The 10% rule

So, when I started running I was reading a lot of forums and magazines and generally trying to find out as much as possible.

One “rule” that was quoted at me time and again was the 10% rule- not to increase the distance of any run by more than 10% per week (or not to increase total distance by 10% per week).

At first, that seemed sensible. Of course you don’t want to increase distance by too much as your body needs to get used to the stresses of running. I was following a beginner running plan anyway, so assumed that the plan had all of this covered.

But then I started to actually work it out. For a beginner starting out, you would probably run about a mile in your first session. So the next time you can add 10%, which would equal 1.1 miles. Then 1.21 miles. Then 1.3 miles or something. Basically, the distance goes up so slowly you would take months to get to a 5K, not the 8 weeks that most plans suggest.

Or start at 2 miles. But then you have 2.2 miles, 2.42 miles, 2.66 miles, 2.92 miles…

It just does not quite work anyway.

Even if the rule applied once you were running further, say, 6 miles, you still would not increase mileage enough to keep up with most training plans.

Apply the rule to weekly mileage and because it is a percentage it still does not go up in line with most training plans. So, if that “rule” does not really work, what others do not work?

Well, the other “rule” of running I get annoyed over is the obsession with fueling runs. Magazine articles bang on about making sure you have a snack before you run, and then eating something when you get home to help replenish your glycogen stores in your muscles. But again when you begin to think about it, it just doesn’t make sense. You have enough energy in your muscles to run for hours (I think it is around 18 miles- hence the marathon “wall” when those supplies run out), so if you are going out for a 3 mile run after work then no, you don’t need a pre-run snack.  Of course, if you are hungry and would have one anyway then fine, but it is not dangerous to run without food. I prefer running on an empty stomach, but I remember when I first started running I was scared of running more than a couple of miles before breakfast- I had visions of me fainting mid-run. Ridiculous!  Of course everyone is different, but I have run up to 12 miles before breakfast and been fine.

The same with the post run snack. If you are eating normal meals then you don’t need a protein shake or peanut butter on toast (Runners World etc love to mention these snacks)- just have your dinner.

And don’t get me started on the obsession with drinking so much liquid…

What “rules” annoy you? The one that made sense to me was that your long run should not equal more than 50% of your weekly miles (so if you run 10 miles as a long run, the rest of your runs need to total at least 10 miles)- this seemed sensible in limiting your long run but also making sure you were being consistent with training.


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17 thoughts on “The 10% rule”

  1. Very good point! For some reason I never did the math, but you’re right – the 10% thing makes no sense! I think rules that start off as ‘rule of thumbs’ ie. loose guides – often become distorted, and turned into strict rules that mustn’t be broken! In so many areas of life. Nice to read some of this stuff debunked!

  2. I think these kind of pointers are there really as a guide to give you advice. Try them and see if they work for you and if they don’t move on and try something else. I tend to have my breakfast as my post run/exercise snack which seems to work for me just fine.

  3. It’s such an arbitrary figure this 10%. Probably a misquoted comment from someone vaguely ‘in the know’. I am careful with building up mileage – like not running consistent 15 mile weeks and the suddenly jumping to 35 miles. Or going from a long run of 10 to 16. But I don’t use 10% because, like you said, it actually doesn’t make sense.
    The water thing is particularly notably because it is more dangerous to over-drink than under-drink. It’s only now really that people are retracting from the ridiculous water advice. It’s like what Tom Williams said about what he saw at the end of the Manchester marathon with people literally throwing up just water. Crazy.

    1. Yes I really agree about the water thing. Yes I think one or two miles a week is sensible for long runs.

  4. Great post Maria! I’m with you on eating pre-run, I’m so much better going first thing in the morning and having a big breakfast afterwards.
    I like to carry a water bottle with me at all times but I make a point of not filling it completely if I’m not out for long – chugging huge amounts is just awful and I just feel in jumping in my stomach!

  5. Yes, 10% is such a random number that someone has pulled out of their butt.
    I think it is important to listen to your own body. For me, it is important that I eat something about an hour before my run, as I won’t make it through the run, but I also know that isn’t necessary for everyone.

  6. The 10% rule is random. When I’m marathon training (and actually running) I like to add about 2 miles on to the long run per week, just so it’s nice and gradual. I’ve stopped eating before I run anything under 6 miles now, I just get up and go, it took a while to get used to it and get out of the habit of “needing” something pre run.

  7. I much prefer running on an empty stomach to having an unnecessary pre-run snack. I generally go on how I feel when it comes to eating now and the only time I make myself eat is when I’m running ultras. My body lies to me then because I know I need food despite it making it hard for me to get anything down!

    1. Yes I could eat things like cereal bars fine but not peanut butter or yoghurt or most fruits ! My tummy is fussy when I run !

  8. I am guilty sometimes of obsessing about fuelling with runs, but I’ve learnt that I can run just as well with no breakfast as if I eat something. The only thing that makes a difference to me is the night before if I’m heading out for a long run in the morning – no alcohol!!
    I agree the 10% run makes no sense, I think adding about 0.5-1 mile per week to your longer run is a good basis for building up distances, as it’s only an extra 5-10 minutes of running.

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