Quality Over Quanity (Or, How I BQed without every hitting 30 miles in a single week)

When it comes to running, we tend to wear miles like badges.  At my RRCA coaching conference, for example, we all went around the room sharing how many miles per week we averaged, and also the highest total mileage week that we ever logged.  Those in attendance, myself included, gave impressive claps and whistles at the people who averaged 40, 50 even 60 miles each week.  I knew when I shared my own totals that they would be lower than many, but I didn’t expect the disapproving glances or disbelief that came my way.  One person who knew I’d run a fall marathon even asked me, “Were you able to finish your marathon?”

But here’s the thing: I not only finished my marathon with my lower totals, I pretty much killed it (keep in mind killing it for me may mean something very different than for you)!  I finished my marathon in 3:35:15 which was not only a PR for me by over 30 minutes, it was also a Boston qualifying time by almost a full five minutes.  And my totals?  Well, my marathon training peaked at 29 miles for my highest week.  (Not intentionally, mind you, but still).

So, how did I run a marathon logging so few miles?  Any why didn’t I run more?

Well, the easy way to answer that is to say I didn’t run more because I’ve learned, over time, that my body isn’t super happy with me when I run more.  I have suffered my fair share of running injuries over the years.  My injuries are usually the annoying, lingering kind that never seem to quite go away, are almost always on my right side (knee, hip, ankle) and they start when I up my mileage too much.  I’ve definitely identified some weaknesses and imbalances that cause the injuries, and I’ve learned how to correct many of them, meaning that I think I could get away with a 40 mile week or two right now.  But in the end, I still think I run better when I run less.  And it’s not just me (at least, I don’t *think* it’s just me) that buys into this theory.  My primary guide when training for my fall marathon was in fact titled “Run Less, Run Faster“.  The book advocates for three very targeted runs each week (a speed workout, a tempo run, and a long run) combined with running specific cross training.

I was pretty liberal with my running specific cross training.  The authors of “Run Less, Run Faster” espoused workouts like biking, rowing, or swimming.  I did more kickboxing and strength training.  But I know these activities made me a better runner, and I also know that without those additions to my repertoire, a 29 mile peak week most definitely would NOT have been enough to get me across that finish line.  I have no idea why running would occasionally cause my IT band to flare up in anger, but doing tons of roundhouse kicks were somehow absolutely fine.  But I tried to go with it…

So what’s my point?  I guess that sometimes less is more.  That I advocate quality runs over vast quantities of miles.  And that I think you should listen to your body: YOU are the best person to know how many miles you can handle.  Oh, and also maybe that cross training can be more helpful than you realize.  I know everyone is different, and even I would have preferred to get in more miles during my most recent marathon training cycle.  But with careful attention to the types of miles you are putting in, and some good, beneficial cross training, you can run a successful race with fewer miles than you might think.

What do you think?  Do some people run too many miles?  Do I run too few?  How do you find the right number?

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2 thoughts on “Quality Over Quanity (Or, How I BQed without every hitting 30 miles in a single week)

  1. Very interesting! I’m super impressed that you got that big of PR and a really impressive time with that mileage! To be honest, if I had read that during the middle of your training, I would have been skeptical 🙂 This is such a good lesson and reminder that different things work for different people and how important it is to know your body.

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    • Yup, I hear you! I think if I had read about someone else whose marathon mileage was so low, I would have been skeptical too. 🙂 And maybe I could have done even better without a nagging injury forcing me to keep my mileage down? It’s definitely possible. I’m just not sure I trust the adage that you have to run all. the. miles. to get good results! And you’re right; you have to listen to your body. Maybe that’s the most important take away.

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