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Why you should end your obsession with weekly mileage

Why weekly mileage shouldn't be the gold standard of measuring training stress

Runners obsess over weekly mileage. It’s calculated on their Strava accounts, by their watches and compared against their friends and teammates. Weekly mileage has long been king when it comes to endurance sport, but new research is suggesting that when you’re planning training, it shouldn’t be the only marker of your workload. 

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Max Paquette is a biomechanist who recently published a paper on the topic, urging runners to stop obsessing over their mileage, but to look at it alongside several other factors in their training. He wants it to be one measure of training, not the whole equation. “When you start thinking about it, you realize that distance and minutes run don’t mean the same thing for every person. We’re not saying you should throw out distance entirely, we’re saying that when it comes to monitoring the response to training, relying on mileage only can be misleading.”

The most important measurement of training stress

Alongside volume and distance, Paquette encourages runners and coaches to look at several other factors, including body mass, steps per minute (cadence), how long you’ve been running and your injury history. All of those factors should play into creating a training plan. “Number of steps is important for all runners. For example, if a tall person and a shorter person go out for a run, the shorter person could take thousands more steps than their taller teammate. That run isn’t the same total mechanical stress level for both runners. If you think about that, over the course of many days, that’s a lot more cumulative load.”

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Tools for measuring training

Paquette says that cadence is a simple way to estimate cumulative loading during a run. He challenges runners to compare their cadence with that of their teammates so they see the discrepancy in steps that each runner takes. “For example, the next time you go run 10K with your friends, at the end compare average cadence. Despite running the same distance and time, there will be a difference between the cadence and steps count of each person. There could easily be a 1,000 step difference. Our hunch is that the person taking more steps has to deal with more stress on each run and therefore might not need to run as much to achieve the same training result.”

Another consideration is training workload. “That is the product of minutes run and RPE (rate of perceived exertion). Combining RPE, which is an internal physiological measure of work load, with minutes run or number of steps, which are external mechanical load metrics, is likely the more complete approach to monitoring overall training effects.”

Paquette says that while this isn’t a fully-formed theory, they strongly believe that they’re onto something. “Looking at steps and cadence is a good reminder that everybody is different. This is a much more individual metric, which takes into consideration the fact that every time you smack the ground, there’s a lot of force applied to your body.”