I’ve been thinking a lot about junk miles, or junk mileage (whatever you prefer to call it) lately. I’m not sure why it’s on my mind–maybe because I haven’t really been running according to any sort of schedule lately and as a result none of my runs haven’t had an assigned “purpose”. On Friday, I didn’t feel like running but I knew that I’d feel good if I did, so I decided to play by the 10-minute rule. I ended up doing 2.6 miles. Do they fall into the category of junk mileage?
The idea behind junk miles is that they don’t really move you toward a specific goal. They aren’t long runs, they’re not speed work, they’re not tempo training, they’re just a few miles that you may throw into your week somewhere in order to hit a mileage goal. So if I run 20 miles one week, and 12 of those miles were done during my long run, the other 8 are just sort of, well, junk, right?
Wrong. There’s no such thing as junk mileage. How could it possibly exist? Even if you don’t set yourself up so that each run has a specific function, that doesn’t mean that the miles themselves aren’t beneficial. Trying to argue that any non-specific, easy mileage you do is junk is like saying that it would be the same as doing no mileage at all. After all, junk is pointless. It has no purpose. Junk mileage would have to fit that definition.
Some people argue that when you’re running high mileage weeks, you inevitably have junk runs. They’re the runs you do to fit a few extra miles in, or “shake it out”. I’ve thought a lot about this, and ultimately I just find it confusing. As long as you’re running, you’re moving forward both literally and figuratively. If you’re adding a short run to your week to increase your mileage volume, that run is still going to play a role in improving your overall performance. Even if you think of it as a “recovery run”*, you’re spending time on your feet and helping your body to adapt to working through fatigue and stress. No junk there. Additionally, if you really think the miles you’re running are junk, then why run them?
It boils down to the fact that every run has a purpose. It’s not necessary to push yourself over the top every single time you lace up your shoes and hit the pavement. In fact, doing so is pretty likely to lead to overtraining and plateauing. A short run of 2-3 miles at an easy pace isn’t a waste of time, or just something you do to hit a certain number of miles in a week, it’s a valuable way to spend time on your feet and ensure that you continue to challenge yourself and improve as a runner.
*For more about the myth of the recovery run, I recommend this extremely informative article by Matt Fitzgerald.