“A junk mile is only junk if it doesn’t have a purpose in your training.” – Mario Fraioli of Competitor Magazine.
Once upon a time, I thought to myself, “I got this whole running thing figured out. The more I do it, the faster I go.” This bold claim strikes a contradictory chord with the often used and incredibly astute quote: “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know” – Albert Einstein.
It was in the hot summer days of Missouri (Read: Misery) between my Junior and Senior years of college running that I reconsidered my initial assertion. It was during this time that I pursued 100+ miles a week of running with seemingly no purpose or reasoning behind the traveled foot distance.
I ran too fast. I ran without recovery. I ran to make my training log look pretty.
In essence, I was guilty of collecting junk miles. How did I know they were junk miles? Well, when my senior year of cross country came around, I was exhausted. I didn’t run fast. I ran slower than the year before. And I felt drained and sick by the end of the season. I over-trained in the form of garbage asphalt. (Ironically, my internship that summer was with an asphalt company).
Now I’m certainly not saying running 100+ miles a week is wrong. Most of the best marathoners in the world exceed this weekly mileage. The question is: what constitutes good miles versus junk miles?
Mario Fraioli – experienced runner, coach, and senior editor at Competitor magazine – answers the question in his article Ask Mario: What Do You Think Of Junk Miles? Here Mario states, “If you’re training to race or set a new personal best, a junk mile is only junk if it doesn’t have a purpose in your training. In this case, if you’re running miles for the sake of running miles then you need to rethink what you’re doing. Every mile should have a purpose, whether it’s increasing endurance, developing speed, improving strength or enhancing recovery.”
So according to Mario, the easy “extra” miles are not really junk if they’re intended to benefit you in some way. And, of course, those extra miles would have to fulfill their beneficial duties.
That being said, purposeful miles are going to look very different person to person. It very much depends on your endurance, experience, and resilience. For many, those so-called easy “extra” miles will be nothing more than what we’re calling them: extra.
In other words, detrimental junk. This is just another reason training needs to be specific to every individual. An ideology TriDot holds very near and dear.
Additionally, junk miles don’t always mean “extra” miles. Improper training translates to junk miles too. I would say my college summer running of 100+ miles a week falls handily into this camp.
Rashelle Brown – ACE Certified Personal Trainer, Health Coach, and marathon runner – wrote an article on Active speaking precisely to this. In Cut Out the Junk Miles to Get Faster and Stronger, Brown outlines the error of planning a long run at conversational pace only to get bored and speed up within the middle of the run. You might finish up much faster than you had planned and feel great about yourself. However … “what you’ve really done is sabotaged your training plan. Your body needs those slow miles to make the physiological changes that will help you finish strong on race day.”
My Missouri training comes back to haunt me within the undeniable predisposition of those words.
Post-college, I ran in a 5 mile relay run and smashed my college 8km personal best (a time I thought I would never touch again post-collegiate running). At the time, I was running nearly half the weekly mileage I ran in college. The difference? My training was purposeful. No junk.
Brown goes on to say that the same can be said for the vice versa. If you chicken out on the hard interval days, bringing your effort level down, then you’re only reinforcing what your body already knows. Your body will never reach the next level unless it physically steps outside its own boundaries.
And not only that, Rashelle also claims,“Any miles run with poor form are considered junk miles.” Oh how I wish those words were ingrained into my psyche so many years ago.
I was incredibly guilty of the training log syndrome. I had to – ABSOLUTELY HAD TO – ensure my running log hit the weekly mileage my heart so desired. If that meant go out and run 5 miles on dead legs … so be it.
By that point, my effort was not a recovery run. My nice, round numbers were junk miles. I didn’t have the strength to uphold proper form no matter how much I slowed the pointless log synthesizers. “Logging any amount of these per week teaches your body to run with less-than-optimal form,” Rashelle says. That’s exactly what I was doing. Teaching my body bad habits. Ring any bells swimmers?
This examination segues into TriDot’s views on going too far, too fast. Many athletes, especially triathletes, make the mistake of thinking: “I’ll need to run 26 miles in the Ironman so I should go pound out 20 miles now so that I know I can do it.” The error here is that without the required power, strength, and stamina, this athlete is reinforcing poor run mechanics, keeping impact stress high, and diminishing his or her rate of recovery. As a result, the athlete stays slow and possibly gets injured.
Our recommendation would be to introduce speed and strength first. Rather than try to run for the length of time you think it will take you to complete the race, why not try to shorten that completion time? Increase your threshold power first, decrease the amount of time it will take to complete the marathon, and stamina will follow suit. In other words, “Fast before far & Strong before long.”
TriDot is designed around this principle. It's not a philosophy. The methodology is backed by empirical results. There is no such thing as junk miles in your TriDot training plan. Every hour spent has a purpose.
So what do you think? Do these findings resonate with you? Are you guilty of junk miles? If so, re-evaluate the bad habits today!