how many miles per week?

Family members and friends often ask me about how to start running. There exists a myth that running is reserved only for those who were varsity track stars in their youth. I hope, by now, if you have been reading along, that I have done something to dispel this fiction. Running is a broadly accessible form of exercise with many entry points. It is beginner-friendly, and an extremely patient friend for life, if you’ll welcome it. Another obstacle that often thwarts the novice runner from pursuing distance goals is the time it takes to invest in a training routine.

When I am training for a half marathon race (as I am currently), I rarely have the time to aggressively increase the time I dedicate to running. If I didn’t have the obligations of family, work, and everything else, I would love nothing more than to run almost every morning. However, the reality is I have to be intentional about where and how I spend finite training time. Over the course of my running practice, I have learned that if I run for 20 miles a week, I am able to maintain a level of fitness and endurance that prepares me well for any distance up to a half marathon. On the days I am not running, I find at least one hour a day to walk briskly, usually along hilly terrain (I try to find the time for this walk even on running days). While the net weekly miles don’t fluctuate much (I might get closer to 25 when I am getting into the longest long runs prior to the race), the distribution of the miles across the week evolves as I get closer to race day.

Chopping up my 20 miles into different combinations also gives me variety during a training season. I can customize my week to accommodate a number of factors, ranging from weather to running route. For example, I am currently in the midst of a week with more medium-length runs. This gives me the opportunity to enjoy some different loops that are in the 5-6 mile range, including several exclusively on roads to get prepared for my upcoming road race. Next week, I will change back to a more traditional format with one long run, two medium runs, and one short run.

From left-to-right, a few examples of how I might distribute my weekly miles:

(8, 8, 4); (8, 5, 4, 3); (6, 5, 5, 4); (3, 3, 3, 3, 8)

The quantity of miles a runner needs to cover in a week is personal and dependent upon a number of considerations. For example, the overall training goal can shift plans significantly. If training for a marathon, my weekly mileage will go up steadily over a few months. If transitioning back to running after an illness or injury, I will tackle shorter runs with more frequency, paying close attention to what my body is communicating. During the spring and summer, I have more daylight to work with, so I might naturally increase my weekly mileage simply because there are more hours in the day to do so. The right formula is one that is:

-Sustainable

-Avoids—or better yet, prevents—injury

-Prepares the runner well for race day

-Flexible

Most importantly, if I finish a long run with the sense that I have leftover “pep” that could propel me for another couple of miles, then I know I am training wisely for my upcoming event. If I am hitting little “walls” and struggling to get through the miles, then I know I need to tinker with my approach, whether that means adding more medium runs to support good endurance, or examine my activities on cross-training days. While I may start out training for a race with a general outline or schedule, I find that these micro-assessments and adjustments in response to my levels of energy or fatigue really do make a difference in the overall completion of my goal.

race recap: nookachamps 10K

50628623_2169504623105976_5740576150220963840_o

Today, I ran a 10K that I’ve done every year for the past four years. The course is hilly and most of the miles are on road surfaces. The race also served as a check in to see how I am feeling about my upcoming half marathon next month. I was pleasantly surprised by how well things went; I had to weave a little during a crowded first mile, and I took a brief walking break on a steep uphill before mile 3, but the rest of the route felt springy and fast. I finished the race within 3 minutes of my personal best at this event two years ago, and considering I was waddling the course at a 20 minute mile last year in full-term pregnancy, I am pleased with today’s result. When I crossed the finish line, I felt like I could have maintained that pace for another 2 or 3 miles. In the upcoming weeks, I am going to continue my training, but add mileage to the long runs until I am confidently running 10 miles at a good tempo with energy to spare.

 

milk & miles

one

Running and breastfeeding are compatible activities that I have had the opportunity to enjoy with two babies. Each time I’ve learned something different, especially given that I did not start running regularly until my daughter was almost one, but I went back to running only a few weeks after giving birth to my son. In both cases, I learned how to keep the balance of logging miles and making milk for babies at different stages in their development and nutritional needs. I thought I would share a few insights in case it might be useful to a fellow mama runner (or friend/partner of one) in the future.

In the first six weeks of life, a newborn’s stomach is very small and breastmilk is metabolized quickly. Furthermore, so much of nursing fulfills needs far beyond nourishment. Hormones catalyzed during nursing sessions accomplish tasks ranging from bonding to shrinking the uterus and helping internal organs shift back into place. Skin-to-skin contact is important, the mother and baby should really smell one another in the holistic sense to keep these biochemical changes progressing. There are very few people who could jump up and go for a long run right after giving birth anyway (most of us are still in our adult diapers scarfing lukewarm meals one handed while crying over everything), but, needless to say, I think this is a time when breastfeeding should really take priority over any type of routine exercise.

During the fourth trimester, the first three months of a baby’s life, breastfeeding begins to hit a more routine stride. With my son, I started to really pursue running once he was about 2 months old. At this point, I could tank him up with milk before a nap, leave him snuggled with his dad, and enjoy 3 miles around the neighborhood without worrying. I planned to go back to work with both kids, so I began pumping pretty early on. As the months progressed, I felt confident going out for longer runs knowing that my partner could always give the baby a bottle if I wasn’t there.

two

In my experience, by about 7 or 8 months, a baby is getting nourishment from some solids/table foods in addition to breastmilk, although breastmilk comprises the majority of the diet. This is when I felt like I could really enjoy longer runs without the pangs of worry about missing a nursing session. The challenge during this period for me with both babies was maintaining ample milk supply in the context of working and pumping. So I was pretty intentional about nursing both before leaving for a run and when coming back to keep my body in that routine (breastfeeding is, at a simplistic level, supply and demand). For longer race days, I’ve found that a small hand pump and cooler bag stashed in my gear bag has provided relief and or peace of mind when I need it. By the way, I have seen many nursing mothers pump before the start of races (you start to see it when you’ve done it!).

With babies and toddlers one and older, daytime nursing becomes more infrequent. I stopped pumping at one year with my daughter, and plan a similar schedule with my son, with the commitment to nurse at night/when I am home as long as we are both enjoying it. As a runner, I look forward to this chapter of the nursing journey because I inevitably earn back a lot of bodily autonomy and the logistics of pumping and nursing become nearly inconsequential. Keeping up good hydration and nutrition is the key to maintaining a milk supply for as long as is desired.

three

Breastfeeding eats up about 500 calories a day, and quite a bit of fluid. I find it is much easier to become dehydrated when training and breastfeeding, so drinking a lot of water is really important. I start the morning by drinking 16 ounces minimum, right off the bat, before any coffee or other beverages. I also eat a lot of nourishing calories frequently through the day. Protein is often elevated to star status when we talk about diets for athletes, but carbohydrates and fats are foundational for both the glycogen stores one requires for regular running (especially distance running) and the ability for a body to make and sustain milk supply. Some of my staples in addition to complete meals are homemade banana bread with peanut butter on it, Greek yogurt with granola, hummus and pita, avocado and corn chips… you get the idea. I am constantly snacking, especially at night before I inevitably spend a few of my wake-ups nursing.

There is anecdotal data out there about how running changes the taste of milk, or how one should shower before nursing because the smell/taste of sweat is somehow a barrier to the baby nursing, but I’ve never experienced any issues. Supportive and comfortable sports bras are always important, but especially for a lactating runner as underwire or constriction can cause clogged ducts and other minor (albeit obnoxious) complications. Most of my running shirts already have a quarter zip at the neck, so nursing in my gear is usually simple. By the time a baby is approaching toddlerhood, they are usually too busy to demand nursing right away, anyway. Lately, I have enjoyed that transition as I now come home from my runs and cherish, with gratitude, the fact that I can take a hot shower uninterrupted before doing anything else.

four

Running has made many things, including motherhood, so much healthier and more enjoyable for me. There is no reason why breastfeeding should be a barrier to maintaining a running practice; in fact, best practices for proactive self-care when nursing perform quite a bit of double duty for keeping a runner healthy and happy, as well.

return to distance

I am settling back into the routine of training for a half marathon after taking a year and a half away from distance running to be pregnant, give birth, and recover. There were a few races sprinkled in there, with running at shorter lengths comprising an increasingly regular part of my exercise schedule for the past year. I have to say that I am both glad I waited to embark on distance training, and that I am also filled with joy about being back to this beloved journey of gradually building endurance and physical strength to go long.

I have always framed running practice as a long-term relationship; there are seasons of life when other responsibilities and activities take priority over training, and then there are the openings that present themselves to return to a deeper commitment of time and energy. After a challenging fall of colds and sickness; one that required the patience to rest (admittedly something with which I struggle), I started to enjoy that natural paradigm shift, that changing orientation to possibility. The reward of returning to regular long runs is tremendous. I missed the self that emerges only during those solitary journeys—I missed that old friend inside of me. I missed the quiet—oh, the quiet! I love my children, but I think most mothers of young kids would agree that there is nothing like an uninterrupted thought. I missed the nothingness, the plateau of hitting the zone, when time and effort recede to the background hum, and the flight of the body becomes one with the mind.

I am revisiting a half marathon I ran three years ago, when I was at my fastest speed. I do not expect to touch this record. Bodies evolve and goals shift. I desire two things: to run the entire course, and to finish. And while the final outcome of race day excites me, I have to admit that the process of getting there is my prize this time around. One foot ahead of the other, breath locked in relaxed rhythm, the changing landscape ahead welcoming me along.

50489415_1037354386461754_6384563847230914560_n