How to quickly and safely increase your mileage…

…otherwise known as “famous last words.”

As part of my training for the Surfcoast Trail Marathon I’ve just completed my highest mileage week since September last year.

big running week
Not shown in this picture: the fact it rained the ENTIRE time on that 18k run

And I needed to, or I wouldn’t be able to hit my long runs as per my training schedule.
Normally you’d want at least 12 weeks to build up to a marathon, and I am going to try to cram it all into 10. That means I don’t have time for a long slow build-up, I need to consider the possibly stupid idea of a large jump in mileage instead.

For example, the week previous I did 35.5km. Another 10% on that would have me at 39k for the week just gone. The marathon is under 7 weeks away, so that’s nowhere near enough. I need to be up past 60k and I need it now!

But what about injuries? Or the 10% rule? Well…I’m not sure everyone needs to stick to that.
When I first started running the 10% rule was revered in every magazine or blog I read. It’s less so now, but is still one of the first pieces of advice you’ll receive when you ask how to increase your mileage.

So what makes me so special that I can afford to ignore such sage advice?
Nothing, I’m not. I just have a few tricks up my sleeve and some miles already ‘saved’ in my legs that tell me I can probably get away with it.
In the past two months logging an average of 40k weekly has become my new normal, so following the 10% rule in the above example would have only given me a high normal week, instead of the mileage increase I really need.

Instead of progressing from ~40k to the high 60k’s over the next two months, I have to get up to 60k immediately, sustain it for a few weeks, step back, raise it back up to 60k plus again, then taper for Race Day.

That’s what I meant when I said 8 weeks was just enough time to train.

Technically I had 10 weeks before the race but – and this is key – it was a better idea for me to really cement those 40k weeks, making absolutely sure I had no niggles, then move onto an aggressive training regime. Out of the 10 weeks, 8 of them had to be quality training.

My plan looks like this:

Pre-training: 2 weeks of all easy runs, lots of strength work, making sure I can easily cope with around 40k
Weeks 1-3: Build, build, build: 40k, 50k, 65k (all of which now include a hilly long run AND a hill reps run)
Week 4: drop-back week, 35-40k (all easy)
Weeks 5-6: Build again – 60k, 75k
Week 7: Start tapering about half way through this week
Week 8: Complete taper
Race Day

Currently I’m at week 3.

As you can see from that first picture my long run was super slow, but it will boost my mileage with little risk. Time spent on your feet, not miles covered, is what is important. It may not feel like you’re pushing yourself enough to make any difference, but my heart rate averaged 145bpm, which is right in my zone 3 (60-70% of max HR) sweet spot.

This is not an option I would suggest as a matter of course, it is a shortcut, with the risk that comes with all shortcuts. In running it is much better to be consistent with every aspect of your training. It truly is how you will get the best results.
Four 35km weeks are much better than a 20k week, a 50k week, then an injury that puts you out of action for a month.

Every now and then, when you feel like you can cope with it (both mentally and physically), and when you know you have the room in your schedule for the extra recovery and sleeping hours you will need, then go for it. Add more than 10% extra mileage to your week and see if your body copes with it. Tread carefully, don’t be too over-ambitious and be ready to pull back at the first signs of trouble. If you’re in pain now is not the time to stick religiously to your training plan.

Some mistakes I’ve made so you don’t have to other things to consider:
Don’t try this returning from injury unless you’ve put in a few months of base building first and know you’ve properly recovered.
Don’t try this if you’re a beginner – you don’t even have a base yet, you will need one.
Don’t let your strength work lapse. This is critical. Even the smallest niggle or weakness will be compounded tenfold by a sudden increase in mileage.
Don’t let your after-run care (foam rolling, stretching, massage etc) lapse.
Don’t fuel your ravenous day-after-the-long-run hunger with a share bag of peanut M&M’s (that you don’t share). Eat more, but better
Don’t skimp on sleep. It’s almost more important than food in terms of helping you recover and therefore perform well.
Don’t try this when you are experiencing stress anywhere else in your life. Emotional stress is just as bad as physical stress, and your body will react as such.
Don’t skip the drop back week even if you’re stretched for time. Now, more than ever, you’ll need it.

These ‘rules’ of mine also come with a huge caveat: listen to your body.

When you’re out on a long run and your brain keeps saying ‘stop, call for a lift home, let’s go to that 7-11 and buy a Coke and have a rest’ ask yourself if you really need to give in.
Does anything actually hurt? And if it does, is it a tired dead-legged hurt or actual pain?
You have to learn to know the difference between pushing yourself so you can improve, and pushing yourself into injury. This is going to be hard, really hard. The shortcut is that it takes less time, not that it’s easy.

poster-45(And the alcohol)

wine later

It’s a tough balancing act, and sometimes I fall off the highwire altogether; I know it’s so easy to do too much too soon and not realise you’ve blown it until it’s too late.
But at the moment I have no problems, no niggles and no reasons why I can’t put a bigger training load on myself, so I think it’s worth taking the risk.

Yes, that’s a lot of stipulations and disclaimers. That’s why the 10% rule can be very useful; the other options are just a little trickier.
So be very, very careful, and here’s one more don’t:

Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

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