Ultrarunning: The Low Mileage Runner

August 8, 2011

This article is part of Endurance Planet’s ultrarunning article series. If you have questions, comments or feedback about “The Low Mileage Runner”, please leave it below in the comments section…

Finishing a 100 mile ultramarathon with just an average training mileage of 20 to 30 miles per week – is that even possible?

Actually it is.

You’ve heard time and again how increasing your training mileage is crucial to succeeding in an ultramarathon. So what’s up with those runners who tell of finishing 100 milers with low weekly mileage bases? Well training for the distance is still a valid axiom for ultras. But as important as that is, there are other factors that are equally significant.

Mileage isn’t everything

The distances involved in ultras are the primarily intimidating characteristics. It’s only natural to get a little fixated on them. You have to keep in mind though that not every runner’s lifestyle allows for running on a daily basis. There are also personal limitations to be considered such as those that come with age. Such runners compensate for their low weekly mileage by doing other exercises that just as effectively build up endurance. These are usually the cross training favorites such as weight lifting, swimming, or biking. Those who train in this manner usually only get to run once or twice a week. Within that small window, they do their long runs.

Furthermore there are other crucial skills that have little to do with mileage. Finishing an ultra is also a matter of learning how to brisk walk, run while carrying a pack, run while eating and drinking, condition your feet against injuries, and cope with sleep deprivation.

Determine the quantity and quality of training

Thus it is not so much the quantity of running as the quantity of training that one should assess. Mileage is not a one-size-fits-all number that somehow assures success once reached or surpassed. There are ultra runners who get by at 30 miles per week with only 15 of those total miles done running while the other half is composed of walking. In a 100 miler especially, you’re likely going to be doing more walking than running.

Determining the quantity or level of training is a personal evaluation. It boils down to what you can healthily manage. It is weighed against the amount of pain, risk or discomfort you’re willing to tolerate during the run itself.

In terms of quality meanwhile, specificity is a key factor. You might be able to do impressive distances in a week but if you’re doing them on the wrong terrain or not simulating enough of the race conditions, then you may not be effectively preparing yourself.

Training the mind

Another important aspect that tends to get glossed over in a regimen that’s overly focused on mileage is the mental preparation. Ultramarathons are just as much mental challenges as physical challenges. Accumulating some requisite distance is not going to be good enough unless your mind is also prepared to face the strain and surprises that come with every ultra. Next time you’re out there pounding on some pavement or some trail, remember that you’re training your mind as well as your legs.


Do you have questions about low mileage training, or what you’ve read so far? Do you have any ultrarunning pointers of your own to add? Please leave your feedback, comments and questions below, and we promise we’ll respond.

One Comment

  • dvd ripper says:

    Hi, just stumbled on your page from reddit. It’s not an article I would typically read, but I loved your perspective on it. Thanks for making a blog post worth reading!

Add your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.