I put this question up with a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek - because the answer invariably is: "it depends". It depends on where I am in my running experience, level of fitness, and specific goals and targets. It is easier to answer the question if I have an upcoming race event, and therefore I am structuring my running mileage accordingly in order to be adequately trained and ready for the event.
But I'm pondering the question outside of training for an event: given my age and overall health (which fortunately is pretty good) how many miles per week will provide me with the optimal return in maintaining a healthy body and mind...? And the corollary: at what point am I causing damage to my body (by running too many miles)...?
If I put this question up to Google, I get over a billion results... so this seems to be important to a lot of people.
I run about 30 miles per week, sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less... I'm prepping for a Half Marathon, so every week I'm doing a 10, 12, or 14 mile long run - no big deal, right? But I keep asking myself: for conditioning purposes, should I be running more weekly miles, like maybe closer to 40 per week? Or should I be doing fewer miles to reduce the risk of damage or injury?
On the one hand I am concerned about whatever conditioning I might be missing by not running more miles, but on the other I worry about what part of my body I might be damaging or wearing down. We've all heard the saying "what hurts you makes you stronger...", which I've bought into most of my life, but now I'm beginning to wonder if I'm always going to be able to recover from that which hurts me... You can see the conundrum...
Well, it turns out that even science (my usual go-to source) can't help me here, simply because I don't have access to the specific data regarding the status of the wear and tear of my joints, muscles, ligaments, cardio, or vascular systems, etc. I have to literally rely on "how I feel". I have to try things and if I feel that there is improvement, continue doing it, and if something hurts, I am supposed to back off. Hardly scientific, but it's the best I've got (short of instrumenting myself somehow and having a budget of many dollars to pay for it).
So as runners, we push ourselves through pain and discomfort in order to build endurance and performance levels. And by doing so, we believe that we are able to do more. If at some point the pain is so uncomfortable that it is not tolerable, we say 'ok -that's as far as I can go', but we do so at the risk of actually damaging a critical part of our body.
Let's not kid ourselves: as we run we are wearing down cartilage and all the other pieces that help us move. And we have no idea how much of that is happening or at what point it will cripple us. For some people it happens faster than others.
So what do we do? What should I do?
I'm going to run until I feel that I've run too far or too much. I'm going to be confident that I will recognize the signals that I should tone down my mileage or workouts. Obviously this is highly subjective and I may be influenced by what other runners my age or older are accomplishing (or not accomplishing) or by my own competitive nature. But the other reality is that we, as a species, never got better by not trying... so therefore I want to push the envelope until I sense a tear in the seam... (does that make sense?).
Now - what about the other part of that question: how do I know if I'm not running enough?
That turns out to be a multi-faceted question since it has at least two parts: 1) how much running is necessary to achieve a desired level of endurance or performance, and 2) how much running is appropriate for a better than average cardio-vascular health?
The answer to the first part is actually very straightforward because it is actually just asking how competitive do I want to be?. If I am really competitive, I have to put in a lot of miles... no bones about it, and guess what?, this falls back into the question of how many miles can my body take... ahhhh, the catch-22, the self-eating watermelon...
So for a "better than average cardio-vascular health" goal, my personal goal would be running a minimum of 200 minutes per week, split up across the week, with an actual target of ~250 minutes, and a stretch goal of 300 minutes. Head's up: this is a purely arbitrary conclusion on my part based on my personal condition. But it seems in keeping with general fitness thought. Personally, I know that if I run at least 200 minutes per week I can drink beer and eat ice cream... :-)
More as it happens...
Honeymoon HM in 3 weeks.