Posted by: Joe English | May 24, 2010

Training — Do I have to run more miles to get faster?

running-advice-bugA reader named Tim writes in with a question that comes up frequently. Although Tim is an advanced marathon runner, the answer is applicable to all runners as they look to improve and are seeking methods to do that. Here’s the question:

So far, I have done 5 marathons and my time has progressed from 3:19, 3:08, 2:55, 2:52, to 2:45 (recently, at Boston). With the exception of the first marathon, I have followed Hal Higdon’s Advanced-II training plan, pretty much to the T. It has a peak weekly mileage of about 60 miles, with most weeks in the 35 – 45 mile range. I think Hal’s plan has been especially effective because of the emphasis on quality training days (tempo runs, speedwork, hill training, pace runs) as opposed to sheer quantity of miles, which can often lead to “junk miles” as you talked about several weeks ago.

I would like to keep improving. However, I also realize that it’s going to get really challenging, and I feel like I will plateau if I follow the same training plan again. It seems that most runners 2:40 or faster put in > 70 miles a week, so mileage seems to have a strong correlation with race time. For my next training cycle, if I try to bump up my weekly mileage, while keeping everything else consistent (still doing the high quality workouts) and being careful to avoid overtraining and injuries, do you think that would likely translate into a faster marathon time?

First, Tim, you’re doing the right things for you. With your times progressing and with you staying healthy and injury free, you’re close to finding the right balance of quality and quantity, which is a very good thing. The question that you’re asking here and that often comes up is “do I have to run more to get faster?” The answer is that the key to getting faster will be increasing the amount and type of quality work (AKA speed work) and then assessing what else you’re doing to see if other miles can be removed to make room for that speed work. If everything that you’re currently doing is optimal, then you may have to run more miles to get in those additional miles of speed work. But far more likely for runners is that they will find miles that can come out of their schedules and then run these additional quality miles without increasing mileage.

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