5 reasons high mileage doesn’t make you run faster

Does high mileage make you run faster?  I have run into too many track athletes that are more concerned about their high mileage rather then their actual performance goals.  They mistakenly think that because they are writing down big numbers on their calendar every day, that it will equate to a faster time in their 1 mile (1600m) or 2 mile (3200m). This is one of the biggest running myths that I have ran into, but fortunately it is one of the easiest to bust.
1) Quality Over Quantity Mileage

I had a track athlete who was inconsolable because they only ran 67 miles the week before their final race of the season. Their goal was 70 miles, and needless to say; they were not happy.

This runner’s philosophy was to pour on the miles, similar to how a sales person would try to gather leads and make sales.  But running high miles is not the currency of a good athlete.  Quality of their training program is.

The runner could have spent less time doing higher quality workouts throughout the week.  They could have done more anaerobic workouts that increase their lactic acid tolerance levels and they could have also pushed the limits of ther VO2 Max through aerobic power workouts.  Had they done this, not only would they have been able to meet their goals, but their teammates would have thanked them for it come race day.

Quality training, even in endurance sports, will always be more important than quantity, so don’t get your panties in a bunch because you didn’t hit your high mileage goals.

2) Injury

The more unnecessary miles you run the more likely you are to have serious problems with your knees, ankles, hips and back. Let’s be honest, the human body wasn’t built to run two to three marathons a week, especially with our feet wrapped in worn out insoles on unforgiving asphalt.

Eventually there is going to be a breaking point where your body can only handle so much mileage.  I’m of the opinion that it’s better to never discover this breaking point, so long as you can achieve your performance goals in the meantime.

Be nice to your body, you only get one of them and it can be very expensive and sometimes impossible to fix.

3) Time – Boooring

Running over 100 miles a week might sound really good when you tell your friends on Facebook, but it’s no walk in the park.  If you run an average of 7 minute miles, you’re going to be logging almost 12 hours on the road.  If you’re running greater than 10 minutes a mile you’ll find yourself logging near 17 hours.  This doesn’t include your essential warm-ups, your cool-downs or any of the vital strength training that your body needs to stay balanced.  Add the warm-ups, cool-downs, and the strength training to your high mileage week and you end up with 18-23 hours of training and a 16:32 5k to show for it when you could very well be running a 15:08 with half the mileage.

Let’s not forget the staleness of a high mileage training program.  Many athletes can find running boring, especially when it’s done for long hours and at high frequency.  I won’t speak for you, but I would rather run 4 or 5 high quality miles opposed to nearly falling asleep on a few 15 mile runs all for the sake of bragging rights on the weekend.

There is a time and place for these 15 mile runs, and we’ll talk about that more in future articles; but making it your mantra to run more miles than your buddy runs a risk of injury, burnout, and just doesn’t serve the purpose of achieving those performance goals you’ve got written down.

4) Train Slow Race Slow

Did you join the three digit club this week?  Unless you are training for a marathon, high mileage is not the keystone to faster running.  However, having the appropriate mileage is a great way to compliment everything else you are doing to improve your 1 mile, 2 mile, and 5k times.

Remember, your goal isn’t to train your body to run further, your goal is to train your body to run faster!  Once again unless you are training for a marathon.  If that’s the case, don’t complain about your unsatisfied results in your 1 mile time trial or the 8 different 5k’s you raced over the summer in preparation for your one and only marathon in October.

Running in the 40-70% intensity range is where most young athletes will be when they pour on the high mileage with their frequent long runs.  There is nothing wrong with this range.  However, if practiced too often, the body hardly gets a chance to train aerobically at the 70-80% levels that are closer to 2 mile, 5k, or 10k race pace, and never allows the anaerobic threshold to be challenged.  When you run at levels near the anaerobic threshold, it allows a runner to maximize their aerobic systems efficient use of glycogen while expanding the aerobic system to higher levels.

5)  Need for speed

I love working with young distance runners who are only interested in high mileage, and telling them that we are doing a speed development workout very similar to what sprinters do.  They look at me as if I’m crazy.  But you know what.  I am crazy.  I’m crazy about making them faster.

Speed not only plays an important role for sprinters, but distance runners as well.  Speed refers to the highest possible running speed or maximum velocity one can achieve.  Just because you are running fast while doing speed workouts doesn’t mean you are classified as a sprinter.  It just means that you are increasing your body’s ability to mechanically run at a higher rate of speed. This is not to be confused with acceleration, or one’s ability to accelerate to top speed the quickest, because that would be the role of a sprinter.

Since we are not here to talk about sprinters, we’ll use an example of two endurance athletes with different speed capabilities.  Let’s say that Steve is a distance runner capable of running the 100m in 11 seconds flat.  I know what you’re thinking, but try to stay with me.  So let’s say that Steve is capable of running the 100m in 11 seconds and happens to be training with Joe whose running form isn’t that great and is only capable of running his 100m in 12 seconds.  If you were conducting a workout and had both of them run a mile at 60% of their 100m time, Steve would come in at 4:53 while Joe would come in at 5:20.  Wow, a whopping 27 seconds behind Steve.  Remember, they were both running the workout at the same percentage rate.  If Joe wanted to hang out and enjoy the workout with Steve, he would have to increase his effort by 6-7 seconds per lap in order to keep up.  However, if he did that, he wouldn’t be doing the workout at the intensity of 60% as instructed.

Now that you understand the importance of speed, does this mean you have to become a sprinter and give up those distance runs?  Thankfully, no.  It just means that speed development is highly neglected for some distance running programs, but should not be ignored in yours.