The term “Junk Miles” can be a bit ambiguous in the world of running and racing. However, there is a good philosophy in eliminating them from your training plan. Essentially, junk miles are your filler runs. You know the runs during the week, where you’re not really pushing the pace or distance, you’re just out there running. It is possible that you will get faster and stronger by eliminating your junk miles. But the challenge here is if you’re like me, you just love running and it just is a part of your schedule multiple times a week.
On the other side, there are also high mileage training, where every run has a purpose and every run ads to your overall mileage and training. The notion of “time on your feet” can ring especially true to people revving up the mileage for longer distance races where it’s not so much the speed or distance you are running but the time you spend moving. High mileage training plans can increase overall endurance and can be geared for people pushing beyond the marathon.
So with conflicting arguments and differing definitions, it can be hard to truly define what a junk mile is. All miles are important to building up your endurance and training for your specific distance goal. But all runs require energy, are hard on our muscles, and even the strongest, most accomplished runner needs rest days. It is difficult to know if you are running “junk miles” and possibly sabotaging your training and wasting your time and energy. The beauty of running is that every runner is different and therefore different training methods work for different people. I have done some research on these two training ideologies and through my own personal experience as well I hope to share the best of both worlds!
Are you training for a specific race or time goal?
If you are recovering from a race, base building, or maintaining your endurance, junk miles are less of a worry. You most likely aren’t doing hard track workouts or tempo runs and most of your miles will be just running stress-free without the pressure of a specific training focus. You know, doing it because you love it! Don’t worry about running junk miles as long as your average weekly mileage is reasonable for you. This also applies to runner training for a new distance, especially the marathon and beyond, who are not after a specific race time and just want to build up the endurance.
However, if you are training for a race and are after a PR, it can be helpful for your overall performance to be more aware of whether or not you are adding junk miles to your week. The key is not to ruin your recovery time, accumulate fatigue, and dip into over training.
Does your run correlate to your training plan
Most training plans break down runs into just a few categories: speed work/interval runs, tempo runs, hill repeats, long runs, warm-up and cool down miles, and easy/recovery runs. If you are following a specific training plan and you cannot name a specific purpose for a run, then these runs are likely junk miles. So for easy runs, you are running at a truly easy pace, and tempo runs should be at a quicker pace. Otherwise, you are just wasting your time and energy in relation to the achievement of your running goal.
Warm-up and cooldown: contribute significantly to decrease risk of injury and improved performance during interval workouts and tempo runs; for most runners, 10-30 minutes of easy running of warming up and then 10-30 minutes of easy running for cooling down is all you need.
Are you running an appropriate pace for you?
Surprisingly, during race training, junk miles often occur when your pace is moderate. Moderately hard runs, such as tempo runs, and hard interval runs are important because they raise your lactate threshold, improve your endurance, and increase your VO2max. Easy runs boost your aerobic abilities, increase your endurance, and help you recover from harder workouts. Those moderate miles where you are at the top end of your easy pace but below your lactate threshold pace, do not necessarily offer the benefits of tempo runs and speed work but add more fatigue than easy runs. Confused? Okay, say you are an 8 min/mile marathoner, anything mile between an 8:05/min mile and an 8:50 min/mile could be considered a junk mile, since it will fatigue you too much to have the energy to push yourself in the critical hard workouts. Don’t push the pace on your easy runs and you won’t fatigue in your legs for those workouts that help you run further and faster. Moderate miles can be great for base building and maintaining, since there is less concern about too much fatigue in your legs for a hard workout.
Are you incorporating strength training?
Hands down one of the most important things I have learned lately about training is the importance of strength training. Running is yes, an excellent way to build up endurance and strengthen our muscles but it isn’t the only way to get stronger, faster and improve endurance. Getting proper strength training in 1-2 times a week can be a key factor in improving your over-all running performance. The question is, are junk miles getting in the way of you incorporating strength training into your regiment? Chances are, if you are like me, the answer is yes. Junk miles might be taking up your time so that there isn’t time left to hit the gym and squat heavy. They might also be leaving you too sore to effectively perform at your pilates or pylo-metric boot camp class. I can’t stress strength training enough. When training for a race, YES, mileage is important, but it is not the only component. Strength training will make you faster, stronger, and decrease your chances of injury. If you take one thing from this article, let it be this. Humor me for a few weeks. Eliminate one run from your training schedule and hit the gym, or a fitness class. Go there when you’re not sore from a long run the day before or after a shorter run, be rested and ready to challenge your muscles.
Don’t run for the wrong reasons:
Yes, running is a great way to burn calories, slim down and look great in short shorts. But running more just to burn extra calories does not count as a particular purpose related to training. In fact, if you are running more than your body can handle, it starts to store fat faster because it goes into starvation mode when it is pushed beyond its limits. You don’t need to run 7 days a week to lose the weight you want to. This excessive amount of miles without a specific training purpose would be classified as junk miles Be aware if you find yourself hammering the pavement everyday just to lose weight can lead to an unhealthy relationship with running and can lead to over training, fatigue and injuries, so be mindful of the real reason you are running and don’t go overboard.
But there’s always exceptions:
Sometimes, running so much more than exercise and training. If you’ve just come off of a crappy day of work, if you want to run with your friends, spouse, or your pet, or you’re feeling low and need that boost which only running can offer, then these runs most certainly have a purpose.