Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Sure Way To Get Injured: Never Run Junk Miles

I have been seeing the term "junk miles” thrown around lately, clearly with the connotation of being bad because it's preceded by the word "junk". Reading into the context it's used, the writers are referring to slower, easy miles.

When did easy miles because suddenly something you must avoid? Aside, from Run Less, Run Faster, where did this shit come from?

Easy miles are the foundation and base of any distance (half/full marathon) training program. Stocking your training week with 3 to 4 fast/hard workouts only to follow them with some recovery miles and doing no easy miles is a great way to get injured. Sure, the elites might have 3+ hard workouts per week, including tempos, trackwork, fartleks, two-a-days, etc, but they have built up to that their whole lives. And they're elites! Genetically gifted runners!

Most training plans out there, do not advocate more than 1, maybe 2, tempo/speedwork days per week. The long run? Guess what… that is a hard workout. When you run 15+ miles, that is a hard run that requires a rest day or a recovery/easy run after. Long easy runs are not junk miles. Mid week easy run? Not junk miles. They are foundational/base mileage keeping you from getting injured during your hard workout days. Personally, when I do more than one speedwork day a week, I find myself riding a fine line between just barely healthy and injured. With a 50-50 chance of finding myself on either side.

Sure, I have not backed up these statements with any scientific studies or research links. They are anecdotal – my own empirical findings. However, I ran all 3 seasons of track in high school and, while I was always a middle-to-back-of-the-pack runner, our teams were consistently competing on the state and regional level (by regional, I mean all of New England). Our coaches weren't dumbasses. Our XC and middle/long distance track coach is now a head track coach at a university (and while not a huge school, it’s not a podunk super-small one, either). We ran easy miles ALL THE TIME. We had maybe two hard workouts a week. One on the track, one tempo or fartlek. If there was a meet that week, then maybe just one.

Calling easy miles "junk miles" is sending the wrong message, especially to newer runners out there. Wanna keep injuries at bay? Make easy miles the bulk of your training volume.

11 comments:

  1. I really really could not agree more. More than one speed or tempo workout has me straddling that line, especially while increasing mileage. Im finding myself more and more relying on progression runs and fartleks for key workouts, and if in any doubt, sticking to "base-pace" (better word than "easy") runs. If you're increasing mileage, base-pace runs are a non-optional staple! Kara Goucher says that she runs "easy" about 80% of the time. For sure, her "easy" would still leave most of us in the dust... but from the mouths of olympians...

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  2. As a side note - I wonder if people are confusing base-pace, foundational running, with the runs you do when you really SHOULD be taking a rest day? If I find myself running when I should be cross-training, even if I know my legs need rest, thats what I would call "junk mileage."

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    1. Yeah, that sounds like an accurate description of what would be "junk" - as in you're getting a net gain of zero or worse, hurting yourself, because you should be resting.

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  3. Nodding emphatically over here.

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  4. you worded this really well. I've never liked the term "junk miles". Lack of easy miles, during your week, will also leave you mentally drained. All of a sudden you'll find yourself dreading something you used to love.

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  5. Agree. The closest thing I would consider to "junk" miles are if you are streaking and go out and run just to have a run for the day. I don't get that. Everyone needs rest.

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  6. Great post and I totally agree! As a newbie to long distance running (I just completed my second half ever) I found that foundation mileage was a huge part of my success. There is no way I could have gotten to where I am without a lot of easy miles to prepare me along with my tempo runs and long runs.

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  7. YES.

    I have been able to run way more this training cycle by including easy runs and have less aches and pains (you know me and my effing recurring PF). While I really like RLRF it lands me on the IR every time I go back to it. I like the charts for pace goals and that's about it.

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  8. I'm training with RLRF this round, and so far I like it and haven't been injured yet (only on week 5 of the plan). BUT I find myself craving another day of running where I don't have to use a calculator to figure out what I'm doing. So I decided to throw in that extra easy running day whenever I feel like it. I swapped to RLRF because I got injured on my last 6-days-of-running-a-week plan, but I did a lot of other stupid stuff in combination with the plan -- so it wasn't just the old plan's fault. Fingers crossed that I don't totally hate this plan in 10 more weeks.

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  9. I just like the easy days to clear my head. No specific paces, (I leave the Garmin at home) with no specific goal other than going out and enjoying the run. I often stop to stretch, walk if I feel like it, and lately, pick ripe blackberries. It loosens up my legs and helps prep them for another hard day. I don't see how that could ever be junk :)

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