How Runners Can Avoid Junk Miles and Get Faster

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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How Runners Can Avoid Junk Miles and Get Faster

It might seem like common sense — the more you run, the faster you’ll get. But there are times when more training miles doesn’t necessarily translate into a new personal record. Hitting a plateau in your fitness level eventually happens, and when it does you’ll need to evaluate the quality of your training, not just how often you run.

To fine tune your training plan and run smarter instead of harder, you’ll want to cut unnecessary mileage out of your training to get faster in the process.

WHAT ARE JUNK MILES?

In short, junk miles can be any miles you run during the week that aren’t providing your body with a physiological benefit. In other words, it’s not only the quantity of your mileage, but also the quality. While proponents of high-mileage training programs that emphasize total weekly mileage as a means to get faster might argue against this notion, creating variety in your training pace and having a plan for each workout are important factors to consider when training for a specific race or goal time for a set distance.

Where most junk miles come into play is when runners deviate from a predetermined plan. An easy, 3-mile recovery run after a hard day of intervals that speeds up into a 6-mile tempo run halfway through does little else for your body than sabotage your goals.

All athletes need time to recover and adapt to change physiologically. In this scenario, instead of letting your body rest, you’ve gone moderately hard and may not be able to put your full effort into the following day’s hard workout. In addition, you’re also setting yourself up for injury by upping mileage when your body may not be ready for the added effort.

To get faster, your hard runs should be hard and your recovery runs should be easy. If you’re unable to give full effort during your interval training and conversely intensify your recovery runs, you’re only holding yourself back from improving.

HOW TO MAKE YOUR MILEAGE COUNT

There are two things you can do to cut mileage that isn’t benefiting you: Follow a training plan or make a training calendar and be as disciplined as you can in following this plan. Making a training plan months in advance allows you to plan your runs with a particular goal in mind, whether it’s interval runs to get faster for a pace goal, long runs to build up to a certain distance or recovery runs to give your muscles time to adapt to the previous day’s efforts.

If you can stay disciplined, running purposefully pays dividends. Here are a few general principles you can follow to help you avoid adding unnecessary miles and develop a balanced training plan that focuses on quality:

  • 75% of your runs should be at a conversational pace. These are your long runs and your recovery runs.
  • The other 25% should consist of interval training (once or twice per week), hill work and drills.
  • Every 2–3 weeks, include a tempo run. This measures your progress and helps determine necessary adjustments to your training plan.
  • Schedule off days. One or two days per week, rest or do another activity that doesn’t involve running, such as cycling, swimming or weight training.

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU NEED TO RUN

Sometimes you just need to run even when it’s an off day. Sometimes running can help you clear your mind, destress after a long day or simply spend time with friends and family. When you find yourself in these situations, follow a few simple rules:

  • Run easy. Slow is the key. Don’t worry about your pace or time.
  • Keep it short. These every-once-in-a-while runs shouldn’t be longer than four miles.
  • Modify. Tell your coach you’ve added a run to your weekly routine. If needed, tweak your training to accommodate the extra miles.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.

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