The Low Mileage Runner: How to maximize your performance off of low volume

A headline caught my eye recently: “Be a better runner without running.” *About face* Now I respect the news outlet that ran the article but the snark in me can’t resist thinking, “This kind of thing belongs in Runner’s World next to the column ‘How to get faster in your sleep!’”

track dreams

Track dreams…but you still need to actually run on the track too. ;)


In seriousness though, yes there are ways to improve your running and get faster that aren’t running. HOWEVER, these are thought of like ‘extras’…you still have to run.

Everybody and every BODY handles a different amount of volume and quality. Not everyone can log 110 miles per week, with a hard speed session, endurance session, and long run in a 7 day cycle. Some people can run 170 miles per week just fine, others get hurt going over 50…waaah-waahh it’s not fair but that’s how it is.

Know your body. Know your limits and maximize them. Just because you can’t RUN more than 50 miles per week does not necessarily mean you can’t beat the runner doing twice your volume. Enter QUALITY.

Here are a few quick tips on maximizing your training if you’re a runner who is a little more ‘fragile’: (ie: improving your running with running less and doing other stuff)

* Extend Your ‘Week’: By this I’m talking about viewing your training cycle as 9-10 days rather than the standard 7. Meb Keflezighi has talked about doing this as he’s aged, and many masters runners work off of a longer training week. This allows for more recovery between hard workouts.

* Rule of 10 and Baby Steps: If you’re injury-prone already you know you need to BABY your body a bit. Only increase your miles by 10% each week. Then be honest with what your mileage ‘max’ is. If you start getting extra creaking when you kiss 50, stick there and supplement with extra cross training instead of miles.
stress fractures suck
* Swap Your Easy Runs: Plan your miles for the week and ‘save’ them for your hard workouts and long runs. Those are the days that will give you the most bang for your mileage buck. Cross train on the easy days; to be honest the benefit of easy days are mostly just getting the steady cardio in…you can do that running or cross training. The former is just a lot easier on your body.

* Seek Soft Surfaces: The pavement is harder on your body than the trails, track, and treadmill. Seek these softer surfaces. Also know that lots of downhill running exponentially increases the impact on your joints, so steer clear of huge, sharp downhills.

* Get More Efficient: Most injuries are a result of a weakness and muscle imbalance. Fix those and you’ll be running more efficient and most likely be able to handle running more. All the more reason to fix your form, get a stronger core, and solve why you might be stuck in a vicious cycle of injuries.

* Fitter With Cross Training: Ideally you want to be doing your hard workouts as running because this will translate the best for racing but you’d be amazed by how fit you can stay with cross training workouts. So if you have to do some of your ‘running’ workouts on the cross trainer don’t freak out and remember it all comes back to effort. Go hard, get your heart rate up, feel the burn in your legs and lungs, and you’re getting work done.

Not EVERYTHING that will get you faster comes from running more miles. Think outside the box, learn your body, and maximize your potential.

Though the snark in me still has to end with this: “but, duh, you still have to do some running.” ;)

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More articles on cross training and workout ideas!

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12 thoughts on “The Low Mileage Runner: How to maximize your performance off of low volume

  1. I don’t really consider 50 mpw low mileage, unless you’re elite, running competitively, or in college or maybe high school. 50 mpw is actually pretty high for recreational runners (depending on what you’re training for of course, that volume in marathon training is one thing and in 5k training it’s another).

    I run about 35 mpw (mostly hard miles, not really any junk), and most of the faster runners I know who rock out the 5Ks run less than me. I think cross training helps a LOT, especially biking and swimming, triathletes. Also the runners who run less naturally get more recovery time. I definitely think there’s a minimum to be successful but it’s different for each person and the law of diminishing returns applies big time (especially if training for shorter distances, not half or full marathons).

    • i was comparing that to HS’ers, collegiate, etc. but i know many people fall all across the spectrum here. glad u’ve found something that works for you!

  2. Agree with all of the above. I knew someone that was doing less than 5 miles a week of running but planned on doing a 100-miler based solely on CrossFit training. ::facepalm:: Obviously he backed out of that race……

    Anyway, sensibly speaking, the 10% increase in mileage to build the base, and some speed/interval work to intensify some runs…good enough. I always wonder where the pressure to be an “awesome” runner comes from in people. We’re not elites. If it’s not fun, do something else!

    • seriously?!! that guy shouldn’t have even uttered the word 100miler…lol. but i’ve talked to a couple guys who shared that (mis)logic.
      AMEN to that last sentence, if u’re not having fun…pursue something you ARE passionate about!

  3. I am a perfect example of the low mileage runner and I’ll run about 20 miles this week. As Cait knows, I’m not really her demographic (I’m a 63 year old guy) but as a former fitness coach and now a wellness coach, I am very much aware of the dangers of the “one size fits all” approach to ANY physical activity. That’s what makes this post so valuable in my opinion – options and sanity prevail! I started running again just about 3 years ago after a 35 year layoff, thinking I’d never really be a runner but by following the advice of people like Cait, I’ve run 5K and 10K races (even got a bunch of AG medals) and I’m training for a half marathon – all of those are on trails, BTW.
    Cross training isn’t just a good idea, it’s a great idea! No ,matter what your sport is you need to have a well-balanced body to be efficient AND have longevity.
    I intend to run for the rest of my days and that means ensuring my body is prepared for all life offers.

    • i’ve LOVED hearing your updates, Zo, and you’ve been doing great work, and i love you getting your speed sessions on. That last line though, THAT is the best part…amen to that!
      buuut, i will say that the Arty Runnerchick IS totally runnerdude friendly and you DO fit into my lovely audience. :)

  4. Totally agree – all about quality of mileage over quantity for some of us. (although clearly I needed more mileage in general!)
    I know that if I run too hard too often I always end up hurt – usually with a stress fracture.

    • first of all…you need to strike that little parenthesis additive there!! you are a rockstar, u know that…mmmk. everyone has races they’re not happy about but you’re STILL going to get out there and keep rocking like a boss. channel some kanye ego. ;)

  5. I am definitely in the ‘low miler’ range there. I manage about 30 miles per week. I can’t really fit in anymore than that, and once I do go over that mark my knee and foot start breaking down :(
    However, I am starting to try and incorporate some more strength training and yoga to cross train and be actively restful in addition to running.
    I wish I had time to fit in 50 miles, but those brownies aren’t gonna bake themselves :)

    • YOU, my dear, are doing an AMAZING job fitting in all that training between work, your new HOUSE(!!!), and the cutie beau of yours. :) I’m so proud of the progress you’ve made, and for sure you’re getting as much bang for your buck off of those miles you run! :)

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