Finding the mileage sweet spot

Since USA XC Nationals about a month ago, I've put in some very solid training and had some of the highest mileage weeks of my life. I'm hitting over 70 miles a week on a consistent basis and am injury-free -- so for me, this is a big deal. Last time I went this high in the mileage, in the fall of 2009, I got a stress reaction in my shin and couldn't run for 5 weeks. However, the other time I ran 70+ miles/week, in the summer of 2008, I had the best season of my life, which culminated in my qualifying as an individual for the NCAA XC Championships. For me, 70-75 miles a week is make it or break it. I either turn the corner and make a big leap in my fitness, or I break down and am sidelined with injury. 


Thankfully, this time around I've been handling the mileage well. No severe aches, no nagging shin pain, just a tired and sore body. I'm spending lots of time stretching, sleeping, and watching TV -- I've gone through 3 seasons of Brothers & Sisters and am now onto season 4. I've been too tired from all the mileage to be super social -- a typical Friday night has been a glass of wine, some chocolate, and Netflix. Thankfully, I've had my roommate and my cousin to join me on lazy weekend evenings curled up on the couch instead of out on the town :)


I think the reason why I'm handling the mileage so well is twofold: 


1) I've been focused on post-run recovery. 
LemonZest is my favorite :)
Mmmm chocolate milk!
Right after my run, I'm sure to get in much-needed calories -- I usually have a Luna Bar within 30 minutes of finishing my run, to get in both carbs and protein. Later, I refuel with nonfat chocolate milk (awesome recovery food!) and wheat toast or an egg-white scramble with cheese and salsa. Also, I've been good about stretching and working on my flexibility. I really like Coach Jay Johnson's Myrtl routine post-run (check out a video demo of it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GLrKr54yA0). 



2) I've been careful to not be greedy. 
With things going well the past few weeks, I've wanted to keep upping the mileage and continue tackling hard workouts. But there's a time and a place to be tough, and a time and a place to be smart. Last week, after a 73-mile week, my longest long run in a year, and a rockin' Tuesday workout, I finally started to hit the wall. My legs felt heavy on every run, I was on the verge of falling asleep at my desk at work, and I was EXHAUSTED... if there was ever a sign that my body needed to recover, that was it. Dad aka Coach and I talked and we decided to back off a little bit, penciling in a day off and scratching one of my doubles. I sacrificed my mileage goals, but after a day of rest, I felt much better. It's easy to get caught up in the mileage, to want to tack on one more repeat in the middle of an awesome workout, to add on just one more mile to your long run... but you have to be careful to not get greedy. Being smart now will pay dividends down the road, when I'm hopefully healthy all the way through track season.


Finding your mileage sweet spot is a tricky business -- it's hard to decide whether to push through the exhaustion or take a step back. I know many female runners who regularly put in 80-90 mile weeks, and I'd love to be there with them! I wonder how much better I could be with higher mileage. But I also know that I need to listen to my body. In college I usually ran 60-65 miles a week and that worked out pretty well for me. Amy Yoder-Begley (2008 Olympian in the 10K) and Angela Bizzarri (2009 NCAA XC Champion) have both had tremendous success running less than 70 miles/week. High mileage doesn't necessarily mean faster. The key is finding the mileage sweet spot for you. I think 70-75 miles/week is right where I need to be... let's see how it plays out during track season!