Q+A: Why do marathon schedules have high mileage?

Our experts answer real-life questions


Posted: 9 September 2000
by Steve Smythe

Q London will be my first marathon, and after looking at quite a few training schedules, I remain puzzled about one thing. What, precisely, are the benefits of clocking up a high weekly mileage? Surely lots of miles of running will result in an injury. My current routine of two three-milers a week, has led to a 50-minute 10K PB: isn’t this enough to break four hours?

A Many runners have achieved good marathon times off relatively low mileage, while some feel that they can’t function properly unless they clock up almost 100 miles a week during the winter. The fact is that everyone is different, and the number of miles you run each week is very much dependent on your own circumstances.

Certainly some runners do become slaves to the number of miles they’ve totted up at the end of the week, without analysing whether what they are doing is actually relevant to what they want to achieve. The quality of your training is more important than how far you run. There’s no point in clocking up lots of miles if it means that your training pace drops considerably, or you know that high mileage inevitably leads to injury and illness.

However, success at the marathon is not possible on six miles a week. If you build up your mileage and your speed gradually, there is no reason why you should get injured. Gradually increase your number of runs to a minimum of four a week – one long run of up to two hours at 10-minute miling; one 60-minute run at nine-minute miling, one medium run of 45 minutes at 8:30-minute/mile pace and a faster run of 30 minutes at eight-minute miling. This combination will increase your stamina and accustom your body to being able to run further and longer.

Your 10K PB shows that you have the potential to run a four-hour marathon. But, until your training has given you the endurance to run 26.2 miles comfortably inside nine-minute miling, it will be extremely hard to achieve. You do need to build up to run more miles in training, and so you’ll probably need to hold off that target for another a year or so.

Steve Smythe, RW Race Services Editor, coach and runner for 32 years


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