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Dear Coach: What’s the Best Way to Increase My Run Volume?

Increasing your run volume while minimizing the risk of injury can be a tricky balancing act. Here's how to do it.

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Increasing your run volume can be a challenging prospect, especially if you’re returning to running after time off which is common at this time of year. Running is the most corrosive of the three sports in triathlon and it’s the sport from which you’re most likely to get injured. Increasing your run volume must be done sensibly and cautiously.

To begin with, it’s good to understand why you want to increase your run volume. If you are already doing a good amount of quality (i.e. higher intensity work) and you’re not seeing improvements then maybe increasing your run volume would help. You should aim to have about 75-80% of your run week be aerobic work with 20-25% as quality work. Increasing your swim or bike volume has less chance of injury, but it may not give you the same fitness boost as bumping up your run volume. 

Another important factor is your recent injury history. If you are coming off an injury, I would advise waiting until you are healthy for a solid six to 12 months before you do anything that could put you at risk for another injury. If we can assume you are healthy and you’ve been maxing out your quality run workouts, then let’s help you create a good solid run week that’s repeatable for you. Here’s how to increase your run volume:

Shoes, Shoes, Shoes

If you want to increase your run volume you definitely need to have a few pairs of shoes to rotate through. You don’t want to go from 20 to 30 miles a week or 30 to 40 miles a week and use the same shoes five or six days a week. Rotating helps save the shoes over time and your legs too. It’d also well worth having a run gait analysis done at a qualified running store so you are fit for the right shoe. 

RELATED: Ask A Gear Guru: When Should I Replace My Running Shoes?

Plan Your Run Week

It’s a good idea to determine how many days a week you want to run. Running three big days a week would be fine, but it’s often better to run several days a week, even if two of the runs are shorter (e.g. in the 20- to 45-minute range). Planning to run four or five days a week with higher intensity/quality work on two of those days is a great start. Consistency is always key so being able to sustain the number of workouts and the quality each week is more important than anything.

Increasing your volume over a sensible period of time in order to avoid injury is most important. If you are currently running 20 miles a week, you won’t want to immediately jump to 30 miles a week. It would be much better to go from 20 miles to 22 to 24 miles, then 25-27 miles, and then finally 28-30 miles. Never increase by more than 10% week-on-week. Give yourself four weeks to build up the next 10 miles. Going from 30 to 40 miles will be a little easier as a 10% increase will be 3 miles per week, and you can get up to 39 miles in three weeks. Of course, you should work in a break/rest week as well, where you bring down the mileage or repeat a lower mileage week. It’s often preferable to do two weeks with increasing volume and one week that’s an easier, lighter week. 

Map Out Your Workouts

Now let’s look at the breakdown of your run week and the complexion of the workouts. Let’s assume you’ve built your mileage to 30 miles per week. At the peak, we’ll run about 7.5 of those miles as quality miles. My experience has been to do the hardest workout of the week first, which could be a track workout or a hill repeat workout. Hill repeats are a staple workout that go all the way back to Lydiard training in the 1960s—and if you don’t know who Arthur Lydiard is, you can find out more here. If your hill workout is 10 x 2 minutes and you cover about .25 miles during your 2 minutes that’ll be 2.5 miles of quality during this workout. The total workout will be about seven miles, including warm-up and cool down.

After this workout, the rest of your week could look like this:

Wednesday: easy 3-mile run

Thursday: 5-mile run with three miles of tempo running

Friday: no running

Saturday: Easier 8-mile run with a few 30-second efforts

Sunday: Longer run with a few miles at goal race pace (no faster than 10K pace) to end the week. This should put you around 7 to 7.5 miles of quality running for the week. 

As you progress to the upcoming weeks and the mileage increases you can bump the quality mileage up with it as well. Going from 7.5 to 8 quality miles a week shouldn’t be an issue if it’s done at the right pace. 

Increase Run Volume: Takeaway Tips

In conclusion, here are my top 7 tips for increasing run volume:

  1. Be conservative with your build-up—no more than 10% increase each week
  2. Vary your terrain and your routes—mix it up!
  3. Long runs should be less than 30% of your entire run week
  4. As a triathlete, use easy swims and bikes as recovery
  5. No run is too short! 
  6. Adding in pre-run mobility such as a three-way lunges are a great way to warm up: front, side, and rear
  7. Consistency over time will lead to the greatest gains, so be patient! 

Mike Ricci is a Level III USAT Certified Coach and was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year. He is the founder and head coach of D3 Multisport. The three D’s—Desire, Determination and Discipline—are the cornerstone for his coaching philosophies. The D3 coaches use evidence-based training science, technology, and wisdom to guide athletes toward their multisport goals.