To succeed as a long distance runner developing endurance will give you the greatest gains. The easiest way to develop endurance is to increase your aerobic mileage, in simple terms the more you run the better you’ll become as a runner.
What do you do if you can’t increase your mileage? We all have challenges that compete with us for time to be out the door running. Whether that be your career, family, other interests or sleep. So what do you do if you can only commit to low mileage and want to improve as a runner.
As Hal Higdon’s recent tweet suggests, ‘endurance is a skill that responds to intelligent training.’ Certainly increasing the volume you are running is the most proven way to increase endurance there are other ways.
A low mileage running focus requires that each and every run has a purpose. If time is your enemy to higher mileage then making the most of all of your time is vital. Each run must compliment the other runs and also assist you in achieving your goals.
In these pages we normally recommend a training strategy that encompasses training that builds strength, speed and endurance. On a low mileage philosophy endurance takes a higher priority. Whilst strength and speed is important, it is endurance which is going to get you to the finish line.
When using a low mileage training plan utilise time instead of counting miles or kilometres. The time you spend running is valuable, counting kilometres can often lead to runners overtraining on specific runs and trying to push runs faster to increase kilometres. Incidental increases in mileage aren’t nearly as important as running each run with a purpose.
Spend your time building endurance. In the very least this means running a regular aerobic long run. This does not have to be super long but needs to be sufficiently longer in time then your other runs. Again there isn’t any additional benefit to running these runs harder in the attempt to cover more distance. The benefit will come from regularly training the aerobic system.
Hills are the best running session to build strength. However they can also be beneficial in building endurance in addition to strength. By running your long runs and other aerobic runs over undulating terrain you will build both the aerobic system and build strength. When you are utilising a low mileage training plan making the most of each run is vital.
With limited time you may have to prioritise when you aim to build strength and speed. While you may not use regular shorter hill repeat sessions as often, they should still be in your plan. This is also true for interval sessions designed to build speed. You may run these on alternative weeks.
Planning your weeks is important if time is against you. Make sure you can schedule your time you can run and plan your runs in advance around when you are able to run. Having a plan of when you can commit your time helps with motivation and keeps you accountable to your training plan. If you can only run four days a week plan out which run fits best into the four days. When you have the most time plan your long run, when you have your least time plan your harder hill repeat or intervals so you can get the most out of the time you have.
Another aspect of training that shouldn’t be ignored is recovery. Even with low mileage recovery is important. Easy runs should still form part of your training plan as they allow the body to recover quicker from your harder training. Easy runs also ensure your hard sessions don’t follow each other and you have adequate time to recovery from hard sessions and long runs
For recreational runners that still want to get the best out of themselves there is still a way to succeed on low mileage. You will need to be patient and consistent with your efforts. However, if you are motivated to succeed, plan your training and commit to the process running on low mileage can be a successful strategy.