It’s easy to get caught up in logging high weekly miles as a way to keep your cardio fitness up or to prep for a future race. But there can also be a point when your weekly mileage starts to take toll on your body. Whether you’re deep in a training cycle or in the midst of a run streak, it’s common to wonder, am I running too much?
Though the answer varies from person to person, there are some things you can to do figure out if your training volume is the right amount or if you need to adjust. So, we tapped Joe McConkey, a Boston-based exercise physiologist and USATF-certified running coach and Janet Hamilton, C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist and owner of Running Strong in Atlanta, Georgia, to help answer the question: “How many miles should I run a day?”
How much running is healthy?
One way to determine if your training habits are healthy is to think about what your goal is—and what aspects of fitness are needed to be successful in that event, Hamilton says. Training for a 5K is much different than preparing for a marathon.
“Think about where you are in your training cycle,” says Hamilton. “It’s normal to have your mileage and training workouts vary from the base-building phase to the prerace and race phase and into the postrace recovery phase.”
The old rule of thumb is the 10-percent rule (increase total weekly mileage by no more than 10 percent every week for three weeks, decrease by 10 percent for the fourth week, then repeat). You’ll do this until you peak with your highest mileage week coming about three to four weeks before your event.
Keep in mind that you can’t be at your “peak” for long without increasing your risk of injury or overtraining, so to stay healthy, mileage and intensity should fluctuate based on which phase of training you’re in.
After your peak, you’ll reduce mileage during a taper period. This will allow your body to recover for race day. If the event is big like a marathon, you’ll slowly ease back into regular training over the course of four weeks. That’s when you’ll return to a maintenance phase of running to preserve your cardio fitness levels.
One tip for staying healthy and injury-free at any mileage you’re training for is improving recovery tactics, says McConkey. So, if you want to run more, plan on more time for mobility and pliability, particularly during the build-up phase. (Once you’ve adapted to the new volume you’ll notice there is less time needed for homecare.)
How much running is too much?
The average runner won’t get close to their physiological limit of running (for reference, elites are able to run over 120 miles a week with three to four high-quality sessions per week and ultrarunners often log over 150 miles a week).
But almost every runner will have a period where they do too much too soon, McConkey says. One indication is that your general energy is down, resting heart rate is up, and performance or paces are slower than normal, it is likely because you are not getting the recovery needed.
“A simple way to check if you are running too much is by monitoring your pliability,” says McConkey. For example, if you foam roll and there is muscle soreness and pain throughout your legs, this is likely a sign the body is accumulating inflammation, and your work-to-rest ratio is out of balance.
Overtraining symptoms vary from person to person, but the key is to tune into your own body and listen closely for the feedback it’s providing you, Hamilton says. “If you’re constantly sore, battling one injury after another, that’s a pretty good indication you’re taking it too far.”
Additionally, if you continue to train despite an injury, it’s time to re-evaluate. “Do what’s needed for the given race or event goal and respect the fact that beyond that level you may find diminishing returns,” Hamilton says. “Doing more will usually bring benefits in performance, but at some point that risk/reward calculation starts to get flipped on its head, and you take on way more risk with the increased training and reap only minimal if any reward.”
How do you know when you’re running too much?
As McConkey mentioned, check the pliability of your muscles. If you are healthy, strong, and fit, you should be able to press very strongly with your thumb, hand, or foam roller along the muscles of your back and legs and have virtually no discomfort. “If you check this daily and start to notice the muscle tension/pain-to-press has increased, you might need to take a day or two off,” McConkey says.
Overtraining symptoms to look for that can signal you’re running too much vary, but some common ones runners can measure on their own are things like fatigue, a loss of enthusiasm for running, sleep disruption, changes in appetite, elevation in morning resting heart rate, and of course any running injury, Hamilton says. Always listen to your body—tune in to the subtle signs and symptoms that you’re not tolerating a particular progression in your training. Pain and injury are a sign you may be overdoing it and need to take a break or lessen up on your mileage.
“I like to call these ‘whispers,’ and if you listen to the whispers, you’ll not force your body to ‘shout’ at you (usually in the form of an injury),” Hamilton says.
Can you overdo running?
Sure—it’s how many of us end up injured. “Pretty much anything can be taken to extremes,” Hamilton says. “Though running is generally a healthy activity, it can be taken too far and negatively affect your physical as well as mental health.”
An advantage of taking a step back—and some rest and recovery—from time to time may just save you from having to take a longer training break due to pushing your body too hard and ending up sidelined with an injury or burnout.
Is running every day bad?
For runners who are injury prone, detrained, or suffer from chronic conditions such as arthritis, running every day is not advised. Instead, reduce your weekly running volume and increase other cross-training modalities that work best for your body and support running including walking, swimming, cycling, strength-training, and yoga.
For others, like runners of the RW Run Streak, running every day is totally fine. In fact, we know runners who have been streaking (running at least one mile per day every day) for over 50 years. The important thing to remember is to treat your daily runs with some structure, limiting high-intensity efforts to one to two days per week and performing recovery day-runs at a real recovery pace.
Overall, making progressions gradually over time and allowing your body time to respond and adapt will reduce the risk that you will push your body too hard and sustain an injury, Hamilton says. And, taking a day off from running can help you reset and recover—which is important for improving your running performance.
What’s the best way to cut back on mileage so you can keep running injury-free?
If you’re feeling burned out, make the next week a recovery week, McConkey suggests. Do this by decreasing your total volume by 40 percent and reduce the frequency of running by 20 to 25 percent. So, if you are getting in five runs a week, cut down to four, or if you’re running every day, cut down to five or six runs a week. And limit the amount and intensity of your speed workouts to something you feel you can easily recovery from in 24 hours.
How can beginners increase mileage safely?
Aside from the 10-percent rule, get used to daily foam rolling and pliability check-in sessions. If tension or pain on the foam roll is increasing as your mileage increases, you are likely doing too much too soon.
Additionally, getting a good running coach can help you determine the proper pace for any given workout based on the physiology involved and they can be the “voice of reason” when things seem to be going off track, Hamilton says.
Bottom line: Train at the right pace for you, and build your mileage based on where you are now. Listen to your body as you build mileage, and back off on mileage and intensity if you experience overtraining symptoms or pain and injury.