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I can’t count the number of times people have asked me, “how much should you run?” There’s a different answer to that for everyone, depending on your own particular circumstances, but the main factor controlling how much you should run is how much you can run.
Do you have only an hour a day to devote to running? In that case, your limit will be seven hours a week, if you don’t take a rest day, and six hours a week if you do. How far can you run in one hour? That depends on how fast you are, but in an hour-long training run some people can easily cover 16 kilometers; some will cover less than half that.
Besides the time constraints imposed on our running by work and family and other commitments, our bodies impose another: injury. Some few people have never been injured; their bodies seem to be able to take literally in stride any abuse hurled at it. The rest of us are on intimate terms with our physiotherapists, massage therapists and doctors.
Time and injury aside, the question of how much should you run will be dictated by your running goals. Do you run to keep your shape or to keep your weight down? Do you run simply because you love the feeling of flying (or plodding) along trails or roads, momentarily free of the obligation to answer your mobile phone and e-mail? Do you run in order to race 10Ks or complete marathons?
Staying slim (or relatively slim) and completing or racing marathons are very different goals, as are the training requirements.
If you run every day because you love it, and you never get injuries, then you can run as much as you like. Fifty kilometers a week, or 150 … do whatever makes you happy, as long as you don’t get injured.
If you run to keep weight off, only trial and error will get you to the balance point between injury and an extra piece of pie. Motivation is a factor as well, since it’s impossible to see immediate results from a single run, or for that matter a single piece of pie.
Runners who race get regular feedback from their race results, and many racers get sucked deeper into the running world, trying to figure out how to run farther and faster given the constraints of schedules and injuries.
I started running at school, as an 800- and 1500-metre racer, and moved to road races in my mid-20s when I got tired of seeing the same old faces on track start lines. I didn’t run very far in training for track races, but I did a lot of fast running. Road racing meant running farther in training.
In my early 30s I got tired of seeing the same faces on the start lines of local road races and decided to run a marathon. The marathon would require even more running, I thought, and I added a longer long run to my weekly schedule.
My best marathon was 2:27, and I consider myself unlucky not to have run 2:23 on that day (severe cramps in both calves reduced me to a shuffle over the final three kilometers). So when a friend asked me recently how much training I had done to achieve that result, I had occasion to think about what exactly I had done, and what result that effort had produced.
My friend is a 2:20 marathon runner himself, and when I asked him about his training schedule, he said that apart from the 4-6 weeks leading up to a marathon he ran “only” around 100K a week. In serious marathon training he ran 140-160K a week.
That contrasted sharply with the training I had done, and both of us were surprised to hear what each other had been doing. I had been running around 80-100K a week (though if I had done more perhaps I wouldn’t have cramped up in those final kilometers!) and my friend had been running 40-60 percent more!
I wondered then what other runners I knew have done to achieve top results.
One Chinese friend of mine who regularly earns podium places runs 115-130K a week; in marathon preparation his mileage increases to 160-165 per week. One female friend who finishes at the front of most of her races said, “I basically run 70-80K a week – exceptions are when I’m injured, sick, recovering from a marathon, or losing the battle with the summer heat – and on more careful consideration, that’s at least 25 percent of the year! Personally I think counting mileage can be very misleading; it’s as much about what goes into each kilometer as it is about how many total kilometers are covered.”
I agree; it’s quality, not quantity that counts. For some people, quantity works. Others must do less to avoid injury How much is right for you? First of all, assuming that you enjoy running at all, try to run as much as you want to. Second, try to figure out how much running will help you achieve your running goals.
Finally, about how much other people are doing; we’re all doing different things. When asking yourself how much should you run, you need to figure out – probably through trial and error – what will work for you. It’s very possible that what will work best for you is less running (and more cross-training or high-quality running sessions)!
Roberto De Vido is former Executive Director of TELL and has lived and worked in Asia for 25 years. When he was (a bit) younger he competed in two World Championships, but for most of his running career he categorized himself as “the first finisher with a day job”.