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How to get the most out of your low running mileage

Running hundreds of kilometres per week can be unrealistic for the recreational runner

Are you wanting to get faster for an upcoming race, but everything you read is only telling you to run more? Although many of the pros run hundreds of kilometres per week, high mileage for the everyday recreational runner who has work, family and other commitments is unrealistic. Increasing the distance you run is bound to help your body become more familiar with faster paces and distances, but not every runner has time to do that.

If you don’t have time to increase your mileage, here’s how to get the most out of the mileage you’re currently running.

What is low mileage?

A low-mileage training plan has no set distance, and it can vary depending on the race distance you are training for. If you are training for a marathon, 60 to 80 kilometres per week would be seen as relatively low; a 5K or 10K runner can typically get away with 30 to 50 kilometres a week, with high-quality speed sessions.

Prioritize speed workouts

Whatever your training goal may be, your training schedule should be designed around two quality speed workouts each week. These days will be the most important sessions of the week to get the most out of your low mileage.

If your goal is to break 20 minutes in the 5K,  the bulk of your speed workouts should equal up to the distance you’re training for and match the paces needed to reach your goal. (Example: For a 20-minute 5K, 12x400m @ one minute and 35 seconds per lap, which is equal to 18-20 minutes of running).

Keep easy runs short

Studies have shown that anything between 10 and 40 minutes of running can be beneficial when recovering from a tough run or workout. Easy runs are done to get your heart pumping and stimulate blood flow to your legs, but at an intensity that won’t fatigue you.

They are also an opportunity to teach your body how to run in a fatigued state, which can be crucial when you’re entering the final few kilometres of your goal race.

Ideally, you should do your easy run within 24 hours of your last hard workout or long run to keep your legs moving, but keep the time and distance between 15 and 45 minutes depending on what you are training for.

Make strength training essential

The lower your mileage, the more important it is to use strength training as a tool to power your aerobic engine. Cross-training exercises like biking, swimming, HIIT or elliptical training can help someone on lower mileage maintain their aerobic fitness, despite cutting out longer runs. Doing a short 20 to 30-minute low-impact strength session on your rest days can only help you become a stronger runner. 

A runner performing weighted hip raises as part of a HIIT workout. Photo: Asics

Structure your rest days

Runners on a low-mileage plan should generally take two rest days per week. These rest days should be planned around your harder workouts and long run, on opposite ends of the week (see below). 

Example: Monday (workout), Tuesday (easy run), Wednesday (rest), Thursday (workout), Friday (easy run), Saturday (long run), Sunday (rest)

Strategically planning your rest days will be key to getting the most out of your low mileage and having your body rested heading into your speed workouts.

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