Magic numbers don’t exist in training

When runners come to me for help with their training, we discuss their goals. We discuss what their current running looks like and how much time they have available to train.

And then, sometimes, they tell me that they don’t think they can run X time in their goal race because they can’t fit in X miles in training.

There’s a notion that to run certain times and distances, you have to run a certain amount of miles in training. That there’s a magic number that, if you hit it, all your dreams will come true and if you don’t, we’ll you may as well give up altogether.

It’s very easy too, to look at elite runners doing 100 miles per week, compare it to our own training and this more miles = faster running. This is certainly broadly true among the population of runners, but it’s not true on an individual level for an individual training cycle.

The obvious limitation with the more miles = faster miles is injury. Too much too soon and you’ll likely end up reaching for the frozen peas.

If you’re looking at a magic number of miles or runs per week that you think will get you a sub-2 half or a BQ, you’re going to be disappointed.

How many times have you got annoyed that someone you know at work ran a 10k ‘without training’ and ran faster than you who diligently ticked off all the runs on your 12-week plan?

Your friend at running club might be five times per week for their half marathon while you only manage three, but you’ll be running different paces and finding them easier or harder than each other.

We like to think that running is fair and rewards those who put in the work to train. And it does, for individuals. If you increase your mileage sensibly and train consistently you’ll get better than you were. But you won’t necessarily be faster than another person because you did more miles.

We all have different training and injury histories, different amounts of time to train and we’re at different levels of fitness. Why would simply doing the same weekly mileage give us the same race result?

When I started training again after having my son, I knew I didn’t have as much time to train as I once did. I don’t do as many miles or as many runs as I once did, but you know what? Last month I ran a 10k PB and this autumn I plan to do the same at the half marathon. No magic numbers other than those in the finishing clock.