Finding a way to increase your weekly mileage is as close as you’ll get to a guaranteed way to improve your performance in long distance running. As the race distance gets longer, the more you run, the better you’ll run.
At least up to a certain point.
Of course, you can do silly things like suddenly increasing your mileage from 20 miles a week to 100 or adding mileage and increasing the intensity of your training at the same time. That approach is an excellent way to get injured. However, if you do things the right way by patiently and consistently increasing the overall volume of your training, chances are that you’ll reap significant rewards in the not-so-distant future.
Unfortunately, getting from the present to that not-so-distant future while you’re adding mileage can be a little rocky. Until you’ve had a chance to adapt to the increased workload, you’ll be in for a few, shall we say, side-effects of the additional running that can catch you off guard if you’re not prepared for them.
1. Fatigue. If you run more, you’ll get more tired. How’s that for a startling revelation? Surprisingly, though, a lot of runners are thrown off by this. They figure they must be overtraining, or they wonder why they find their daily run pace slowing, they feel sluggish, or they just figure their doing it wrong somehow.
Then they figure this high mileage thing isn’t for them and they go back to the training they were comfortable with before. They start running less, recover a bit, and feel better. Which is great except that there’s no growth in training the same way you’ve always trained. If you keep doing the same training you’ve always done, you’ll pretty much get the same race results you’ve always gotten as well.
When you bump up your mileage, you’ll be more tired, count on it. But it will pass. After 3-6 weeks, you’ll find yourself feeling better, your daily runs will have a bit more zip to them and you’ll recover better during and between workouts than you ever have before.
2. Soreness. When you’re running more than you’re used to running, your “weak links” will protest from time to time. That knee injury you thought you got rid of a year ago will start to ache a bit, or you might feel some soreness in your hips or ankles. This is normal and in most cases, shouldn’t prevent you from sticking with your plan.
Generally speaking, if you have soreness that occurs when you start to run and gradually goes away or stays the same as you run, you can continue to run on it without doing long-term damage. Just remember to ice the affected area after each run and perform strengthening and gentle stretching exercises for the affected muscle groups.
On the other hand, if you have soreness that gets worse the farther you run on it, that’s a clear sign that something’s wrong and you need to stop running and get treatment for the injury.
3. Mood disturbances. Mood disturbances, otherwise known as “becoming a miserable S.O.B”, are common when you increase your training stress. I find that staying well hydrated, eating more complex carbohydrates and getting extra sleep tends to reduce the irritability that comes as a result of an increased training load.
Any time you increase your training, you need to take steps to help your body cope. Harder training means a greater need for recovery. If your body is to continue to operate optimally, you’ll need to pay more attention to fuelling it properly and getting the rest you need. Simple as that.
4. Slower times, at least at first. Running more means that you’ll have to slow down a bit, at least in the beginning. You’ll probably feel a bit sluggish and feel that it takes more effort than usual to run your usual daily pace. Don’t force it. Trying to maintain or even increase the amount of intensity in your training while you’re bumping up your mileage is a sure way to invite injury or overtraining.
Instead, just work on getting your mileage up, no matter how slow you have to run. Once you’ve adapted to your new volume, you’ll find you begin to naturally pick up the pace as your body increases the amount of work it can handle.
5. Finally, better running. The first four items on the list are a little depressing, so I guess I better end on a high note.
As I said, it takes a while to get to this point, but once you’ve adapted to the increased mileage, you’ll start to find yourself picking up the pace towards the end of some of your runs without planning or even trying to do so. Your running will feel easier, more natural and less “forced.” You’ll find you recover much faster between reps during your interval workouts and hill reps.
If you stick with it long enough, you might even begin to encounter a perplexing yet exhilarating problem. You’ll find it difficult to make yourself tired. This is what Arthur Lydiard famously called entering a “tireless state” where you feel like you can run forever without fatigue. That’s when you’ll know you’re ready to race and race well. Maybe even better than you ever have before.