Building Base Mileage

Here are some suggestions for new runners on how to build base mileage. One of the common problems that runners have is increasing mileage too fast and courting injury. Injuries are terribly discouraging and set back your training significantly. I think it is better to be more conservative in building mileage and avoid injury, than it is to be more aggressive and end up with injury related lay-offs.

Often you will hear about the "10% rule". This is a guideline that suggests that you not increase your weekly milage more than 10% each week. If you just do the math, the 10% rule would have a runner go from 10 miles per week to almost 120 miles per week in 6 months time! Obviously, even the most ardent high-mileage supporters wouldn't suggest that for most new runners.


There are two basic ideas that I like to keep in mind when I look at my own milage increases. The first is the old hard/easy pattern. Put very simply, the hard/easy idea is that you alternate harder days with easier days. This allows you to recover fully from your training. Remember that we don't improve during the hard workouts, we improve as we recover from the hard workouts. If we don't get enough recovery, we don't get the benefit of the workout.

When building mileage, difficulty of a workout is measured by either the time spent running, or the distance run. Tempo runs, fartleks, intervals, etc... will come later after the base is built. So a 'hard' run at this point is nothing more than a run that is longer than a recovery run. To make this simple I make my recovery runs 1/2 the distance (or time) as my hard runs. My weekly long runs should be 1.5 times as long as my hard run or 3 times as long as my recovery runs. I got this 1, 2, 3 pattern from material written by Warren Finke. A sample 4 day/week pattern would look like this:

The idea is to not put two hard days back to back. I personally like to have a rest day after my long run as well. Some runners prefer a rest day before their long and a recovery day afterwords. Some do both. The key is to find what works well for you.

To put actual mileage to the pattern above, a 16 mpw schedule on 4 days/week would look like this:

Adding Mileage

The second component beyond the pattern for the weekly schedule is how, and how fast, to add mileage. Here I like the advice of running coach Jack Daniels. His suggestion is that you add no more than 1 mile for every day/week that you run. So if you run 4 days per week, add no more than 4 miles to your weekly mileage. This may seem like a lot for newer runners, but actually works well.

The second part of Daniels' recommendation is vital, don't increase your mileage more often than every three weeks. You need to give your body a chance to adapt to the new stresses the increased mileage places on it. Increase your weekly mileage, then hold that level for at least three weeks before increasing it again. If you are feeling particularly tired or sore at the end of three weeks, hold the same milage level for another three weeks before increasing it again.

When adding mileage to your week's schedule, add it to your longest runs first, and lastly to your shortest runs. Keep the 1,2,3 relationship between them

Adding Days

One common mistake that we make is to add days to our schedule at the same time that we add distance to our week. When you add another day to your running week, you are significantly reducing your recovery time. If you run 4 days/week and then go to 5 days/week, you have cut your rest days by a third. Because of this, it is important to not add any mileage to the week when you add a running day. When you add the day, reduce the distance of your runs on the other days so that the total mileage is the same, but spread out over more days. Keep this schedule for 3 weeks before you add back any mileage.

Example 1

Let's say we have the runner that is running the 16 mpw in the schedule above; 0,4,2,0,4,0,6 and the runner wants to gradually increase their base to 27 mpw. The progression might look like this: (each pattern is held for at least 3 weeks)

0,4,2,0,4,0,6 16mpw
0,4,2,0,5,0,8 19mpw
0,5,2,0,5,0,10 22mpw
0,5,2,0,6,0,12 25mpw
0,6,3,0,6,0,12 27mpw

That is a pretty conservative increase that would take 9 weeks to accomplish. The final schedule gives a decent base that would allow most folks to not only stay in shape, but to be able to race up to the 10k distance comfortably. If the runner wanted to, they could then add more distance, more days, and some quality workouts to their schedule if their goals were to move on to marathon training or to try and become more competitive and actually "race" their events.

Example 2

Now imagine the above runner wanting to run 5 days/week instead of 4 days/week and to increase the mileage a bit more accordingly. How would they add that? Again, wanting to keep the hard/easy pattern one option would be:

0,6,3,0,6,0,12 27mpw
0,5,2,5,2,0,12 26mpw
0,6,3,6,3,0,12 30mpw

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David S. Hays, O.D.,