Running longer seems to reduce risk of injury.

Those training for a full or half marathon know the value and importance of mileage. To be successful at longer distances, one must gradually increase their overall volume of training.

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While the importance of adding and increasing the intensity of training (i.e. hard workouts) should also increase over time, many find that a simple increase in the total time spent running in lieu of harder/more intense runs, can and will create significant improvements to one’s performance.

The reasons for running more mileage and why it improves performance are well established:

  • Aerobic capacity. The more the heart and lungs have to work, the stronger and more efficient they become and the more they can handle over time.
  • Vascularization. Your veins and arteries are the body’s highways which transport blood to and from the lungs and heart to the working muscles. Over time, running increases the total number as well as the strength and durability of these highways making for a more efficient transit system.
  • Mitochondria. Mitochondria are the so-called “power plants” of any given cell including the heart, lungs and muscles. They are responsible for creating the energy needed to run fast and far. Running more stimulates more mitochondria to be made as well as to function more efficiently.
  • Fat burning and metabolism. The body has a preferred method of getting the fuel it needs to run faster and farther. It begins with readily available blood sugars then quickly transitions to stored, but still easily accessible, carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. Once glycogen starts to run out, the body uses fats to create energy. Repeated bouts of running trains the body to quickly and efficiently use the energy it needs including a greater proportion from fats.
  • Running form and economy. The more you run, the better the body becomes at choosing the gait and stride that minimize energy use and maximize efficiency. This improves one’s overall running economy which is especially important for longer runs and races.

Running more can be done in several ways but ultimately comes down to two things:

Frequency: How often are you running?

Adding more runs to your weekly training is probably the most obvious way to increase your mileage. However, you shouldn’t neglect the important time off between runs. If you can run one or two more days per week without compromising recovery, give it a try. Keep those ‘extra’ runs short and easy. Another option is to add a second run to one of your easy days. Also called ‘doubling,’ these additional (short and easy) runs will increase your mileage but still allow you to take a day or two off to rest and recover.

Duration/distance: How much time do you spend running?

Simply adding a few minutes to any kind of run, be it easy, hard (workouts) or long, will go far to increasing the total time spent running. Running just five extra minutes or one kilometre more will really add up and if taken together is about the same as doing one extra run per week. If you have to be choosy, run more on workout and long run days and keep the recovery and easy days as is.

Make no mistake, running more will improve your performances in the long run. You will however need to be patient as the body needs adequate time to adapt and make the necessary changes. It must be noted that running more also carries an increased risk of injury which is why it’s essential to increase gradually while still emphasizing rest and recovery.

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4 Comments

  • Glenn Cowan says:

    It would be great to hear an unbiased commentary on the role of cross training (i.e., cycling or XC skiing in the winter) in increasing “minutes”. Obviously these sports will not have the same benefit in terms of running economy, but should help the other things noted in the list. Putting up higher mileage numbers (high for me is anything above 120 km / wk) before a marathon is always reassuring and surely useful. However, I always wonder if cutting back 2h per week of running and adding 4+ h per week of cycling might be more useful…. Perhaps the role of cross training should vary over the season and a phase of running only is good. Runner often snub cross training so I won’t post this on Let’s Run.

    • Nic says:

      My understanding of too much reading and listening to athletes/coaches/scientists is that running training is the number 1 priority. The biggest bang for your buck. Pretty much run as much as you can without getting injured / decreasing your workout quality. If you want to do more cross-training on top of that, go for it! (Keeping in mind the not getting injured / decreasing workout quality issues.) My rankings for non running training are: 1. Weights (deadlifts & squats) & physio exercises / 2. Bike-Swim cardio (XC skiing fits here) / 3. yoga

  • Glenn Cowan says:

    It would be great to hear an unbiased commentary on the role of cross training (i.e., cycling or XC skiing in the winter) in increasing “minutes”. Obviously these sports will not have the same benefit in terms of running economy, but should help the other things noted in the list. Putting up higher mileage numbers (high for me is anything above 120 km / wk) before a marathon is always reassuring and surely useful. However, I always wonder if cutting back 2h per week of running and adding 4+ h per week of cycling might be more useful…. Perhaps the role of cross training should vary over the season and a phase of running only is good. Runner often snub cross training so I won’t post this on Let’s Run.

    • Nic says:

      My understanding of too much reading and listening to athletes/coaches/scientists is that running training is the number 1 priority. The biggest bang for your buck. Pretty much run as much as you can without getting injured / decreasing your workout quality. If you want to do more cross-training on top of that, go for it! (Keeping in mind the not getting injured / decreasing workout quality issues.) My rankings for non running training are: 1. Weights (deadlifts & squats) & physio exercises / 2. Bike-Swim cardio (XC skiing fits here) / 3. yoga

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