How Many Miles Should I Run Each Day?

A man runs alone on a wooded path

By Claire Green. Claire runs professionally for the HOKA One One Aggies. When she’s not running you can find her swimming, writing or in the closest karaoke bar.

Perfecting your weekly mileage can be a difficult thing to do. Mileage can be a great tool to help build endurance, speed and strength, but running too much can increase your risk of injury.

On the other hand, running too little may make it difficult to reach your full running potential. I find that lower miles with higher intensity works best for me, while many of my teammates swear by their long, slow Sunday runs.

Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to choosing the right mileage. It takes time, patience and tweaking to find the perfect fit for you. Check out this quick guide to find the right mileage for you:

A runner ties their shoe and sets their watch before a run

Determine Your Base Mileage

Base mileage is the number of miles you run in an average, non race week. Think of it as the number of miles you are able to run in a week without experiencing excessive fatigue or soreness.

Determining the correct base mileage is important in avoiding injury, especially if you are considering adding more miles to your weekly plan. A great way for new runners to find their base mileage is by using the FIRST method, developed by Dr. Bill Pierce and Dr. Scott Murr. The FIRST method was developed to help busy runners prepare for a marathon, but the theory can be adapted to help beginners find the correct weekly mileage.

FIRST is structured to help runners maximize their race results with a limited amount of time dedicated to training. This method includes five workout days per week: three hard running days and two cross training days.

To use this method to find the right base mileage, swap out the cross training days with two easy running/walking days. For example, for a 15 mile week, a sample schedule may look like this:

Monday: 4 Mile Run

Tuesday: 1.5 Mile Walk/Jog

Wednesday: 4 Mile Run

Thursday: 1.5 Mile Walk/Jog

Friday: 4 Mile Run

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Off

Instead of running three miles five days in a row, this schedule allows you to test how your body responds to a slightly longer run, while maintaining the same mileage and allowing for recovery time.

Pay attention to how you feel on your two off days. Excessive soreness and exhaustion may be a sign that your base mileage is too high. If you feel no fatigue or reduced energy, consider adding an additional day of running, or increasing the length of one of your scheduled runs.

Experiencing little fatigue and soreness is a good indicator that you have found a base mileage that works for you. It may take a few weeks of trial and error to find the correct mileage, so be patient and listen to your body.

A man and woman run together on a greenway path
Three girls race on a blue track

Not all Miles are Created Equal

Mileage can be a great tool to build strength and endurance. However, adding more miles to your training just to reach a higher mileage total can be counterproductive. If becoming a faster, stronger runner is one of your goals, it is absolutely possible to do so while maintaining your base mileage. The key is to increase the intensity of a couple runs per week.

A solid workout can help you build speed and endurance, and reduce the necessity of extra miles. Say you run five to six days per week at the moment. Start by swapping out two of your regular runs with a workout. You can maintain your base mileage, but by including hard effort sessions, you will begin to build strength and endurance.

A great beginner workout is the fartlek. A fartlek is a type of interval workout that includes alternating uptempo efforts with easy efforts. The uptempo effort should be challenging enough that you’re breathing hard, but not so difficult that it is impossible to speak. On a four-mile day, a sample fartlek workout might look something like this:

-Mile One: warm-up jog (walk)

-Mile Two: alternate 3 minutes uptempo, 2 minutes jog recovery (run; walk)

-Mile Three: alternate 3 minutes uptempo, 2 minutes jog recovery (run; walk)

-Mile Four: cool-down jog (walk)

It’s important that you find the right workouts to help you reach your goals. Fleet Feet Running clubs, online coaching, and platforms like Trackster are all good ways to find effective workouts. Mileage days have their place in running and can be very beneficial. But before you start adding on the miles, think about ways you can maximize your fitness with the base mileage you currently run.

The 10 Percent Rule: Dos and Don’ts

If you want to increase your mileage for the first time, the 10 percent rule is a great place to start. The 10 percent rule states that you should never increase your mileage by more than 10 percent of what you completed the previous week.

If you ran 20 miles total this week, you should run no more than 22 miles total next week. Increasing your mileage in small increments allows you to gradually increase mileage while giving your body time to adjust to the added work.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind with the 10 percent rule. First and foremost, always listen to your body. If a 10 percent increase feels like too much, it probably is. At the same time, if you regularly run six miles per week (three days of two miles each), you may very well be able to increase your mileage safely by more than 10 percent.

Jason Fitzgerald, founder of Strength Running, says that “running more miles as a new runner means looking at how many days you run per week,” as opposed fixating on the exact number of miles you are completing.

In other words, if you averaged three runs per week for the past month, it’s more beneficial to work toward running four days per week consistently than to simply add a single mile to your total weekly mileage. However, the theory of the 10 percent rule still applies here. Put simply: Add running days to your week gradually, and give your body time to adjust to the additional run.

A man works out in a gym

Mileage Isn’t Everything

Here’s the thing. No matter how badly you might want to run a little further, increasing mileage is not always the answer. If you are injury-prone or have had problems with adding miles in the past, there are still ways you can reach your running goals while maintaining your current mileage. It’s important to determine why you are looking to increase your mileage in the first place.

Are you looking to build strength, improve your endurance, or work your way up to a marathon? There are plenty of ways to reach your running goals that don’t rely on upping mileage. If you want to improve your cardiovascular endurance, try swapping out a run with an aqua-jogging or swim session.

If speed work is where you need to improve, consider working with a strength coach to add weight-lifting to your weekly training. Above all, keep in mind that our bodies need to recover whenever we stress them in a new way. Adding a few miles in may be exactly what you need, but don’t forget to back off and take a down week when your body tells you to do so.

Finally, be sure to spend time properly recovering after you run.

Although it can be tempting, try not to sit-down immediately after finishing your run. Instead, add in some light foam rolling and stretching. If you are short on time, skip the stretching and stick to foam rolling.

Chris Kolba, a physical therapist for The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, explains that foam rolling “...breaks up adhesions, reduces stiffness, decreases soreness, increases blood flow and reduces tissue tension, leading to improved recovery and performance.” Consistency is key to reaping the benefits of stretching and rolling.

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