One of the late Arthur Lydiard’s most famous statements was, “Miles make Champions.”
By that he meant that becoming a champion distance runner required many miles of training and implied that the more miles you run, the better you’ll be. In Lydiard’s book, Running to the Top, he stated that a coach should not put any arbitrary limit on a runner’s training mileage.
Within reasonable limits, this is true. Of course, if you run so much that you get injured, or you get so sick of the process that you can’t face the idea of heading out the door for another run, then you’ve done too much and need to cut back a little. But otherwise, the more you run, the better you’ll run.
There are a couple of caveats attached to this statement, however.
First of all, Lydiard wasn’t a fan of the Long Slow Distance school of training. Plodding along for hours and hours at a ridiculously slow pace isn’t a recipe for success. Lydiard’s runners ran “comfortably hard” and as fast as they could without straining or going into oxygen debt.
Secondly, running lots of miles doesn’t absolve you from having to do some high intensity training such as interval workouts, hill reps or fartlek workouts from time to time. Lydiard’s runners did plenty of hill and track workouts, but they did them only after having built a solid aerobic base with tons of steady mileage.
There’s no doubt that most of the world’s best distance runners run upwards of 100 miles per week or more. This doesn’t mean that everyone should do so, but finding the volume of training that works best for you is an important piece of the overall training puzzle.
Some runners object to the high mileage approach for various reasons. The most common one I’ve heard is that mileage will make you slow. In answer to that I’d simply quote Renato Canova, probably the number one coach of elite African runners in the world. On one of his many Letsrun.com posts, he correctly points out that a lack of speed isn’t caused by the number of miles you run, it’s caused by lack of speed training.
Running 80 miles per week with two speed workouts will make you a better runner than doing 40 miles a week with two speed workouts. However, 80 miles a week with no speed training may indeed make you slower.
Finally, keep in mind that adding mileage may not make you a better runner right away. In fact, it will probably make you a more tired and slower one at first. The adaptations that come from high mileage take a few weeks to a few months to kick in. Patience is the name of the game, if you can stay consistent and keep piling on the miles while maintaining all the other elements of a successful training plan, you can look forward to some very significant new personal records 3-6 months down the road.