If you’ve been running for a while, and spending lots of time training and slogging out your miles, you may have come across the concept of junk miles. The idea that some of the miles you are running aren’t necessary or are a waste, and are being run without a purpose, setting you up for potential injury or fatigue and thereby hindering your performance long term, not boosting it.
It’s a tricky subject in my eyes. On one hand, I love running, and just run all the time as a result, whether I am training for something or not. Maybe I run too many miles, or should do more recovery runs, or more cross training, but I always feel like I’m doing what I love, so why do I need to stop?
But I get it. When you are training for something big, like a marathon or triathlon, and putting in a lot of hours and a lot of miles, the risk for injury and burn out is drastically increased, and this is exacerbated by doing runs or training that is not helping you towards your end goal.
And so how do you figure out if you are running and training properly, or just running in excess and covering a bunch of junk miles?
- Follow a Plan – Get a training plan, follow it and most importantly, trust it. It may seem hard when there are days off and rest days, or when it’s a triathlon plan and you are really only running 3-4 days per week and riding the rest, but if it’s the right plan it will get you to where you need to go – and without injury.
- Practice Recovery – The point of reducing junk miles is to reduce the overall load on your body, so to reduce the risk of injury and burn out. Another important component of this is proper recovery. And when you are doing lots of training, recovery is not a passive thing, but instead, something you have to take an active role in – do your foam rolling, do your stretching, make appointments for regular massages, sleep adequately, fuel adequately, and refuel properly. The recovery in itself is a whole job on the side, but one that shouldn’t be neglected if you want results.
- Run with Purpose – Most of your weekly runs should have a purpose. Whether it’s a tempo run (speedwork), recovery/easy run, long run (endurance), hills, etc., these all have a purpose and are a part of your training plan to work on a specific component of your training. When you leave the house, ask yourself “what is this run for today?” and then put in the work while you’re out there to make it count. Running for the sake of it, or without purpose is building mileage, but that is part of base training. Once you are into full on training for your event, your runs become purposeful and you have to give them the attention and commitment that they need.
- Listen to your Body – Your body is very good at telling you when it is tired, overworked, lacking energy, or just in need of some extra rest. Junk miles will tear down your body faster, because they are simply beating up your body more than is necessary or more than is already happening with your training as is. If you see signs such as constant fatigue, elevated resting heart rate, soreness lasting several days, or slower than usual recovery in your legs, this may be an indicator of overtraining, one of the big signals you are putting into many miles or training too hard – whether junk miles, or purposeful miles. Scale back when you see these signs and listen to what your body is telling you.
If you are doing all of these thigns as part of your running routine, chances are you are not simply running junk miles, but are covering quality miles that your body needs to improve and build you up to perform. It can be hard as a runner to not just run for the sake of it, because not only do we love it, but it’s as much our therapy and release as it is our physical exercise. Be mindful of your