blogger recommended upping my mileage from my usual 30-35 to 40-45…just figuring out how the heck to put that on paper! Thx for this post.

  • http://twitter.com/emmiemarieB Emilia Benton

    Beet juice and tart cherry juice (sometimes mixed together), Greek yogurt (love most Chobani flavors and Trader Joe’s pomegranate), pasta, potatoes, chocolate milk…

    Great tips! After New York is all said and done I’m hoping to peak somewhere around 65 miles for the Houston Marathon. Have fun at the RW Half! I would have totally done that one if I were still in NY. See you in a couple of weeks! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jennie-Alpert/553576215 Jennie Alpert

    Megan, I am amazed at how you do what you do! I’ve been running for 3 years now, more competitively in the last year. I’ve never done a full marathon, only half marathons, my PR being 1:38, which equates to 7:32 splits. My problem is, I’ve upped my mileage (30 to 40 miles per week), but I feel as if I’ve gotten slower! Any advice???? More miles? More tempo runs? Yoga?

  • http://runthelongroad.com/ RunTheLongRoad

    totally agree- ever since my 50K in aug, i PR’d in the HM and 5K. now my “maintenance” mileage is around 45-50 mpw.

  • http://runthelongroad.com/ RunTheLongRoad

    PS – have fun at the RW half!!!

  • runnerskitchen

    Thank you!!

  • runnerskitchen

    I wish I had an exact answer to your question, but I’m still trying to figure out the more miles = slower miles issue myself. If you bump up your mileage, your legs will be more fatigued until they adapt, thus making you run slower. I think it’s important to find that sweet spot – you might need to add more track work and tempos, but also add in more rest days. It’s tough for me to say without knowing all the specifics. My best advice would be to follow a training plan that includes workouts and make sure you’re taking care of yourself when it comes to fueling/sleeping. Good luck!

  • runnerskitchen

    Mmm, chocolate milk and tart cherry juice. Gotta pick those up for the week ahead! See you soon!

  • runnerskitchen

    Glad you found the post helpful! Good luck w/ training!

  • Lisa Fine

    Wow, that is awesome. I’m not competitive at all, so when I’ve had mileage of 20 it feels like a lot. It’s all about perspective.
    Good luck with the race! And beet juice – I never would have thought. :)

  • James

    Nice write up.

  • runnerskitchen

    Good point about perspective – it definitely changes the way you think about things. Back in May, I was running 15-20 miles a week and it seemed like a lot. I wasn’t sure how I was going to increase it, but I suppose the body (and mind) adapt. Hope you’re doing well in VT – I’m jealous! I love New England.

  • Kimra

    Really interesting post. I’m about the furthest thing from competitive, but I’m bookmarking this in case I ever feel like exceeding my expectations. ;) I finished my first marathon this year peaking around 35 mpw, but my only goal was exactly that: finishing it. If I ever run another, I want to be able to RACE it, and I know that will require a different type of training. Whether that’s more miles or more/better workouts, I’m not sure, but I’m interested in both approaches. As a 3-day-a-week-plus-an-aquajog runner I’m basically the perfect candidate for Run Less Run Faster, but I’d also like to not be a 3-day-a-week runner forever — I definitely felt the “weekend long run = huge chunk of miles = not much more I can do during the week” problem this time around.

  • runnerskitchen

    glad you found the post interesting! if you’re not sure that high mileage is right for you, i think there are other routes to successfully race a marathon. an idea i came across last year was the the “double long run”, which i believe is the method of the Hansons-Brooks team, but don’t quote me on that. basically, the theory is that a 20-22 mile run (even if you run a lot) is too high a % of your weekly mileage and increases injury risk. instead, the theory of the double long run is that you run semi-long on both saturday AND sunday i.e. 10 miles and then 12 miles or 10 miles and 14 miles – something to that effect. splitting up the long run would be a good way to keep mileage to ~40-45/week, but still get in more days of training total. i honestly don’t know a ton about this theory, but it seems promising!

  • Kate @ Naturastride

    Very interesting. I have always been impressed with your mileage. After this year, I think I may be what some call “injury prone” and know that I def have my limits. My max mileage training for NYC was 50 and I was pretty beat. If I hadn’t just been coming back from a double SFX, I would have liked this to be closer to 60, but was definitely fine with 50 considering where I was 3 months ago. I definitely can see your point, though.
    Beet juice – interesting! Will have to check it out. Hey, are you still drinking the cherry juice? Is that helping recovery at all?
    That birthday cake looks so, so good.
    Race prep – probably a small increase in carbs but not too much since I don’t eat tons of carbs to begin with. What I really need is sleep. Come this weekend I have cleared my calendar to R-E-L-A-X.
    We need to figure out how to meet up pre/post race!

  • runnerskitchen

    i actually just finished a mini bottle of tart cherry juice! not 100% sure if it works, but i figure it can’t hurt, right? i think the fact that you were able to peak at 50 miles after recovering from 2x stress fractures is incredible (i remember when you ran 8 miles for the first time coming back…maybe in August?). i think there are certainly ways to train well without a ton of miles – there are just as many training philosophies as there are runners and the key is finding out 1) what kind of runner you are and 2) which strategies minimize injury risk AND produce results.

    i’ll be around the entire marathon weekend – i’ll email you next week so we can make definite plans!

  • http://www.susanruns.com/ Susan – Nurse on the Run

    I think the easiest way to get miles in is to just do it…no excuses, no “i’m tired,” no “i’m going to happy hour instead”…plan for those. Plan to run.

    Marathon! Can’t wait to cheer!

    I vote for pizza/cake/wine soon…

  • Meggie

    race prep = find a new tv show for the week before. and extra sleep. and visualizaton.

    and now all i want is birthday cake.

  • runnerskitchen

    i need your tv show recommendations. also…run friday morning??

  • runnerskitchen

    Good advice! I often tell myself that running is “not optional” because as soon as you start thinking about doing something else…it’s all downhill from there.

  • MealsforMiles

    oy, race preparation. Hopefully sleeping a little more, visualization and carbs! I’d also love to try beet juice but always get freaked out when my pee turns purple. Love your suggestions, especially #1 – so true! This year I finally stopped getting so freaked out about upping the mileage = automatic injury and it worked! (so far… knock on wood) :)

  • http://twitter.com/aemsteele Abby

    Clarification Question: Are you saying that a) very competitive runners should start off marathon training at 50 miles a week and only increase from there? Or b) that competitive runners should peak with at least 50 miles a week? If it’s a), I’m going to go ahead and agree with the above commenter that sounds a little extreme. If your base is conventionally 50-75% of your peak mileage goal, then wow – potentially nearing a 100 miles a week? That’s not for too many people. I also know people who run very good times (well under 3 hrs) without running tons of miles. Equally, there are people who regularly run 50+ miles a week and never improve because they run all their miles at the same easy pace, with no workouts, etc. Either way, it’s a great topic for discussion – the quantity vs quality conundrum. Good post!

  • Jacqui

    Race prep: visualizing potatoes. Definitely.

  • matt mcgregor

    Fantastic post Megan. Some really good advice and absolutely fantastic looking food! Thanks very much.

  • runnerskitchen

    My intent was to communicate the following: if you are a competitive runner (which to me, means someone with their eye on a BQ or thereabouts), you should be peaking at no less than 50 miles. Of course, if you’re following a 12, 16, or 20 week buildup you’ll start off more gradually. I consider myself a competitive runner, but my mileage was only in the 30′s/40′s in July. You gotta start somewhere, but I do not think that start has to be 50 miles. Hope that clarifies! And again…these are just my opinions. I’m not coaching anyone but myself.

  • runnerskitchen

    mm, potatoes. i am having some tonight!!

  • runnerskitchen

    glad you were entertained! :)

  • http://twitter.com/WannaBHealthNut Ellen Collis

    Great post! Had no idea about beet juice. Do you ever eat a small square of dark chocolate before runs? It’s supposed to help with muscle endurance. My bf is running the NYC Marathon for the first time and he has slightly fractured a bone in his foot. I think he will be OK, but I am begggging him to just rest until race day and focus on positive outcome visualization. I really think it could help. :)

  • runnerskitchen

    Hmm, I eat a lot of dark chocolate, but I’ve never eaten it right before a run. I’ll have to experiment! Good luck to your BF!

  • SS

    Thanks for this post. I am currently looking to increase my mileage (I am only at about 25 miles a week but that was a gradual increase from 16). I usually only run on the treadmill and find my legs are bulking up a bit…any reason why this could be the case? I thought it might be not enough water but I’m not sure.

  • runnerskitchen

    Hmm, that’s an interesting question. Not sure what you mean by bulking up…could you clarify? Do you mean adding muscle?

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  • http://twitter.com/RunToMunch Liana

    are you running on incline? My calves get diesel when I run on inclines.

  • http://twitter.com/RunToMunch Liana

    Loved loved this post!!

  • runnerskitchen

    Ahh, that is a good point! Lots of hill running could definitely make your calf muscles bigger.

  • iamafreeman

    I run this article after I completed my 54 mileage in six days that ended yesterday. I am 47 years old and never run as many miles. my mileage per day ranges between 8.5 and 9.6. Now I needed to mix longer mileage like 17 or 20 or somewhere in between but need advice how to incorporate those miles into my 55 mile run in 7 days.