Thursday, December 8, 2011

Quality vs Junk Miles

I'm currently on day 15 of a planned 100-day running streak.  It's a gimmick to get me through the winter. Several buffalo trail running friends are along for the ride. It's a great way to add a bit of accountability to your running.  I know I would have skipped several days in the last 2 weeks if it were not for the streak. For me, and I believe for many other runners, running consistently is the key to greater aerobic fitness and better racing. Sure, many of my streak running days are going to be fairly easy "junk" type miles, but they are still miles and they are better than sitting on the couch or lying in bed. I've noticed that when friends get injured, it's usually due to some form of "quality" speed work they are doing.  Speed kills. Rarely do people get injured from "junk" miles. We all need to let our bodies rest and "absorb" the training so we become stronger...but that "rest" can be an easy 2-3 mile run. Quality is over-rated. Quantity (including so called "junk" miles) is under-rated. I'll take an easy 5-mile aerobic run over 8x400m repeats any day of the week. And I won't get injured. I remember running 303 miles in one week during the 7-Day Buffalo Trace Stage Race...and I didn't get injured. Yet a few speed sessions on the treadmill, or hill repeats, or track workouts will sideline me. Sign me up for a high dose of junk miles. You can do the speed sessions.  We'll see who emerges ready to race in the spring!

Truth be told, I'm sure the right mix of quality and quantity, speed and base runs, will deliver the best bang for your mileage buck.  It's a tough balancing act. The risk-reward curve is tenuous. I'll stay conservative and follow the slow, but steady, progression that aerobic miles will provide. Just call me a "junk mile" junkie.


k.q. said...

Found your blog a couple weeks ago when I googled something about ultras and ended up here. Can't recall what it was now. Really liked whatever it was that I read though, so I found you on DailyMile too.

This is a nice read, also. I'll remember this when I happily run slowly all afternoon instead of sprinting around the track for an hour. Like, I'll remember this instead of feeling guilty for not being superfast.

Chris said...

Thanks for reading the blog and finding me on DailyMile. Slow aerobic running is great for the heart (literally) and good for the soul!

Mike said...

You might just be the kind of person who is injury-prone (which is probably true since you run Ultras). But for us mortals, there actually is an increased chance of injury from running lots of junk miles.

By the way, "quality" is certainly not overrated, particularly at distances shorter than an ultra.

Chris said...


Many people run their "easy/junk" miles too fast. Us mortals should do them at a VERY relaxed pace with our heart rate at 60-65% max--often translating to 9-10 minute pace for me (and I can run a marathon in 3:30). Elites that can run sub-5 miles do their recovery easy runs at 8-9 minute paces. That won't injure anyone.

Generally, I'm pretty injury free--although almost every time I get injured it's due to some sort of speed work. Getting in a little quality work is vital for all distances (even 100 milers) if you want to perform well. I think MOST people (myself included) don't get in enough "base aerobic" miles to allow the speed sessions to properly enhance performance.

I agree with you that speed sessions can be very helpful (maybe even necessary) to develop full racing performance...but I also think quantity of easy miles are under-rated and they go a long way toward developing your aerobic capacity and racing ability (most races at 5K and beyond are run primarily through our aerobic system).

PS: I'm a mortal too! I do run too many ultras...rarely getting injured, but not performing all that well. I should increase my overall mileage...and also throw in a weekly tempo run (moderate speed work).