Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Junk Miles?

At one of our recent clinic sessions, Coach was addressing the issue of mileage. Since we are a massive (75+) group varying in experience from first-timers to multi-Boston'ers, there is naturally a significant difference in mileage that we are all running.

Coach was suggesting that regardless of volume, we should try to ensure that our long run makes up between 30-40% of weekly mileage. He encouraged us (for those who don't already) to start peppering our training with short, easy recovery runs to boost overall mileage without tiring us out.

One person then argued that running just for the sake of adding mileage would be considered "junk miles" and suggested that you might be better off focusing on key runs only and resting or cross-training on the other days.

Personally, I don't believe in "junk miles". Just because a run doesn't include a specific workout or pace-goal, doesn't mean it has no purpose. One thing I have finally learned over the last year or so is that when I run more overall mileage, my long runs feel a lot more manageable (which would translate to the marathon feeling more manageable).

I found a great article on this topic on Running Times: Rethinking Junk Miles by Matt Fitzgerald

"Running volume ... has a positive effect on running fitness and performance even in the absence of exhaustive key workouts. In other words, the more running you do (within the limit of what your body can handle before breaking down), the fitter you become, even if you never do any workouts that are especially taxing. The reason is that increases in running economy are very closely correlated with increases in running mileage."
These "bonus" runs also allow an extra opportunity to practice. In general, you can expect that doing something more (within reason) will make you better at it.
"For both the juggler and the runner, it is time spent simply practicing the relevant action that improves communication between the brain and the muscles. It’s not a matter of testing physiological limits, but of developing a skill through repetition. Thus, the juggler who juggles an hour a day will improve faster than the juggler who juggles five minutes a day, even if the former practices in a dozen separate five-minute sessions and therefore never gets tired. And the same is true for the runner."
On a less "scientific" note, I love my easy/recovery/"just because" runs because they give me the opportunity to run just for the fun of it. I may not always feel like lacing up the day after a hard workout, but I almost always end up enjoying it. There's no workout to worry about and it's refreshing to go out and just run in the middle of heavy training.



What are your thoughts on "junk miles"?

30 comments:

TMB @ RACING WITH BABES said...

Junk miles are a myth. Time on your feet is time on your feet regardless of if a specific workout is planned. My times have dropped significantly over the last year and I never do any sort of planned workout. Some routes are hillier than others and some days I run faster (or slower) than other days, but I log the miles. I think as long as you aren't injured, every run counts for something.

Joanna said...

Yeah, I totally agree. Easy runs give me a chance to feel like I'm running just for fun. And they help me be fit without exhausting me. Definitely not junk!

Jogging with Fiction said...

I agree with you, I love running my easy runs because they keep me happy and the more miles I put in, I definitely feel the longer runs are easier. I've never really trained before, but organically, I've gotten myself to running 10, 13, and 15 milers without even really trying and I think it's because I run "junk" miles.

Denise said...

while i don't think they are junk miles because you're getting in a workout, i do sometimes wonder if those miles would be better spent cross training. using other muscles, minimizing risk for injury, etc. so with that being said, if i hit all my key workouts for the week, i'll do whatever i'm in the mood for but that's only if i got my cross training in for the week.

Morgan said...

My coach has my plan set up to run 6 days a week with two of those days being "recovery runs" of 4 miles and/or "junk miles". I use the first of those days as my dedicated xtrain day and the second of those days as an actual recovery run from my previous days long run. Its my one workout a week where I can go out and just break up the lactic acid without having to worry about pace, distance, etc. It's one of my favorite runs each week because of it.

Laura said...

Agree...we have the following runs:
Long run
Tempo run or hills
speed work
10km+ run that is equal in speed to the long run...usually a bit faster or at the top end of our zone1.
It is up to us but we use the other days to cross train and have to have a rest day...
So far...so good.

Runners Fuel said...

There is always a purpose for a run, if it may be only to stretch out your legs.

Tricia said...

Interesting. I followed the FIRST training plan (3days running +2xtraining)for my fall marathon. Their theory was opposite. According to their studies, the runners they followed were able to meet and exceed their goals on only 3 KEY runs a week. When runners added in more they didnt see any benefit. So, you could do it, but it wouldnt help you get faster/run further it would only put more stress on your body.

That being said, I followed that plan specifically because I'm injury prone, and I still ended up hobbling through my race with an injury. Its interesting to read the different views, I guess in the end, different things work for different bodies.

NOw...if only I could figure out what works for me ;)

chris mcpeake said...

It depends on what your calling junk miles. Easy runs are not junk miles (at least by the definition that I have always used). More miles run for endurance runners, at least up to 75 miles a week are / can be helpful.

What I have been taught and consider junk miles has nothing to do with miles and more to do with how fast you run them. Any runs that are faster then your easy run pace but slower then marathon pace (on easy days) are what I tell my clinic are junk miles. Why? Because you are not getting your proper recovery of easy days yet are not getting any added benefit of running faster.

Running in that zone puts more stress on the body with no added benefit which opens you up to a higher chance of injury while not allowing proper recovery from harder running.

Or so I am told

Shellyrm ~ just a country runner said...

Maybe the "key workout" runs are more vital as we get deep into Masters Divisions and our bodies require less time on our feet however, I do not believe there are any junk miles. Every run gives the runner something whether that be provided by a specific workout (speed/endurance) or from something less obvious like a refeshed state of mind, a confident attitude, a familiarity with running is certain conditions, or simply the development of a concrete habit.

Every run provides the runner with a lesson it's up to the runner to not make excuses for missing out on the learning.

fancy nancy said...

I'm with you! I love those no pressure runs....no junk miles in this runner's vocabulary!

Mel -Tall Mom on the Run said...

Great post.. I don't have a lot of time for extra runs and I generally only run 4 days a week...but I am flexible and will toss in a slow 2-3 miler with my hubby or friend..

I would agree that it is practice even if it doesn't have a firm purpose.

J said...

My coach emailed me this yesterday - The key to recovery however is not pushing it to hard. Words I need to start living by. I know the junk miles are good, they really aren't junk. They are to help your legs recovery and I need to start doing them slower to help my body recover! This whole running thing sure is a process!

Heidi said...

Interesting topic. Lately I've been hitting mostly just my key runs and no easy/recovery runs and I feel my fitness level slipping a bit. It has been making me wonder if I'm better off peppering a few more short/easy runs in there. I keep telling myself that I'll take rest days from running and cross train, but it doesn't happen.

Nicole said...

I feel like junk miles are important for recovery. They are flexibile runs that can either be 'ran' if your feeling well or used as a rest/XT day if you need a break! :)

Jess said...

I agree that there's no such thing as junk miles, or even if there is, they DO serve a purpose: running! Not every run serves a "training" purpose, but the miles are still miles that contribute to you as a runner. Those miles MUST mean something.

TNTcoach Ken said...

Wow, you started a real discussion. I remember defining 'junk miles' just like 'junk food'. Sure it feels you up but it isn't the best for you.

Julie D. said...

I'm so glad you posted this, Marlene. I think you are right on. I've always not understood the concept of 'junk miles'. It never made sense to me. I would evaluate a run and ask myself are these considered, "junk miles"? I could never classify them as such. I agree, the more miles you run, the more you are going to benefit in the long run (pun intended)! :) Thanks for this post.

Char said...

In both of the last two running magazines that I read there were articles espousing the virtue of recovery runs. In short they said that it's better for recovery to have a short, very easy run the day after a hard session than to do nothing at all. So the miles would not be junk but would have a purpose.

Johann said...

I don't believe in junk miles at all and love my recovery runs. I follow a hard day, easy day routine and this works great for me.

Emz said...

Love
This.

I mentally need "bonus" miles.

My
Running
IS
100%
mental.
;)

Marci said...

I personally feel stronger (helps my confidence), when I have some junk miles. I also think you have to listen to your body and know when "just a run" will benefit or loosen your legs, and when you are at risk for burnout. Great post, I'm jealous of your great training group, 75 runnners!!! holy moly!

ajh said...

I feel like any miles I run are worthwhile and not junk! If I was an elite well maybe. But at my level there are no junk miles!

macnic said...

Our clinic topic was about just this yesterday. Basically, our instruction said what Chris did. He defined four zones based on heart rate and (based on studies) stated that if you train at a HR of 80-90% (or something like that), then these are "junk". You should either run easier or harder to stress your body in the right way. Right now, we are running 5x a week.

yumke said...

Although I subscribe to the believe that every run -- recovery, tempo, GA -- has its purpose, there are many times when I add a mile or two (or three) so I can hit round numbers. Almost did that over the weekend was I just just a mile or so from doing 50 on the week. Luckily, I'm starting to learn. So 49 it was.

You know what's hard? Running recovery at recovery pace.

Erika said...

I don't think any miles are junk miles. I agree with your coach about keeping your long run to around 30%. The key, though, is to run those extra miles at a true recovery pace, as in a pace that feels slow for you. It helps your body to make an active recovery.

the dawn said...

i'm following the "run less, run faster" model right now...and i have to admit that i miss the days where it is just "go run how you feel." i mean, i like that i only run three days a week, but they are all such structured workouts. i long for the days that i can just run comfortably for a reasonable distance. instead i always either run far or fast....but we'll see how it works.

Forward Foot Strides said...

I look at it this way. For me, habits are easy to maintain, but can be equally easy to break. Junk miles keep me in the habit of running.

lindsay said...

i think junk miles are when you run all your runs easy/to just-run and then wonder why you don't PR or run a goal time. so basically i agree with you. :)

EndorphinBuzz said...

I agree with you, miles are miles (or kms are kms ;) and if you go out there without a goal, you may not be actively going to speed up but you're working on your endurance and on the psychologically important fun aspect of running. If every run is grueling and difficult, you'll get tired and want to quit altogether. Having fun runs is a good way to keep the passion alive while adding more kms to your weekly log.