As of the time of this post, I have completed 2 full marathons. I have also run 2 separate half-marathons as well (the last one being 10 days ago). So, I have a pretty good grasp on how many miles of training is required each week to complete a marathon. But now I am running a bit more, and have some serious weight loss and personal record goals, so I’m interested in knowing how many miles faster or more elite marathoners are going.
Overall, is more miles always better? I am going to dig into 3 different levels of runners: the beginning marathon runner, the mid-level athlete looking for a personal record or perhaps place in their age-group, and finally the elite marathon runner.
Mileage for First Time Marathoners
First, lets talk about beginning runners. Many first-time marathoners are just happy to complete the 26.2 miles. So, how much marathon training mileage should they be putting in each week?
If you fit into this category, then you probably should be running 3 to 4 times a week with an average of 20 to 35 miles per week. For the most part, you can probably get by with 20 to 25 miles per week. Of course, at the beginning of your marathon training program, you would be running much less than that and by the end, you may be running a little more than 25 miles per week. In addition, you may have a 20 mile run or 2 that will put your mileage up into the mid 30’s for the week.
Here is a training schedule that basically shows this mileage level.
So, for beginners just looking to complete their first marathon, you can get away with doing 5 or 6 miles perhaps 3 times a week. Then on the weekend doing a long run of 10 to 12 miles. So, your typical weekly mileage would be around 25 or 30.
Mileage for Intermediate Runners
An intermediate level runner is someone who has probably completed at least one marathon and has been running for 2 or 3 years (or more). So, if you are someone that has completed your first marathon and is looking to improve your personal record or perhaps even place in your age group, you would certainly fit into this category.
Of course, there are lots of different training programs out there, but a “typical” intermediate plan would have mileage ranging anywhere from 35 to 60 miles a week. Average mileage over the course of a intermediate marathon training program would be around 40 to 45 miles a week.
Run no less or more than you need to run overall, unless injury causes you to have to back off. Junk miles don’t help.
Now obviously there is more to running that just putting in miles, as you move to the intermediate level, you would have to consider adding more speed workouts, hill training, and tempo runs.
Mileage for Elite Runners
Now when I start talking about “Elite” runners, we start to enter the “crazy” zone perhaps! These elite marathoners are often running between 100 to 160 miles a week (or more!) These are typically full-time runners that compete to win and take home the prize money.
I won’t even pretend like I know a good marathon training schedule for elite runners, but its certainly more miles than the average runner could handle. These running champs focus on speed, distance, tempo, and everything else you’ve ever heard about – all without getting injured. Anyone that can run over 100 miles a week consistently is a pretty impressive human being in my opinion.
How Many Miles Should I Run Per Day?
The question of how many miles you should run per day cannot be isolated or separated from the initial question of how many miles you should run each week. Your overall training schedule will tell you how many miles to run. But there are a number of related considerations that will drive your daily mileage to help you reach those training goals. The following are the things to consider when determining your daily mileage:
1. What is Your Overall Goal?
If you’re gunning for a Boston qualifier or have your eye on a personal best, your daily running mileage will almost certainly be different than if you’re running for fitness or to lose weight.
More intensive and ambitious goals will, all things being equal, require you to run a greater number of miles. But a caution: running higher mileage just for the sake of adding “junk miles” can be extremely detrimental to your health and your goals. Needless additional miles can lead to overuse injuries, and can even make later workouts less effective, thus reducing your overall success at the end of your training program.
If you are not shooting for a specific time, but rather are looking to run the marathon to finish, then your daily mileage will be lower than that of an athlete with a faster goal. Avoid the trap of running additional miles beyond that required to successfully complete your program. Even junk miles run at a slower pace can have the same detrimental effect as those run at a faster pace. Run no less or more than you need to run overall, unless injury causes you to have to back off.
2. Training Program
If you have a specific marathon training program with long runs, tempo runs, and speed work, your daily mileage and speed will be exactly tailored to, and dictated by, your training program. As mentioned above, simply running more miles on a daily basis for the sake of adding mileage is a surefire way to limit the effectiveness of your training program and increase your risk of injury.
If you don’t have a specific training program with clear goals for how many miles to run overall, get one. Check out our training program suggestions. These will give you the guidance you need to have confidence that you will complete the marathon.
3. Injury History
Running is a fantastic exercise that can build you up mentally and physically.
But the reason why running works so well is that it is a stressor. By applying measured stress to the body over a period of time, you increase your body’s ability to respond favorably to that stress. In other words, by pounding out those miles, you increase your body’s musculo-skeletal and cadio-pulmonary ability to perform, i.e., run faster.
The problem is that bodies don’t always respond favorably to stress. The result isn’t always that your bones, muscles, joints, and other connective tissues get stronger and better. Instead, sometimes the result is that an over-application of stress results in a negative result. That is, the stress results in a breakdown of one or more of your body’s tissues.
If you are injury prone, or if you have a specific history of injury, it is a good idea to reduce the overall number of miles in your training program and to reduce your daily mileage. Lots of people feel like they have to give up running just because of their injuries, when what they really need to do is decrease the amount and intensity of their running to stay on the road. Of course, you should consult with your doctor or healthcare professional to determine that you can run despite a recurring injury.
Time spent injured on a training table, couch, or chair is time away from training, which will directly reduce the effectiveness of your training program, and thus diminish your performance. Don’t risk injury. There’s no shame in taking a calculated day off or reducing your mileage to keep your program going. Remember the goal.
4. Body Type
The beauty of running is that all types of people can do it. Some scientists have even theorized that humans were made to run. But some runners can handle greater mileage better than others.
Running requires pounding your joints, bones, and connective tissues with thousands upon thousands of pounds over the course of a run. While this can improve your fitness, bone density, and the strength of your tendons, too much weight can lead to things like joint problems, shin splints, and stress fractures.
For those of us who are waifishly thin, the daily pounding is less of an issue. But for those of us larger runners or those of us runners who carry some extra pounds while getting into shape for the marathon, this pounding can be a problem.
Again, remember your goal. If you are running a marathon training program to get in shape and finish, run only the number of daily miles that satisfies your training program requirements and allows you to successfully finish the marathon. There is no shame in reducing your daily mileage or the number of days you run per week in an attempt to accommodate your body type and the needs of your own anatomy.
5. Workout Intensity
The more intense your workout or running pace, the less distance your body will be able to withstand at that pace. There’s a reason you run long distances at a slower pace than you run a 100m race.
Yes, our bodies were made to run long distances, but our physical gifts allow us to run those distances slower than many animals are capable of running.
Be smart and listen to your body. If running at a certain pace over a longer distance is painful or results in excessive soreness or injury, reduce the intensity of your workouts. Check out our article on run-walk for a tried and true way to reduce intensity without reducing performance in the marathon.
There is a difference between wimping out and being pragmatic. If your training program dictates a certain pace for a workout that is in excess of your body’s current ability to handle, adjust your program. We’re talking about living to run another day without being injured.
To sum up, your daily mileage should be planned with the following factors in mind:
- Overall goal
- Training program
- Injury history
- Body type
- Workout intensity
So, in review as a beginning marathoner you may only need to run 20 to 25 miles a week on average to just complete your first marathon. Yes, this may sound like a lot if you are just getting started out, but trust me, its VERY doable!
Especially as you look at the mileage that some intermediate and elite runners are putting in each week, a “short” week of only 25 miles doesn’t sound so bad. Overall, you can see that others, also recommend around the same amount of weekly mileage that I have mentioned here.
I’m personally up to about 30 to 35 miles a week on average right now. I’m not signed up for a marathon at the moment, but I just know that I can improve on my personal record time, so I may have to sign up for a marathon before the end of the year.
If you have any comments or questions about weekly mileage, I would love to hear it in the comments below. Thanks!