One of the most common things that runners want to know is how to run further.
Increasing your running distance will help you progress to tackling longer races like the 10K, half marathon, and marathon, and it enables you to burn more calories and get an even better workout if weight loss is a goal.
While a simple approach to how to increase running distance would just involve adding mileage to each of your runs, because running is a high-impact sport and stressful on this body, increasing mileage too quickly is ill-advised.
So, how do you increase running distance safely? What are the best tips for how to run further without getting injured?
In this article, we will discuss how to increase running distance safely so that you can enjoy more miles without getting hurt.
We will cover:
- How Much Should I Increase My Running Distance?
- 10 Tips for How To Increase Running Distance Safely
Let’s get started!
How Much Should I Increase My Running Distance?
Although the concept behind how to run further is very straightforward—gradually run a little longer with every long run—it’s important to distinguish that in order to increase your run distance safely, you need to take a measured and conservative approach.
The 10% rule is sometimes considered the “Golden Rule” in running.
The 10% rule in running basically states that you should not increase your training volume by more than 10% from one week to the next.In other words, if you are currently running 20 miles per week, you should run no more than 22 miles next week and 24.2 miles the following week.
This well-worn rule has stood the test of time for a reason—it tends to be sound advice for how to increase running distance safely from week to week.
There’s even some evidence that demonstrates the validity of the 10% rule.
A study with 874 healthy novice runners who were followed over one year found that runners who increased their running volume by 30% or more over two weeks (roughly 15% per week) were more than 1.5 times as likely to sustain a running-related injury than runners who increased their mileage by less than 10%.
Runners who increased their distance too aggressively were more prone to patellofemoral pain (runner’s knee), iliotibial band syndrome, medial tibial stress syndrome (shin splints), gluteus medius injury, greater trochanteric bursitis, injury to the tensor fascia latae, and patellar tendinopathy.
Interestingly, not all injuries seemed to be associated with increases in training volume or the 10% rule.
For example, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinopathy, calf injuries, hamstring injuries, tibial stress fractures, and hip flexor strains seemed more related to other training errors.
10 Tips for How To Increase Running Distance Safely
#1: Slow Your Pace
Slowing down is the single best way to run farther without stopping.
Running slower reduces the workload on the cardiovascular system, so it becomes easier to breathe.
Moreover, running slower isn’t just a good tip for how to run further; it’s also a good tip for how to increase your run distance safely.
Any run is stressful on the body, as exercise is perceived as physiological stress.
However, the further and faster you run, the greater the magnitude of this stress.
High-intensity runs like speed workouts, tempo runs, hill repeats, fartleks, and even regular distance runs where you’re pushing the pace to the North side of “easy” (into “comfortably hard”) are taxing on the body.
These workouts can increase the risk of injuries and overtraining, especially when not offset by adequate rest and recovery.
The key here is that you shouldn’t increase your intensity and distance at one time.
So, if you want to increase how far you run, dial back on the speed.
Once your body adapts to increased training volume, you can focus on bumping up that intensity again.
Then, when you’ve given your body a couple of weeks to adapt to those changes, you can again bump up your distance (around that 10% per week mark) while simultaneously paring back speed again.
After your body has had a couple of weeks at the new weekly mileage, you can again look at adding more intensity.
Note that dialing back intensity is referring to the pace of recovery workouts and long runs.
You can still keep your speed workouts—and doing so is beneficial for reducing overuse injuries—but you should be dialing back the pace of recovery and distance runs.
For example, if you normally train at a 10-minute per mile pace for your distance runs, when you bump up your mileage, dial back your pace to 10:30 or so.
#2: Polarize Your Training
This may seem to be contradictory to what was just said, but another important tip for how to safely increase your running distance is to polarize your training.
Polarizing your training involves taking your easy runs easy and your hard runs hard rather than floating around in the murky middle where all of your runs are run at roughly the same pace.
Where we were just discussing dialing back intensity, the emphasis there is really on dialing back the intensity of regular distance runs, not hard workouts.
Following the 80/20 method of running, where 80% of your mileage is done at an easy, conversational pace (about 90-120 seconds slower than goal race pace) and 20% is hard, can reduce the risk of injuries because the bulk of your workout puts relatively little stress on your body.
Moreover, you’re able to fully recover between workouts, as your body is experiencing different paces and stresses, both of which reduce the risk of overuse injuries and overtraining syndrome.
#3: Target the Long Run
Rather than unilaterally increasing the distance of every run on your schedule per week, target just the long run.
This will isolate the added stress to just one workout rather than being an ongoing added stimulus every day of the week.
You have more to gain in terms of the physiological adaptations to your aerobic system by building your endurance and distance for your long runs.
You can run further by gradually adding 1-2 miles to your longest run per week.
#4: Step Up, Step Down
The 10% rule is a good place to start, but you shouldn’t constantly progress your distance every week.
To reduce the risk of injury, it’s a good idea to make every third or fourth week a step-down week to give your tissues and body as a whole more recovery.
For example, if you are running 40 km per week, you can run up to 44 km the second week and roughly 48.4 km the third week.
However, instead of bumping up to 53 km in the fourth week, you should step back down to 44 km and then begin another three-week progression from there.
Therefore, your second week would be 48.4 km, and your third week could be 53 km.
Then you could drop down to 50 km or so and start a new build from there.
It doesn’t have to be an exact science in terms of the math you use for the step-down week, but taking a relatively easy week once a month is a good practice for keeping your body healthy.
#5: Fuel Properly
Getting an adequate number of calories, plenty of each macronutrient and all the vitamins and minerals you need will ensure your body has the resources and fuel it needs to support your training and repair damage.
#6: Support Your Recovery
You can reduce the risk of injury when you ramp up your mileage by taking care of your body.
Foam roll, stretch, get enough sleep, ice sore tissues, fuel right after your workout, etc., to nurture your tired muscles.
#7: Hit the Trails
Running on softer surfaces like trails, grass, cinder, and running tracks will reduce the impact stress (ground reaction force) that your feet and legs are subjected to when you run compared with running on hard surfaces such as asphalt roads or concrete.
This can reduce the risk of stress injuries when you’re increasing your mileage.
However, if you don’t normally run on soft surfaces, you shouldn’t suddenly jump ship and start doing all of your training off-road.
Ironically, this can increase the risk of injury because running on uneven surfaces such as trails and grass requires lots of stabilizing work from small muscles controlling your feet, ankles, and hips.
These muscles don’t have to work nearly as hard when you run on smooth surfaces like a treadmill or road, so they are prone to overuse injuries if you suddenly ramp up your mileage on uneven terrain.
To strike a happy medium, you can gradually start incorporating more of your increased running distance on softer surfaces or do one or two trail runs per week.
Another good option is to find running routes that enable you to take a trail or run along the grassy part of a park for a mile or two instead of running on the road.
In this way, you create a hybrid run with some off-road mileage and some standard road terrain, which enables your body to have a variety of stresses and strains.
This, in turn, reduces the repetitiveness of running, which usually leads to overuse injuries.
#8: Replace Old Running Shoes
What runner doesn’t love a new pair of running shoes?
Although it’s always important to run in shoes that are not worn out so that they provide plenty of support, if you are increasing your mileage, it’s particularly important to make sure your running shoes are in good shape.
Replace old running shoes every 300 to 500 miles, depending on your body weight, the durability of the shoe, your injury risk, and the terrain that you run on.
When your running shoes are too worn out, the materials that provide the support and cushioning your foot needs are no longer up to snuff.
This can increase the risk of injury and can make your legs feel heavy and tired because more of the vibrations or oscillations from running, as well as the impact shock, are transferred to your feet and legs.
#9: Rotate Your Running Shoes
In addition to replacing your running shoes before they are too worn out, another good tip for how to safely increase your running distance is to rotate your running shoes.
Rotating your running shoes involves having multiple pairs of running shoes to choose from when you go running.
You then can wear different running shoes on different days, enabling you to cycle through your running shoe rotation from day to day.
For example, you might wear a cushioned neutral training shoe like the Hoka Clifton for your recovery run on Monday, a lightweight shoe like the Saucony Fastwitch for your speed workout on Tuesday, and then go back to your Hokas for your distance run on Wednesday.
Studies have found that rotating your running shoes can reduce the risk of running injuries by up to 39% because rotating running shoes ensures the shoes provide the cushioning and stability they should.
If your running shoe rotation includes different types of shoes, the injury risk may be even less because your feet and legs are facing a different set of stresses throughout the week, which minimizes the repetitive nature that leads to overuse injuries.
Listen to your body and be patient. You can run further.
If you would like to delve into the method behind the 10% rule, check out our guide: The 10% Rule: Is It A Valid Way To Increase Your Weekly Mileage?