Runners World Articles: Archives
How Low Can you Go? Surprise! Low-mileage training
works-even for the marathon
In the 1970's, in my quest for faster times, I averaged about 140
miles of running per week. I maxed out, believe it or not, at an
exhausting 210 weekly miles-which led to a series of breakdowns.
If there had been a magazine called Injured Runner back then, I
would have been on the cover month after month.
Slowly I realized that sheer volume wasn't the key to success.
At the 1971 Pan Am Games Trials, as a group of us mileage junkies
compared notes, Kenny Moore confessed that he had never run a 100-mile
week in his life. A year later, he finished fourth in the Olympic
Kenny wasn't the only world-class marathoner to embrace lower mileage.
When Tony Sandoval won the 1980 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, he
was running a lot-about 120 miles per week. During his medical residency
the following year, however, Tony's mileage dipped to about 40 per
week-and he still ran a 2:14 marathon.
Can regular folks run better a on a low-mileage program? You bet
Take my friend Lori, a 31-year old from Chicago. Training for her
first three marathons, Lori ran 6 days per week, averaging about
48 miles weekly. She finished each marathon, but the training felt
like a second job. For her next three marathons, Lori cut her running
to 4 days per week, averaging 28 miles weekly. Her marathon times
dipped by about 20 minutes. Better yet, her legs felt great and
she had extra time for family and friends.
Lori ran better on a scaled down program, and so can you.
How to Go Low
Remember: it's not megamileage that prepares you for fast
times or long races; it's speed training and long runs. Those are
your cornerstones. Apart from a speed session and a long run each
week, it takes only two other 30-minute runs a week to cover the
course of 6 months to prepare for a marathon. By cutting back on
mileage in this way, you'll recover faster from each workout.
If you decide to whittle down your mileage, here are some principles
to keep in mind
Clean the slate. Start fresh as you design your training program.
Schedule the lowest mileage you can get away with, using the tips
below as a guide.
Think "fast." If you want to increase speed-say, for a 5-K or 10-K
race-do a speed session one day a week. If you want to run a faster
marathon, run mile repeats on non-long-run weekends.
Don't dip below 90. Minutes, that is. To maintain general running
fitness, I recommend at least 90 minutes of running per week, spread
over at least 3 days. For example, Tuesday, 15 minutes; Thursday,
20 minutes; Saturday, 55 minutes. Or, Tuesday, 25 minutes; Thursday,
25 minutes; Saturday, 40 minutes.
Sidebar: Dealing With the Downside. A low-mileage running
program has many advantages-lowering your injury risk and increasing
your free time, for starters-but it can have it disadvantages too.
Here's how you can overcome them.
Problem: Fewer days running per week means less stress relief.
Solution: Do yoga or take a relaxing walk on nonrunning days.
Problem: You're burning fewer calories per week.
Solution: Eat a little less, and cross-train 1-2 days a week.
Problem: You may lose come conditioning for races.
Solution: Focus on quality speed sessions.
Schedule a "strength challenge": You're more likely to follow
the tips I've given you if you regularly test your progress. With
a friend or a small group, challenge yourself once a month to a
hilly run, a fast time-trial, or a race.
World, June 2000, p. 44
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