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Ask The Coach: What Do You Think Of Junk Miles?

  • By Mario Fraioli
  • Published May. 2, 2013
  • Updated May. 13, 2013 at 11:08 AM UTC
A junk mile is only junk if it doesn't have a purpose in your training.

Q.

Mario,

What do you think about the concept of “junk miles”?  Some programs, like the FURST method of running less, argue against running extra miles because they can lead to increased injuries without adding anything extra to one’s preparation for a marathon.  Some of your  previous articles have suggested that adding extra miles, like recovery miles, will enhance the training effort.  So I am a little confused.  Thanks for your comments.

Allen

A.

Allen,

Thanks for your question. While I’m not familiar with FURST method of running, I do know a thing or two about junk miles. 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. Easy “extra” miles, in addition to long runs and key workouts such as interval sessions, hill repeats or tempo runs, can be great for recovery, as well as increased aerobic development and strength, if your body has shown it can handle that kind of pounding and accumulation of stress. A lot of runners can, and for these athletes, easy “extra” miles are anything but junk. They have their place.

On the flip side of the coin, if you’re running just to run, keep in shape, have time to yourself, enjoy time with friends, etc., that’s cool, too. Those miles are anything but junk. “Junk” miles, as discussed here, only apply when you’re trying to target your running toward getting ready for competition or improving performance.

MORE: Can’t Run? You Can Still Train

But not every runner can handle the added stress of extra mileage–me being one one of them–and in those cases, “extra” miles are indeed junk because they lead to injury, burnout and frustration. So, for these types of runners, how is it possible to reap the benefits of “extra” miles without actually running them? For me, and many other oft-injured runners, the answer is to focus on nailing your key workouts and filling in the holes with easy aerobic cross training.

I’ve had a lot of success doing a lot of my recovery “miles” on the bike or in the pool and I know others have taken advantage of these means, too. In fact, top Masters runner Linda Somers Smith revealed to me in an interview she can’t handle high mileage as she’s gotten older. So how does she still train and race at a high level?

“I’ve kept up the biking because I got in really good shape just going right off the bike into running, so like doing a 35-mile hard bike ride and just getting off and doing a 10-mile tempo run, or a 6-mile tempo run,” she told me. “You fatigue your legs on the bike and then it’s like doing a 15-mile tempo run, but it’s only 6 miles or only 10, so you’re not hurting your joints as much. So I’m still biking, but right now it’s only once a week—just a bike-to-run instead of a long tempo run.”

Bottom line is the absence of impact from utilizing the bike and/or the pool will do wonders for allowing your legs to bounce back quickly from races and other hard sessions. Check out this article I wrote a while back detailing specific sessions you can do to replace some of your running workouts. And remember, while lots of miles may work for some runners, they don’t work for every runner. Find your own recipe and whatever it is, trust in your training!

Best,

Mario

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Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli is a senior editor at Competitor magazine. A cross-country All-American at Stonehill College in 2003, he now coaches the Prado Women's Racing Team in San Diego and was the men's marathon coach for Costa Rica's 2012 Olympic team. His first book, The Official Rock 'n' Roll Guide To Marathon & Half-Marathon Training (VeloPress, 2013) is available in bookstores, running shops and online.

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