What are Junk Miles?

Every run should have a purpose. Experienced runners will often talk about the time during their training when they realized the importance of running fast on their hard workouts and taking it easy on the easier ones. Going from running without any set purpose or always keeping the pace the same to having a polarized workout enabled them to get the most out of their runs. Excessive miles are not necessarily detrimental, but they aren’t the most beneficial activity for improving performance.

The specific meaning of junk miles depends on the mentor’s viewpoint. Some characterize any outing that doesn’t meet standards for a strong effort or long distance as useless, while others feel that any run can have value. Some think that when a person runs too hard or runs without a goal in mind on an easy run, it counts as wasted effort.

Runs should have a purpose. Even though a “junk miles” run isn’t always the best plan, there are still some benefits, even if they are not as long-term or as ample as if you trained properly and avoided any risk of injury. In the end, even a slow jog counts as a run.

Want to know if you are running junk miles? Read on.

What do people mean when they refer to runs as “junk miles” and is there really even such a thing? 

When a runner is in the process of training, every run they take should have a specific goal in mind. Even though they may be at a slower speed, recovery runs are beneficial to a runner in reaching their goal. Running a marathon requires a high amount of mileage, however pointless miles are experienced when the athlete includes them in their training without justification. It can have negative effects.

How to Determine If You Run Junk Miles – Important Questions to Ask 

Who needs to worry about whether they’re running junk miles?

If you use running as a way to stay fit or to improve your mental well-being, then you need not concern yourself with unnecessary running. Runners who are not in season and just trying to keep a consistent amount of weekly miles are not excluded. If this is you, keep doing your thing! Runners should make time to simply take pleasure in the activity of running without any specific goal in mind.

Are you padding mileage for the sake of mileage?

For most runners, an easy run will have diminishing returns after 75 minutes. Past 90 minutes, a run becomes a long run – with drastically different physiological effects and recovery timelines. Padding on mileage each day can change the physiological purpose of running.

Furthermore, if you are running so far every day that you feel exhausted, irritable, or flat on your runs, you are likely junking out your miles and losing the benefits that come from stress, rest, and adaptation.

An elite typically splits their daily mileage into two runs, such as 8-10 miles in the morning and 3-4 miles in the afternoon. Training time matters also; this typically consists of a 60-75 minute run in the morning and a 30-minute run in the afternoon.

Doubles may sound like junk miles to some. However, a 60-minute morning run and a 30-minute evening run can be more beneficial than a 90-minute morning run. You accumulate less fatigue and glycogen depletion, so the two runs remain truly easy.

Are you running at the appropriate intensity?

Surprisingly, during race training, junk miles often occur when your pace is moderate. Many runners fall into a pattern of running slightly too hard on their easy days – and therefore cannot push hard enough on their quality workout days. 

Every run becomes virtually the same. They see some improvements before plateauing. Polarized training – varying the intensity of your runs with easy days and quality hard workouts – produces sustainable growth and real results. 

First, learn to slow down on your easy days (here’s how). Once your easy runs are truly easy, start pushing yourself more on your hard workouts.

A recent race or time trial can provide an accurate assessment of your fitness. Using that time, you can use a calculator (typically the McMillan or Jack Daniels VDOT) to calculate your training paces. Perceived exertion (if you are honest with yourself), breathing rate, and heart rate all serve as other gauges of intensity.

It is worth emphasizing that not all moderate-intensity runs are junk miles. When done deliberately, aerobic threshold runs are a fantastic (and often underrated) quality session for half marathons, marathoners, and ultra runners. Deliberateness is the key; these should be treated as quality sessions, including being preceded and followed by easy runs or recovery days. 

Does your run have a purpose?

If you cannot name a specific purpose for a run, then you may be running junk miles. In a well-developed training plan, each run has a purpose. Easy runs are comfortable enough that they stimulate the aerobic system without accumulating fatigue. 

Miles become junk miles when you push too hard for the intended purpose of the workout. Faster workouts are not better workouts. If you run too fast, you stress different energy systems. Oftentimes, that makes the workout too stressful (since volume and intensity are deliberately manipulated aspects of a workout) and hinders adaptation. 

Let’s look at the example of a particular workout: cruise intervals. The prescribed workout is 8 x 800m at a 10K pace, with a 1.5 minutes recovery jog. Instead of running at a 10K pace – which will feel fast yet controlled for that duration –, the runner pushes as hard as possible for each interval.

The short recovery does not permit enough recovery for that high intensity, so one begins to flag and crashes by the end of the workout. You negate some of the desired adaptations and may increase your risk of overtraining. 

Another example of purposeful runs comes in the context of event-specific preparation. What may qualify as junk miles for even a marathon will not be the case for a 100-mile ultra runner, who needs to run through high levels of fatigue.

Finally, variety is a purpose. Imagine eating chicken, broccoli, and rice for every meal. It’s healthy enough, but you lack some key nutrients and it would become very boring very quickly. If you run the exact same 5-mile route each day, the same thing happens to your running. Sometimes, the purpose of a run can simply be to run a bit further or a bit less, even if it is still an easy effort.

Recovery Runs Are Not Junk Runs

Many critics of high mileage training dismiss recovery runs as junk miles. In reality, they are quite the opposite. Recovery runs are purposefully very slow, often done the day after a quality session or long run. You cannot go too slow on recovery runs. If anything, running too fast negates their purpose.

Your Runs Are Only As Good As Your Recovery

If you are running so much that you are unable to recover from your workouts, you may be running junk miles. Adaptation comes as a result of recovery from the stress of training. No recovery, no adaptation.

As mentioned above, mileage for the sake of mileage can lead to junk miles. If this is your situation, then honestly assess your training plan. Are you taking a rest day each week? How much time are you training each day? Is there day-to-day variation in both volume and intensity?

Why Running Junk Miles is Bad for You

On occasion, one just needs a run of a couple of miles to clear one’s thoughts – not because of what the coach indicated. These aren’t junk, but there IS a fine line.

The distinction is whether you are making them operate too quickly.

How fast is too fast?

The accepted principle of running is that the majority of your mileage should be completed at a comfortable speed. This calculates to be somewhere in the range of 52 to 70 per cent of your maximum heart rate. If you don’t want to calculate the exact rate, it’s roughly two minutes slower than what you would usually run for a 5K race, or even slower if that is your preference.

To have a successful marathon race, you must log many miles and take care to avoid any injuries. Most of your miles should be done at a relaxed speed to make sure this is the case. That leaves the other 20% for speed. The aim of this speedwork is to enhance your power and to train your anaerobic system. You NEED this to get faster.

When the intense effort of fast running begins to creep into your easy runs, the result is not beneficial miles. It is not advisable to proceed in such a manner.

You can hurt yourself.

If you don’t follow your training plan and do separate runs at different paces just for the sake of it, you may end up injuring yourself. Were you aware that a run at medium speed can be as hard on your body as running fast? Not having a specific goal in mind won’t help you to become a faster runner.

This comprises occurrences that stop you from jogging. Any sort of wound or distress that stops you from giving your best effort is what we are talking about. Injuries such as Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and IT band pain can be endured while running, even though they may reduce your pace. And passing through these ultimately can cause your progress to come to an abrupt stop. This will not aid you in achieving your ambitions.

I believe we can all agree that it is foolish to cause harm to oneself due to being unable to restrain the pace according to the devised plan. It is certainly a difficult thing, and I confess I am guilty of it.

You’ll be chronically fatigued and you’ll sabotage your speedwork.

Even if you do not experience physical casualties as a result of running too many miles too quickly, you may not be prepared to achieve the speed you planned for your speed days. When your trainer (or individualized plan) gives you running speeds to aim for, it is because they understand what you can do.

If you rarely achieve the time you’re aiming for with your 800m sprints, you need to pay serious attention to your practice. Have you been running farther than you originally planned to increase the number of miles you have gone for the week? Have you been picking up the pace on your less demanding runs because you were feeling a bit uninterested and wanted to do something different? If this is true, it is safe to assume that you have been including low-quality mileage during your exercise routine.

But doesn’t higher mileage correlate to a faster marathon time?

Now is the moment when you’re thinking twice about everything you’ve heard regarding high mileage as a key element in running a successful marathon. You’re wondering if your miles are really effective if they are contributing to the total distance required to complete a marathon.

A marathon runner typically benefits a lot from clocking a lot of miles in preparation. In this story from Sports Illustrated, Desi Linden, who triumphed in the 2018 Boston Marathon, details her process of getting ready for weeks when she runs over 100 miles. I’m certain that none of us would describe her miles as worthless.

Yes absolutely, running more can make you faster. However, not if it causes harm to your body. When you add in running that has no point to it, especially when you go too quickly, you are incorporating useless miles into your exercise routine.

The essential element is to gradually increase the distance travelled over some time. Once you’ve finished your hard workouts, you can still cover a lot of ground without wasting energy by keeping your stride relaxed and unhurried for 80% of your runs.

Keeping the Junk Away From Your Marathon Training

To avoid unnecessary running miles in your marathon preparation, adhere to the following advice.

  1. Stick to the prescribed mileage and types of runs your coach and/or plan gives you.
  2. Keep the easy runs easy. Don’t be tempted to go too fast for any reason.
  3. Sometimes a special run you want to do will deviate from your plan. An evening run with your kid, a weekend run with friends, or an extra jog to clear your head. No one wants you to lose your love of running by feeling like you need to skip these runs. So when you must, just keep them at an extra easy pace. This will ensure they aren’t giving your body extra fatigue. Anything that adds to mental wellness is certainly not junk.





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