Mileage and Intensity

Someone asked the question: Do you think mileage or intensity is more important in training? Press that play button and find out!

Extra Information:

First of all, why do we even need to increase mileage or intensity??? Because of two principles: The principle of specificity (training for what you are competing for; swimmers swim, sprinters sprint, and long distance runners run long) and the principle of overload (when your body undergoes stress that it is not accustomed to, it is “overloaded” and makes adjustments to make it stronger). These are just a few ways your body adjusts physically after you “overload” it:

  1. Faster transition from rest to steady-state in exercise (typically, your heart rate increases rapidly at the beginning of exercise and then levels off after a few minutes. The faster you can get to the “leveling off” of your heart rate, the less work you will have to do and more energy can be saved for later on in the race)
  2. Neural changes in muscles (your body “remembers” the running movement and you become more efficient over time. This is a large reason why someone would want to increase mileage and also why we do easy runs on recovery days, our body needs to recover from a hard workout so the pace is slower it still registers that running movement. This is also why it feels weird running the first day or couple of days you start running after an injury or break, you just have to re-teach your body the running movement. Breaks are still awesome and needed and luckily the more your body does a movement the faster it will remember it after a break.)
  3. Reduced reliance on glycogen stores (Carbs are awesome! They are the stored in the liver as glycogen and are the main source of energy for your runs. If your glycogen stores are depleted, you run very low on energy and your body starts using fat for fuel. Training will reduce your reliance on glycogen stores and you will be able to use fat for fuel more efficiently. You will still use your glycogen stores but they will not be depleted as quickly so you will have more energy)
  4. Larger stroke volume (stroke volume is the amount of blood pumped out of the heart in one beat. Stroke volume increases as training is more intense and the body adapts meaning that you can pump more blood out of your heart in one beat to oxygenate your muscles and make them move so your heart does not need to pump as quickly as before. That’s why runners have very slow heart rates a lot of the time compared to non runners)

So basically, I believe both mileage AND intensity will help you become a better runner. One is not more important than the other, you need both to be successful in this sport. It’s kind of like asking a basketball player if working on shooting or dribbling is more important. Both are important, if you can’t dribble you won’t get the ball down to your side but if you can’t shoot then what is the point of dribbling? Likewise, if you can run for a really long time but don’t have much speed, you could get to the end of the race and get outkicked or if you have tons of speed you could get ahead at the beginning but not be able to finish the race.

Train for what you are racing! If you are a long distance runner, mileage is veryyyy important and speed should be the icing on the cake that you use at the end of the season after running good mileage and having a good base filled with tempo runs, progression runs, fartleks, an hills. If you’re more of an 800 runner, speed can be emphasized a lot more (as long as you’re not training for cross country).

I came up with a few guidelines for increasing mileage and/or intensity

  • Don’t increase mileage and intensity too fast at the same time
    • Why? Hugeeee chance of injury. Work on either one or the other or, if you need to increase both, do it superrrr slowlyyyyy. A good rule of thumb is to increase by 10% of your mileage a week (if you’re at 30 miles a week, increase about 3 miles a week, 40 miles would be an increase of 4 etc). Let your body tell you how to increase intensity, if you’re really really tired to the point that even easy days are hard to run, be ok with taking a day off, crosstrain, or take a couple really easy days (it will be ok I promise!). Work with your coach and keep a training log so you can see how you have recovered from different workouts in the past.
  • Put more of an emphasis on recovery when you increase mileage or intensity
    • As you run longer and run more intense workouts, you use more energy and your muscles are worked and stretched harder. Recovery now becomes your best friend in the world! That means more ice baths, rolling out, stretching, and eating more so you have energy and can recover for the next workout.
  • If you want to increase intensity, don’t turn easy days into hard or medium effort days
    • Why? Because you won’t be able to recover from a super hard workout if you go hard on easy days. Run easy days at a pace where you can easily carry on a conversation with someone. These days should be fun days! You could explore different areas of the city, get lost in thought, or enjoy conversations with friends. Some of my favorite times with friends have happened on easy runs. My sister isn’t a runner but in high school sometimes she would bike next to me on runs. Sometimes my friends would go to an area where a ton of people were running and count how many people would tell us good morning ( I think 57 was our record, try to beat it!).

What has my mileage/intensity looked like over the years?

  • Elementary school: No training, just fun 5k races with my awesome dad
  • Middle school: Whatever we did at track practice at school, probably not over 10-15 miles a week. Sometimes I would go out on a 3 or 4 mile run Saturdays if I felt like it but training definitely wasn’t intense.
  • Freshman year of high school: Probably around 20-25 miles a week. I had no idea how to train so I just did what my high school coach told me. We ran a longer 6 mile run once a week, then ran about 3-4 miles the rest of the days. We would usually take Fridays off, race Saturday, and take Sundays off. Sometimes I would run a couple miles on Sundays just because I liked running but I really didn’t know how to train. We took off from the end of cross country until track started (about a month or month and a half), I wouldn’t recommend that because I came back for track in the same shape I came into cross country with and got frustrated because of that. Breaks are great and you NEED them but after about 2 weeks you really start loosing fitness so try to limit your breaks and don’t take a month and a half off from running (unless you’re injured). Mileage for track was the same as cross country, then I got serious about wanting to be good at this sport.
  • Sophomore year: during the summer, I trained with our guys team. We would meet up and run most days of the week (probably about 4-5 miles a day). One of the captains, Jeff, really pushed me and about twice a week we would run the last mile of our run as fast as I could go. This was when I found out what it feels like to push hard in a workout. I felt like I was going to die at the end of the mile but Jeff encouraged me and pushed me to new limits (so thanks Jeff!). Towards the end of the summer we started running 2 or 3 mile tempo runs so intensity increased. During cross my mileage was about 30-35 miles a week). That cross season, all those intense miles Jeff forced me to run paid off and I made it to state! In between cross and track, I decided to join the Dallas Metroplex Striders. Intensity was increased as well as mileage, but Terry (my amazing coach then and my amazing coach NOW!) used the 10% rule and increased my mileage slowly and worked to move intensity up slowly. I worked up to about 40 miles a week with 4 mile tempo runs, long runs, fartleks, hills, and intervals added into my training. That year, I went from not even top 20 in cross country to 5th in the 3200 and 2nd in the 1600 at the state track meet
  • Junior year: mileage increased once again to about 45 miles. I got used to Terry’s training and was able to increase intensity a little as well. I had been running for about a year and a half without a month and a half long break so I kept getting stronger. During cross country, I was 2nd in state cross, got 6th at NXN, and 11th at Footlocker. In track, I won state in the 3200 and 1600.
  • Senior year: mileage increase again to about 50 miles a week. Intensity increased as I was able to handle harder workouts. I won the state cross title, was the NXN champion, and was runner-up at Footlocker. I tore my LCL which forced me to take a break for a month but I came back and got 2nd in the 3200 in state track
  • College: 55 miles a week freshman year, 60 sophomore, 65-70 junior year, then 70-75 senior year. I had a hard adjustment to college training and racing but was able to stay injury free and made good progression my junior and senior year.
  • Now: about 75-80 miles a week, intensity increase as well so I’m working on how to recover better from workouts.

So summary of all that: I increased mileage about 5-10 miles a year and slowly increased intensity each year. Make sure you pay attention to how many miles you put on your shoes so you know when to get new ones (ASICS are the best haha)

Did I supplement mileage in high school or do mileage outside of school?

  • I did! Freshman year and the beginning of Sophomore year I would run on the weekends if I felt like running but this was more for fun just because I enjoyed running, not necessarily for training purposes. After I joined the striders, my school coach worked well with me so I was able to run my club team workouts instead of my school workouts. That’s pretty rare to find in a high school coach so I was lucky! Try not to run what my coach Terry calls “junk mileage” which is just going out for a couple mile run to make it to a certain mileage for the week or running a second run when you’re super tired just to say you got in a second run, these miles won’t really benefit you and may end up hurting you instead (you won’t be able to recover for later runs). Doubles are not a bad thing if you have built up to them but make sure there is a point to your double and you’re feeling good enough to run again.

Hope this helps! Comment with any other questions you have and remember to have fun out there because this is an awesome sport!