Ron Marinucci Column
by Ron Marinucci, Jan. 2, 2017
There are many reasons to run. Often, these reasons help to determine how many miles to run, daily, weekly, monthly. Runners and non-runners alike often ask, “How many miles do you run?” It’s a frequent question and one that probably shouldn’t be cavalierly answered. What is the right number of miles to run, say, each week?
In many things, such a question as that brings an answer of “It depends.” Usually, upon hearing this, I wrinkle my nose often in derision. C’mon…… What sort of cop out is that, “It depends?” But regarding mileage, how much to run really does “depend” for most runners.
The late Dr. George Sheehan, a philosopher of running if there ever was one, claimed each runner is “an experiment of one.” With that in mind, that they are “experiments,” runners must determine for themselves what mileage is right.
That determination is based on many factors, including terrain, weather, time, personal preferences, and more. One important factor is goal(s). What is the purpose of running? Runners aiming for different goals must find what mileage works for them.
For instance, to run and finish a race with a certain time will likely require different mileage than running to merely finish, regardless of time. Equally, plans to run a marathon will lead to greater training distances than entering a 5K.
One’s physical capabilities, too, can determine what weekly (or other) mileage to run. A runner more susceptible to injury will run fewer miles than one not as likely to be injured. One coach once opined that weekly mileage should be as many miles as possible without getting injured.
But depending on one’s running goal, that might also “depend.” Time, weather, work and family obligations might well limit “as many miles as possible……”
Dr. Sheehan, even in preparing for marathons, often ran ten miles three times each week and a 10K race on the weekend. That worked for him.
Recently I read medical studies that suggest, for good health alone or at least better health, a mere five or six miles a week are all that is necessary. Quite a few years ago, a physician researcher whose name I have forgotten claimed, “If you run more than 20 or 25 miles a week, you’re doing it for more than your health.” Well, of course; runners run for a lot of reasons and “for your health” might be just one of them.
I record my weekly mileage in a log. At the end of each month and, then, each year I tally those totals. But my real focus, if it can be called that, is on weekly distance. Daily runs matter to me only as part of the weekly totals. I do very little racing now and, when I do enter races, I really don’t specifically train for them. That is, I now just run miles and usually abstain from faster repeats or tempo runs. On occasion, I’ll do hill repeats with Michael Holmes, my blind training buddy. To break up some of our runs, I’ll toss in some fartleks with another training friend, Carrie Farnum. Bob Drapal, with whom I’ve run once a week for more than 25 years, and I never do anything but slow, slogging miles.
But although I don’t specifically train, “it depends” showed itself several times in December. The effort to run in ankle-deep (or deeper!) snow is greater than effort for a usual run. Those were the conditions several times last month. Years ago, too, when training for Boston, I ran a 20-mile training run hosted by Mike Middleton in Fenton. The previous overnight, nine inches of snow fell. Yes, dozens of us still came to run Afterward, a veteran of many marathons Dave Armstrong, told me, “That 20 miles,” in the deep snow, “was a marathon effort.”
Karen and I spent the week after Christmas in Las Vegas visiting our son Matt and his wife Linda. They live just outside of town, off The Strip. Where The Strip is flat, other than the myriad crosswalks that must be negotiated while running it, their neighborhood is quite hilly. I live in a fairly hilly area here
in Michigan, but Henderson, NV is more challenging. Shorter runs there left me more exhausted due to the sharply rolling terrain.
So, then, what is my ideal weekly mileage? Heh Heh. “It depends.” I run just to run. I most often aim for 50 miles a week, just ‘cuz. I don’t stop at 50 just because it’s “50.” (A few years ago, my Russian teacher at Amherst, Professor Czap, retired after 49 years of teaching. I asked him, “Professor, why not just go one more year and make it an even 50?” In what I thought was a very insightful answer, one that taught me something, he replied, “Ron, 49 or 50. They’re just numbers.” Indeed, they are.)
Usually 50 is my minimum and has been for several years. If I add an extra run or two with Michael or Carrie, I might top 60 miles. But I might not. Usually, in the winter for a couple of months, I cut mileage. If the weather cooperates, though, I don’t. As Professor Czap noted, for my running, 50 is “just a number” and I’m not wedded to it. I just run to run.
Others, though, as I once did, have other goals or restrictions. They might even have different preferences. Due to his lack of sight and a limited number of guide runners, Michael Holmes’ mileage is usually determined for him. Recovered from a serious injury a couple of years ago has caused Bob Drapal to cut his mileage. A fairly new runner, Carrie Farnum takes care not to do too much too soon, as suggested by her coach—me!
Curious, I asked several seasoned runners about their weekly mileage. How many miles do they run each week? Do the totals vary by season or if preparing for a specific race or event? In a usual week, what is the longest run?
Nick Stanko has won several Michigan Runner Runner-of-the-Year awards and continues to be a top-flight runner on the roads. He has seen his weekly mileage vary a great deal over the course of his running career. “In high school,” he noted, “[my mileage] started in the 30s [miles] and ended in the 70s. In college it was in the 60s to 100.” But after graduation his weekly miles totaled “100 to 140.”
Now, he admitted, “It’s currently 60 to 80 as I don’t compete as much mainly due to getting injured easily.” His longest weekly training run is 24 miles. Total miles do vary based on season and upcoming events, “but not a ton.”
Cal Ramm said, “On average I run 60-90 miles a week, on the low side of that if I am hitting two or three speed workouts a week, the high side in the summer, building mileage.” He completed the World Marathon Challenge in 2016, seven marathons in seven days on seven continents. “When I was training for that, I hovered around 90-110, mostly because I’d run twice a day and cut out all speed.” In preparing for the annual Marine Corps Marathon in October with the Marine Corps Team, “summer mileage is heavy with a few short distance races and not as much speed. Three months before the race I’ll start decreasing mileage and hitting speed and intervals at least three times a week. I normally will have only a few long runs, over 20 miles, and never longer than 23 or 24.
Normally he counts miles by the month, not by the week. “I found if I count by the week, I have a few real big mileage days, but then a few days of short, insignificant runs. Going by month I try to average ten miles a day, 300 for the month. Then I can have a day of two or three miles,” an easy, recovery day, “and be okay. That way I only ever take one or two actual days off, with no running at all, a month.”
Megan Stewart is an ultra runner, competing in multi events each year. She admits to being “an emotional runner and really just love running, wherever I can, all of the time,” adding with a chuckle, “to distract from graduate school.” Her weekly mileage “definitely varies throughout the year, roughly 50 to 100 miles. Greater than 100 miles per week isn’t common.” Sometimes, though, she measures running by time, “10 to 30 hours on foot each week.”
She tries to average an hour of running a day. “I try to get in at least one long, 20 miles, run in every week just to keep my brain happy.” December and January are her “low mileage” months, “about
50 miles per week.” During those weeks, her runs are “more intense with speed work and hills.” She quipped, “Who doesn’t love running up and down snow-covered hills—December and January--with their Husky?” Then, she said, “Mileage starts to pick up in February, with weekends the busiest training-wise.” These lead up to spring and summer longer runs of back-to-back Saturday and Sunday long runs of 20 miles and 20 miles, building up to 25 miles and 35 miles.
During the week, she likes “to mix it up with combinations and frequency, with hill and speed workouts.” She increases until about three weeks before her planned event, with “a solid 50- to 60-mile run a month before. Then no long runs over 20 miles three weeks before” as she scales back closer to 50 miles a week.
Sarah Boyle is the head women’s cross country coach at Cleary University. She’s also a former Michigan Runner Runner-of-the-Year. She said, “I run an average of 50 miles a week and count miles by the week.” She does vary her mileage based on upcoming events. “If I am preparing for a longer race, for example, a half marathon, I will increase by 10 miles or so a week. During the indoor season [winter], if I am racing track, I tend to stay around the upper 50s.” Her long run each week is usually in the neighborhood of 13 miles, again depending on the race I am training for and when it is.”
Besides coaching, Boyle is still geared toward racing most of the year. “I am typically preparing for 3000 meters in indoor season, the 3000 meter steeple or 5K or 10K during the spring track season, and [then] road racing, 5K or 10K.”
Chris Lampen-Crowell has been a runner for a long time and continues his “active living.” He, too, has learned to vary his mileage and even number of running days due to various factors. “As I have aged, negotiated multiple injuries, and experienced the physical barriers to running every day, I have found a new balance for my active living.” Once he ran every day of the week, totaling as many as 110 miles. Now, he said, “I run three days a week, bike one day, work out in the gym two days, and rest one
day. I have to say that I feel the best I have ever felt with this balance.” With the running schedule he followed in the past, “I was never as healthy mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as I am now.”
He added, “I count myself as a runner at my core, but that does not mean I need to run each day and break down [physically]. Numbers are insignificant. I run, find joy, and maintain a life balance.”
Rob Hyde is also a former Runner-of-the-Year. His weekly mileage “all depends on what I am focusing on and when it is.” That can lead to “60 to 70 to 80 miles a week.” Hyde runs to “train mostly for marathons, 25Ks, or half marathons.” That also causes variations in his longest weekly run. “I try to hit 14 milers [with my] lowest long run. My longest run will be 22 miles.”
No doubt, few of us are runners constantly training for marathons or ultras or, especially the World Marathon Challenge. Nor are all of us training to compete at high levels. But it’s interesting to see, for different reasons based upon individual goals, how other runners use or adapt their weekly mileage totals. By varying how much or far we run, we can not only try to achieve our goals, but also help keep our running fresh, perhaps avoid injuries, and, at the least, absolve ourselves of any guilt for not running a regular schedule.
Happy 2017! Let’s hope the year is healthy and prosperous for all of us.