Historically, runners have always quantified running based on miles logged. I know that I have, and I can guarantee you that most readers of this blog have as well. Which, why not? Mileage is constant across all continents, roads, trails, and age groups. Mileage allows you to objectively measure the distance traveled and the boxes checked on your training program. But what if mileage isn’t everything? What if mileage obsession is causing more harm than good?
The main problem with mileage is that it is an objective measure of a physiologically-subjective human body. What do I mean by this? Well, does mileage account for your fatigue? Or what about the sleep you got last night? Or perhaps that you are just getting over a cold? Or that your job has been immensely stressful over the past couple of weeks? These factors are incredibly important because they add stress to your system. When we are adding stress from multiple sources, (such as running, work, family, sleep, etc) we get a cumulative effect which can greatly impact our bodies. Using mileage alone does not provide a comprehensive assessment of how you are feeling and the load you can tolerate.
If we are continually measuring success on mileage and pace, we cannot adequately be prepared for when our body is trying to tell us something. Perhaps we are redlining and running the risk of injury or burnout. Mileage alone won’t alert you of danger. We need a measurement that accounts for both external and internal factors.
External factors on your training would be mileage, pace, terrain, weather, temperature. Internal factors would be fatigue, stress, hydration, fueling, and recovery. Some new devices are attempting to create unique algorithms or stress scores to help you quantify these difficult-to-measure factors. There are also calculations you can use that multiply your time running by the overall effort perceived to give you a more accurate representation of load. Some runners and coaches are switching to more time-based training plans rather than distance-and-pace based plans because they allow more flexibility in training. Some athletes are experimenting with awareness meditation and intensity logs to help keep track of the messages their body is delivering to them.
As of right now, we do not have a perfect way to assess training load and stress. But, there are many options out there for you to try that will give you more information than just distance alone. Running has a history of comparison and fitter-than-thou mileage logs that can become toxic very easily. Perhaps it is time we reconsider how we determine success and failure when looking at the training log. Perhaps we can move to something that accounts for our humanity and doesn’t treat us as running robots.
Thanks for reading!
Paquette, M. R., Napier, C., Willy, R. W., & Stellingwerff, T. (2020). Moving Beyond Weekly ‘Distance’: Optimizing Quantification of Training Load in Runners. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, (0), 1-20.