How To Safely Build Volume
Building volume can help turn consistent training into big performances, as long as you do it safely. Here's how.
After you build consistency and learn to run fast, the trail-running world is your oyster. Going long is easy by comparison. Now you need to dial in the right weekly training volume and long-run distance.
1. Your weekly training volume should adapt for your life and stress levels
How much you run each week depends on your background, durability and life circumstances. A good goal is to work up to at least five runs a week between 30 and 60 minutes—that will put most people between 15 and 40 miles per week. To increase from there, you can add another day of running, add time to your everyday run and/or increase your long run.
After you adapt to consistent running, long runs enhance resilience and endurance for longer trail adventures.
For runners starting out, a general guideline is to stay below 40 miles per week in your first year and 60 miles per week in your second year to let the body gradually adapt. You don’t need to run a huge volume in training to have adventures of half-marathon and above. For a half-marathon, the minimum sustained weekly mileage to finish strong is around 15 to 20 miles; for the marathon, it’s around 25 to 35. More helps, but it’s not essential early in your development.
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However, you aren’t living the lives of others, so don’t try to do their mileage, either. To the body, all stress is the same, whether it comes from miles run, kids raised or meetings organized. Think long-term and don’t overstress yourself, viewing running as one component of a broader life.
2. Long runs are where you turn consistency into performance.
Most long-term development happens through the daily grind. But after you adapt to consistent running, long runs enhance resilience and endurance for longer trail adventures.
Usually, a good approach is one long run a week totaling between 25 and 50 percent of your weekly volume. A runner doing lower weekly miles will be at the higher end of that spectrum, and the opposite for higher miles (so, if you run 20 miles per week, a long run might be eight to 10 miles, while at 50 miles per week, it might be 13 to 16 miles).
If you have races or other goal adventures, you can build up your long runs gradually so that you are ready for the big day. For the half-marathon, 10 miles is plenty; for the marathon, 16 to 20 miles; for a 50K, 20 to 24 miles; and for 50 miles, 25 miles to 50K. Just be sure to recover plenty before and after long runs. With great adaptations comes greater risk of injury.
3. Focus on the little things, like nutrition and recovery.
There are usually two camps of healthy and happy runners—those who are genetic freaks when it comes to durability, and those who do things outside of running to support their long-term health. While staying healthy always has an element of luck, it’s essential to do the little things to stack the odds in your favor.
The little things generally fall into three categories: strength work, mobility work and improving your response to stress. Strength and mobility can be simple, but improving stress response is a bit more complex, involving fueling, massage and even things like meditation.
4. Handle Stress Like a Pro
You may not live the life of a pro runner, but learning from some of their habits can help you develop a routine that works for you. Megan Roche, a running coach and fourth-year medical student at Stanford, shares her methods.
“It’s essential to have energy availability to adapt to training and avoid breakdown. That’s why I’m always eating! I focus on making sure my protein intake is adequate through big meals and snacks like yogurt and nuts.”
“Before every run, I drink 12 to 16 ounces of sports drink, then rehydrate after finishing. Throughout the day, I’m never far from a water bottle, and a bathroom if I can help it.”
“I use the Headspace app to slow down my brain after work. I’ll often listen while my feet are up against the wall, which may not have proven benefits for everyone, but it feels really good for me.”
“Every day post-run, then again before bed, I spend time with the foam roller. Five minutes twice a day, focusing on my hips, back, IT bands and calves, makes me feel fresher the next morning.”
David Roche partners with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play. With Megan Roche, M.D., he hosts the Some Work, All Play podcast on running (and other things), and they wrote a book called The Happy Runner.