Best distance on the asphalt.
August 13, 2009 5:19 AM   Subscribe

Runners: How many miles per week does it take to feel that you're optimizing your physical conditioning?

We've all heard the dictum: 30 minutes per day of exercise will prevent disease and increase physical fitness.

There's nothing wrong with that, but I'm interested in conditioning, not just fitness. In other words, going the extra mile, so to speak, to enhance parts of the body that wouldn't be reached by a by-the-numbers fitness routine. To keep things simple, I'm looking at running, although other aerobic sports would also fit the bill.

Very vaguely, I'd define optimum conditioning as centering around 1) increased endurance and stamina, 2) enhanced cardiopulminary conditioning, and 3) an overall "glow" and sense of wellness during the day--an extended runner's high. Of course, several other items might be tacked on to this list.

For most of us runners and joggers--amateurs rather than pros--reaching these conditioning targets means running "just the right amount": a range of weekly miles that's optimal. In other words, "Fewer than XX miles per week is insufficient, but more than YY miles per week leads to overtraining syndrome." Links to studies would be helpful, but since there's probably a dearth of research on this topic, personal anecdotes would be useful too. Of course, I'm aware that optimal weekly distances are different from person to person--that everybody's "mileage may vary." But I'd like to pin down what this variation is.
posted by Gordion Knott to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It depends entirely on what you're training for. If it's general health, then a half-hour to 45 minutes is a pretty decent run, 3 days per week or so.

If you're training for distance running, then you're going to want to find a program that leads you through the steps to that. Runners who train for marathons don't do as many long-distance runs as one would think, since the goal is the 26+ mile course at the end of training.

I fell into distance running when I was trying to lose weight, and caught the bug of adding miles to my runs. I started with a 3-mile run (which is the distance around a nearby lake), which took awhile to build up to, but after that, I added a mile at a time, eventually working my stamina up to be able to incorporate 13-15 mile runs every third weekend or so.

In general, I'd run between 5-7 miles, 3-4 days per week, with a longer run on the weekends.

The biggest mistake I made (which is a mistake made by a lot of new runners, or so I've been told) was overtraining. I didn't warm up or cool down properly, and I ran too many longer runs in a row, and wound up with some repetetive-stress injuries which healed up, but took me off the road for awhile.
posted by xingcat at 5:33 AM on August 13, 2009

I think this is a moving target. In general, the more fast miles I do, the better I feel. This is fast tempo running, not all out speed work. But if I'm only running 30 miles/week, most of it has to be pushing pretty hard for me to feel in shape.

But I say this is a moving target because the more you do, the more you realize that what you took as conditioning before was not any kind of limit. When I have run high mileage (60-80 miles per week), I've felt much stronger and fitter than at any other time. That's so even when the majority of the miles are at an easier pace.

In general, though, I find that the shorter the individual run (not just the weekly mileage), the harder I have to run to feel like it's improving my conditioning. Note that this is a separate issue from how to arrange a training plan. Easy running may not make me feel like I'm improving my conditioning, but it's often a necessary prerequisite to sustained harder efforts.
posted by OmieWise at 6:07 AM on August 13, 2009

Also, you said links to studies...You should check out Noakes's The Lore of Running, which is chock full of research. There is one study he cites that indicates that higher mileage training really only helps roughly the top 20% (by speed) of runners, with others not seeing significant gains in speed or output as they increase mileage above about 50 miles per week.
posted by OmieWise at 6:09 AM on August 13, 2009

1) increased endurance and stamina, 2) enhanced cardiopulminary conditioning, and 3) an overall "glow"

Long-distance running will in increase your aerobic stamina, but if you're also interested in anaerobic stamina (your muscles' ability to keep going when they're short of oxygen), you should look into weight training or bodyweight training in circuits or tabata intervals.

Goal #3 is hard to quantify, but personally, building anaerobic endurance generally gives me an equally good-feeling but different "glow" - it makes me feel stronger and "springier."
posted by ignignokt at 6:56 AM on August 13, 2009

2nding ignignokt

Long distance running is fine, aside from the wear and tear on your body, but eventually you'll have to run farther and farther to get the same amount of conditioning. What you should do instead, if you're only going to be doing running, is run different amounts at different days and tailor your speed to match. Sprint intervals for short distances one day, run a 5k on another.

Personally, I find that long distance (10k is the most I've ever run) running quickly plateaus as far as it's beneficial effects for me and I get far more fitness-bang for my exercise-buck by sprinting.
posted by scrutiny at 7:14 AM on August 13, 2009

I'm glad you asked this question because some of the answers line up nicely with what I'm experiencing. I'm middle aged and I've been running 3 or 5K, 3 times a week for a couple of years now and have found that when I try to pushing beyond that, I usually end up with one kind of weird inflammation or another. Throughout my life, I'd start an exercise program, get some positive results and then try to take it to the next level but find that the results wouldn't be a linear progression relative to the extra effort I was expending. I'd grow frustrated, get injured or just get the flu and say "screw it". If I'd lowered my expectations and just kept at it, I think I'd be much futher ahead at this point.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:02 AM on August 13, 2009

Rather than increasing volume, consider increasing speed. More intense workouts might better provide the kind of returns you're looking for, rather than longer workouts.
posted by mikewas at 9:52 AM on August 13, 2009

I felt really good doing about 17-20 miles/week last year. That was while cross training almost the same amount (time-wise) on a bike and in the pool. When it ramped up past that, it got to be a little too much. If I'm doing <10/wk, I feel like a slob.
posted by csimpkins at 10:35 AM on August 13, 2009

For me it's right around 20-26 miles total for the week to feel good without feeling beat down. I do a long run of 10-14, on sunday plus 2 more days of running and hit the weights if I have time.
posted by mymanb at 12:37 PM on August 13, 2009

Not recommendation as such, given that I'm still recovering from an injury but 2 points:

1. I don't think a limit is the issue, you can run as much or as little as you like, just don't increase to quickly, and replace your shoes regularly!

2. Join the metafilter running group. It's awesome!
posted by smoke at 4:50 PM on August 13, 2009

« Older Is there really lasting love at first sight?   |   Dum dum, dum dum, dum dum, dum dum.... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.