Junk Miles: Why I’m Throwing Them in the Trash

Junk miles belong in the trash.
This is what I think of junk miles.

The worst advice I’ve ever been given to up my speed in the half marathon is to run more miles. “Disgusting amounts of slow miles” was what someone said to me. If I didn’t, he said, I should just stick to 5Ks.

After I finished mopping up his teeth (kidding! This was via the Internet, and I couldn’t reach through my computer screen), I remembered exactly why I don’t run “disgusting amounts of slow miles” when I’m not training (and only run three times a week when I am): my knee. Specifically, my right knee, which tends to get very angry with me if it’s overworked, and my IT band, which similarly will protest. I overtrained for my first half marathon, I think, and 4-5 runs a week (i.e., more days running than not) was just too much. I needed rest (or cross-training) between runs, not constant pounding on my knees. (Olympian Carrie Tollefson agrees.)

Therefore, I don’t run junk miles. I make my runs count: I do three key runs a week, three days of strength training, and one day of rest. It adds up to 12-15 miles during the off season, depending on how ambitious I feel. When I’m training, the long run is the first run to get bumped up, followed by the tempo run, and it ends up being a lot more than my base. But when I’m not training for a race, I’m not going to run a ton of slow, easy miles just for the sake of having 30/40/50-mile weeks. That’s just begging for my IT band to stage a full-scale revolt, or rolling out the welcome mat for a stress fracture. I have too many damn stairs in my house for that. Plus, that means I can’t strength train as much – and strength training is what has kept me out of physical therapy. It means I’m going to run 3 times a week in the off season, not necessarily doing speedwork every week but keeping up a general level of fitness. And when there is a race on the horizon, I start training and upping my mileage.

So, look, if it takes me longer to hit a 1:45:00 half, that’s fine. I don’t have to do it immediately. I don’t have to do it in the next year, even. But I’m not going to overtrain and end up in the hospital. I’m more focused on being healthy and fit than logging 50 mile weeks and hobbling around the rest of the time.

That advice, to me, is like telling me because I can’t lift the 30 lb dumbbell right now for 8 full reps, I should just use the 10s and do more reps with them – after I’ve already been doing sets with the 25s. No, I should keep doing my long sets with the 25s, then pick up the 30s for a shorter set.

Point being: my workouts are smart. They’re concentrated so I’m getting the maximum benefit. My resistance training classes aren’t about taking two minutes between sets; it’s a circuit-style class. Do one exercise, move to the next, move to the third, repeat two more times. Then there are three more exercises you move through. Then you get to do a metabolic finisher. 45 minutes later, I’m stretching and heading home.

In short: no junk. Period. I’m not looking to set a world record. I run to beat myself, not anyone else.

And no 5Ks. The last one I did, I ran the course once as a warmup before the race started. It takes too long to warm up, and then the race is over. Plus I always end up dodging the 13-minute milers in yoga pants – good for them for running, but bad on them for lining up in the 8-minute mile corral. It’s basic race etiquette to line up in your expected pace corral – and if you haven’t ever run an 8 minute mile, now is not the time you’re going to do it.


One thought on “Junk Miles: Why I’m Throwing Them in the Trash

  1. I only run 3 days a week too (but not nearly as much mileage). I have an issue with my left knee and recently some ITB issues and tightness in my left hip. So I'm definitely focusing on quality over quantity. I have my first half in October and I really want to be able to finish it injury free 🙂

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