Hear me out: High mileage is overrated.

A couple months ago, I posted that on Instagram. Mostly because it’s true—I don’t think running high mileage is always the best way to reach your potential—and partially because I’m a guy who loves to stir the pot.

It definitely drummed up conversation. I received dozens of comments and messages, some defending mileage, some agreeing with me, but all coming to a similar conclusion: It depends on runners to learn what’s best for themselves.

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What worked for me? I came from a low-mileage, high-intensity high school program. The Minnesota track season was only a few months long, due to weather and the popularity of winter sports. We didn’t have an indoor track season either. Outdoors we would race twice a week, go to state, and that would be it.

When I started my college career at the University of Minnesota, coach Steve Plasencia focused on longevity. He wanted us to have a long and prosperous career, even post-collegiately, so he never had us immediately reach for high mileage. Also, back in the early 2010s, not everyone had GPS watches. So when I return to my college running loops, I’m like, man, that used to feel longer than it actually is, because we never actually measured them.

When I began my professional career with the Oregon Track Club Elite in Eugene, coach Mark Rowland eased me into higher volume. Instead of getting stuck in the mentality of needing a certain amount of miles, I put the emphasis on how good my workout sessions were. It was all about being able to handle high intensity at high volume with low rest.

For example, I remember one workout when I switched between four 1,000-meter repeats on a trail, eight 400-meter repeats on the track, then back to the trail for another four 1,000-meter repeats. I only had half each rep’s time to recover. Whenever I was able to complete those types of workouts feeling strong, I knew I was in good shape.

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The philosophy worked. I saw plenty of success in the 1500 meters, qualifying for the 2016 Olympics and earning a spot in the final.

After that Olympic cycle, I wanted to become a versatile athlete, able to run fast at any race distance. I already had so much quality work behind me that I thought, “What’s left to do?”

My answer at the time was more mileage. So from 2017 to 2019, I upped my weekly average from 75 to 100. I decided to test my new philosophy by chasing the 10,000-meter Olympic standard of 27:28.00, because I have a romantic view of the 10K. It’s poetry in laps.

The guys I trained with were all 100-mile-plus-week types, so I added six-mile afternoon doubles and longer cooldowns with them to prepare. I kept thinking how awesome it was to be a high-mileage runner. At the end of 2019, I got a little banged up with injuries. So to come back stronger, I doubled down on the mileage.

It worked for a while. I debuted over 10,000 meters with a 28:08.20 in August 2020. But I felt stiff, tired, and not very productive in my workout sessions—exactly the opposite of what my philosophy used to be.

Toward the end of 2020, the real injuries started. I hurt my Achilles and my plantar, and suffered a small tear in my hamstring. I eventually ended up with a stress fracture in my tibia in late spring 2021.

As a result, my buildup to the Olympic Trials wasn’t great. I had almost zero on-the-ground training; I was either in the pool or on the bike.

While I wasn’t as competitive as I had been in years past, I was amazed at my racing ability, making the semis despite not running much in my buildup. That was eye-opening. What was I doing to get my cardiovascular fitness up? What was I able to do neurologically without the pounding of running?

Now, I know that much of it has to do with how long I’ve been doing this. I have 18 years of running in me, week in and week out. That has allowed me to sit back and say, “Okay, what weaknesses do I need to focus on?” instead of worrying about an entire rounded-out training program. So I realized I don’t have to run high mileage—there are other ways to get better at running.

As a 33-year-old, my focus is to be athletic. After the Olympic Trials, I started to play basketball. I felt strong and powerful, and my range of motion was fluid and comfortable. I returned to training refreshed and ran a couple of good races.

Not everyone is built for other sports or willing to risk running to play them. I remember my parents putting hockey skates on me and my ankles just not moving that way. But one easy way to stay athletic is to prioritize fast running. A lot of runners will throw strides in after a run when their body is already tired. But I propose making them the main focus sometimes.

Get to the track, warm up for 15 to 20 minutes, put some spikes on, and prioritize moving quickly. Run efficiently and fast for 80 meters, the first 60 percent easier and the last 40 percent harder. Walk and jog the next 320 meters and do another. In total, do eight to 10. Think about using good form and pulling yourself forward off the ground. On a nice day, you can even find a turf field and kick your shoes off for some barefoot strides. Follow the same idea as before, but instead of measuring out meters, just run the diagonal across a soccer field and jog a lap for rest.

Keep in mind, this is what I’ve learned throughout the course of my career. If you’re a beginner, you might get overwhelmed by the different perspectives out there. So my main advice is to be a student of the sport. Ask yourself: Why am I running these miles? What am I getting out of the work I’m putting in? Why am I doing this type of workout, this type of run, this type of cross-training?

If it makes sense for you to run higher mileage because you’re new to running and need to build a base, then do it. What high mileage means completely depends on the person; for some 40 is a lot, for others 100 is. But if you’re suffering for the sole purpose of suffering, then you’re doing it wrong. The goal is to improve yourself. Success is more likely to come if you focus on the purpose of your miles instead of the number of miles you run.


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