The Ten Percent Solution
Running injuries may vex the addicted runner, but returning to action can also pose problems. Marathon schedules must be updated. Running contacts must be reestablished. Shoe inventory alone could take hours.
But the proverbial pickle in this sandwich is the post-traumatic training regimen. One emerges from the forced hibernation of a running injury, knocking on wood and throwing salt in all directions, decidedly paranoid about every bodily signal. Injury purgatory is bad enough. No one wants to descend to the inferno of reinjury.
Like me, you may have heard that itâ€™s wise to increase mileage slowly, by no more than ten percent a week. This sounds reasonable. Certainly, if itâ€™s written in Runnerâ€™s World, it must be true.
But it all depends on your starting mileage, doesnâ€™t it?
Letâ€™s start with a nice, round number like ten miles per week. With this base, you can expect a nice, steady progression in your training:
Week 1: 11 miles
Week 2: 12.1 miles
Week 3: 13.3 miles
Week 4: 14.6 miles
Week 5: 16.1 miles
Week 6: 17.7 miles
Week 7: 19.5 miles
Week 8: 21.4 miles
Week 9: 23.6 miles
Week 10: 25.9 miles
Week 11: 28.5 miles
Week 12: 31.4 miles
Week 13: 34.5 miles
Week 14: 37.9 miles
Week 15: 41.7 miles
The odd mileage and slow initial progress would be annoying, but just four tolerable months into training, you’d be running over forty miles per week. That’s more than adequate mileage for the typical marathoner. Add a couple more weeks and you’ll plateau at fifty miles: red meat territory.
Naturally, things can get out of hand. For instance, you should never get to the point where you can actually add ten full miles to your weekly tally. In order to “safely” do this, you would already have to be running one hundred miles per week (ten percent of one hundred is ten). That’s a boatload of presumed miles.
Iâ€™ve heard of people who run this much, Iâ€™ve just never met them. It’s said they live in remote Mexican canyons, wear homemade rubber sandals and hang out with a chap called Caballo Blanco. You may or may not fit this description.
What if you havenâ€™t run a step in months? What if youâ€™re starting from nothing? My eight year old son tells me that ten percent of zero is zero. He says we should avoid the practice of multiplying by zero altogether. I believe him since I havenâ€™t studied math since Reagan was President. We canâ€™t start with zero.
Letâ€™s be reasonable and begin with two laps around the average high school track; about a half mile. At this meager distance, youâ€™ll need a precision Swiss timepiece and help from a non-corrupt I.O.C. course official to run precisely 0.05 miles further in your second week.
It doesnâ€™t get any easier. Goodness knows how youâ€™ll run 1.43 miles in week eleven and follow it up with exactly 1.57 miles in week twelve. This would elevate Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to an art form.
Will you risk injury in week twenty-six by running 5.97 instead of 5.96 miles? If the extra 0.01 miles causes a DEFCON 1 calf injury, can you sue running publications?
Certainly, I wouldnâ€™t follow this regimen if you lack patience. Starting with a half mile, youâ€™d need two entire months to build up your endurance sufficiently to run just one full mile per week (or to be precise, 0.97 miles). After four complete months of training, youâ€™ll be running an astounding two miles per week. Prefontaine, give us patience.
Adding infinitesimal miles to a training run may be maddening. But remember, weâ€™re talking about cumulative weekly miles. If youâ€™d like the pleasure of running, say, three times a week, youâ€™ll have to follow a rather meticulous regimen:
Monday: 1.495 miles (Hills)
Wednesday: 1.216 miles (.2519 miles at 5k pace)
Saturday: 3.249 miles (Long Slow Distance)
Let me add a bit more sugar to the Gatorade. The average sedentary person walks 0.473 to 1.42 miles each day. Thatâ€™s a non-insignificant 3.31 to 9.94 miles a week.
Dustin Hoffmanâ€™s Rainmain would tell you that, by your forth week of ten percent progression, you wouldn’t be close to matching the slowest sluggardâ€™s daily output. But cheer up! Youâ€™ll reach weekly maximum coach potato distance within eight months. Definitely 32.5 weeks to Wapner.
Weâ€™re no longer talking about training schedules, weâ€™re talking about the aging process. If you begin with a half-mile jog, youâ€™d be nearly a year older before breaking the forty mile barrier. Thatâ€™s one whole circuit around the sun, measuring hundredths of a mile on every training run. The real risk here isnâ€™t reinjury, itâ€™s early-onset dementia.
Increasing mileage in painstakingly slight increments is, practically speaking, impossible. It has nothing to do with ability, let alone doping. Itâ€™s about the numbers. Even if youâ€™re in the Goldilocks Zone (not starting with too few or too many base miles) the early weeks of training offer astoundingly laughable increases in mileage.
You simply have never met a runner who has followed the ten percent rule. Not one.
I donâ€™t deny the basic wisdom here. We shouldnâ€™t add miles too rapidly. Weâ€™re asking for further injury if we do. But reality has an annoying way of foisting itself upon theory. If youâ€™re on the comeback trail (as I am) you will break the sacred ten percent rule, guaranteed.
If it makes you feel better, call it a loose metaphorical guideline. It helps me.
Just don’t tell the folks at Runner’s World.
August 1st, 2011 at 12:01 pm
Thanks for the funny post!
I think you were right when you said that you should just listen to your body and be paranoid!
If I am adding mileage at a rate that causes not even a hint of discomfort, then I think I’m doing my level best to prevent re-injury. Of course, I’m also not improving my fitness as quickly as I would like to. But, that should remain a secondary consideration until such time as the paranoia has faded and the injury is just one of the well-embellished “war stories” of my running career.
Good luck with the recovery!
August 1st, 2011 at 12:13 pm
More power to you, Brian!
August 2nd, 2011 at 9:50 am
Your formula for increasing by mileage by 10% per week reminds me of an apocryphal quote attributed to Einstein about “compounded interest being the most powerul force known to man”. Which taken in the present context explains why Heisenberg & Born could never beat him in a 10k.
August 2nd, 2011 at 11:39 am
A good read, so thanx for your effort in writing it. I will constantly talk to myself during training in the “voice” of Raymond Babbitt and include ‘Wapner’ as well. I would only add that any athlete does not necessarily have to continually add the 10 percent each week — remain steady and listen to the body’s moment to add additional “stress”. If the stress does not create a deficit, then proceed to listen out for the body’s approval to add more stress. We need to eat lunch!!
September 14th, 2011 at 10:53 am
I ran in college where my coach instilled the “more is better” approach to running (in the 80s, high mileage was the in thing then). This approach to mileage is apparently now embedded in my pea-sized brain, because now that I’m returning back to my beloved sport from the injury from hell, I’m thinking if I start by setting the proverbial bar high (mileage), then the 10% rule will actually be awesome. Let’s see if I can make it through week 3 before the injury returns :). Thanks for a great laugh…I’m in agreeance that we need to listen – closely – to the body and when it screams, don’t ignore it. There is a fine line between aches and pains of adaptation and aches and pains from say a stress fracture. Sometimes it is hard to know which is which though.
September 16th, 2011 at 3:31 pm
So glad I have been turned on to your site. Awesome, very funny writing. I am currently suffering through my second injury of 2011, meaning that I haven’t run the entire year, essentially. When I come back, I’ll be doing it on an AlterG treadmill, which means I get to break the 10% rule. Eight weeks on the AlterG leaves me at 31 miles in the final week. I like the sounds of that!
September 21st, 2011 at 3:30 pm
Jill, I know about injuries from hell. The best I can say is that it produced in me a pointed understanding and empathy for folks in the same situation. This understanding was bought at a high price, though.
Keep listening to your body. I hope you enjoy a lifetime of running!
September 21st, 2011 at 3:31 pm
Injury AND treadmill? I am so, so very sorry. let me know when your back in action!
January 20th, 2012 at 7:27 pm
Thanks, Dean, I really needed this laugh, since I’m dealing with ITB. The 10% per week thing is complicated enough but add to that the 50% off 2nd week and 30% off fourth week and the 35% of total weekly distance long run every other week and it takes an excel macro to calculate the next day’s training distance.