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Is There a Magic Number of Miles I Should Be Running Every Day?

Because I’m immediately stopping as soon as I hit it

Asking how many miles you should run each day is a question with a lot of assumptions baked into it. First and foremost, that you’re even capable of completing a one-mile run. As my accomplished running friend Rachela once told me, anyone can walk a marathon, but not everyone can run one. 

When you drill down to the grim truth of that statement, you can substitute any distance and the expression will remain accurate. That’s because there’s a titanic difference between running and walking in several vital physiological areas — from cardiovascular response to joint reactions. In that respect, the difference between walking and running six miles is nearly as drastic as the difference between reading a book and writing one.

Now, let’s assume that physical limitations are no obstacle, and that you’re eminently capable of trotting up to 40 miles at the drop of a hat, with zero preparatory steps required. Is there a point where you should limit your daily runs for the sake of some factors we haven’t considered?

That’s a good question: How do I figure out how many miles I should run in a day?

Let’s start with the time you’re able to allocate to running, even if your jaunts through the neighborhood ultimately take no toll whatsoever on your physical system. 

The average per-mile running speed of a non-competitive runner in decent shape hovers around the 10-minute mark. Based upon that logic, most athletes who can devote one hour each day solely to running are going to smash into an unavoidable time barrier that limits their distance to around six miles. By the time we get to two hours of running and 12 daily miles, it might be worth having a discussion about the diminishing value that each successive mile holds for you, and how your time might be better spent not only in other forms of training, but also in life. After all, there’s more to your existence than mere training.

Assuming I’m an average runner, what does running for an hour do for me?

Most people who run at a six-miles-per-hour pace will burn between 110 and 150 calories per mile, which accumulates to between 660 and 900 calories. Since most fitness-minded folks are consuming between 1,500 and 2,500 calories per day depending upon their personal goals, we’re talking about dispensing with at least 25 percent of someone’s daily caloric intake no matter what, which is a massive number of calories to be searing away through routine cardiovascular training. 

On the more negative side of the ledger, there’s the wear and tear that all of this running places on your joints. An average runner takes 1,500 strides per mile, which amounts to 9,000 steps in a one-hour, six-mile effort. If you run five times a week, your knees will tally 45,000 different moments of absorbing impact with pavement. That’s a lot of accumulated wear for knees that haven’t been prepared for that level of punishment.

Speaking of the punishment, what are some physical signs that I’ve been running more miles than I should?

The incessant presence of muscle soreness and fatigue, for starters. Since it’s very difficult to disconnect your brain from what the rest of your body is experiencing, this is probably going to manifest in a sharp downturn in your mood and motivation as well. 

Aside from soreness and depleted motivation, there’s also the matter of overuse injuries. Runner’s knee, shin splints and Achilles tendinitis are all maladies that runners frequently experience when they either overdo it, or attempt to do too much too soon. 

Understood, but I’d like to run a marathon one day. Don’t I need to practice for those by running 26 miles a day?

Fortunately for you and everyone else whose goal is to complete a marathon as a non-professional runner, it seems that the per-week target for training mileage falls between 30 to 50 miles, usually over the course of three to five weekly runs. In this respect, you’ll need to average 10-mile daily runs to reach the 50-mile plateau in only five days. 

Still, that’s not an overnight thing either — most marathon runners will gradually build to this total in the last month or two as the date of the marathon approaches. Nor are they year-round weekly training totals.

Taking everything into consideration, if you can work your way up to the point where you can comfortably run 10-minute miles, do what you can to maintain yourself at that fitness level. One hour of running per day is plenty for most folks, as it will land you in the realm of six miles, and even most runners preparing for marathons won’t ordinarily run more than 10 miles in a single training session. From there, take care to avoid the onset of overuse injuries. 

Because you’re not going anywhere if you can’t move.