Junking the Junk Miles

I’m guilty of running junk miles. I’ve done it regularly for four years straight. Yeah, occasionally I mix them up with hill repeats or visual fartleks, but they are few and far between. And I rarely ever, voluntarily, run slow.

I own and have read Ben Greenfield’s book Beyond Training, but apparently I didn’t pay close enough attention to Chapter 3. Since he recently began releasing the audio version of the book on his premium website, I have been listening to it as I run. It was mostly becauise I ran out of other things to listen to. But I’m so glad I did. Because clearly I didn’t ingest nearly as much as I should have by doing it the old fashioned way.


Junk miles. Do you know what they are? In a nutshell, they are miles which are run over and over again, at the same pace, similar durations, same effort (medium hard), day after day, and month after month. In fact, I’m compelled to define them much like the definition of insanity by Albert Einstein. “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” From a training standpoint, they are in fact pointless. And they will exhaust you, not to mention open the doors to overtraining and possible injury.

Ben Greenfield Fitness

Ben Greenfield’s Beyond Training Book

It was by listening to Ben read his own chapter 3 that made me realize this. In fact, I listened to the chapter 3 times to be sure I understood what was being said and how I could possibly fix it.

It all makes sense. And in my case, I think running junk miles worked for me when I first began running, because my pace became increasingly faster over three years time. But more recently, as I steadied with a 8:00 pace for most of my easy runs, it was apparent this number wasn’t going to get much faster, unless I stopped the insanity.

Training with a sore leg takes gumption and concentration on a completely different level. I’ve had to swallow my pride and take rest days. I’ve had to stop and take the time to walk at regular intervals during my runs. I’ve had to slow down. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized I’d become a much more efficient runner if I followed Ben’s advice.

In fact, looking back at how I trained for the Twin Cities Marathon, it was obvious that I inadvertently did just this in preparation for this event. I followed my own training plan. I didn’t succumb to a pre-published plan that required me to run an 8:00 pace during every training session. I only had two long runs prior to the marathon (a 16 and a 20-miler), and I refrained from running long every day. I did, however, run my shorter runs fast and my longer runs slow.

Negative splits at Twin Cities Marathon

Negative splits at Twin Cities Marathon

After the marathon, with my new found pride from running it so stinkin’ well, I returned to the junk miles. I guess I figured I could handle it. Or else, my ego just took over. And with the approach of winter, running fast is sometimes the only way to run. The faster you run, the faster you’re done.

Junk miles.

The past three weeks I have started an experiment of sorts. It incorporates all I have learned from Ben and all I have learned from listening to my own body. Plus, it takes into account the advice I have received from my phyisical therapist. Most of the time, it isn’t necessary to run fast.

It is just necessary to run.

With her help, I have managed to crank out some longer distances by using the walk/run method. I set up a program on Runmeter to help me with this. My timed walk/run intervals go like this:

  1. 2-minute walk warm up
  2. run 3 minutes
  3. 1-minute walk
  4. run 3 minutes
  5. 1-minute walk
  6. run 3 minutes
  7. 1-minute walk
  8. run 4 minutes
  9. 1-minute walk
  10. run 5 minutes…

and this continues all the way to 10 minutes followed by a 2-minute walk cool down. This is generally how my weekend run works. This past weekend, I was able to add on 2 additional 10 minute runs to get me to 10 miles rather successfully and with no discomfort in the left leg.

Saturday's 10-miler.

Saturday’s 10-miler.

This same running program is how I got started on Tuesday and Thursday’s as well, but I’d only run less than 4 on Tuesday and less than 6 on Thursday, working up to the longer Saturday run. I also work on form during the week. I focus on using my hips and firing my glutes, rather than running with my legs. This takes extra effort altogether, so it naturally slows me down.

The last 3 weeks, I changed it up just a little by incorporating some speed work in on Monday. It seemed to be the logical day as it followed a running rest day and would allow me to get a 4th day of running into the week.

This Monday run is a treadmill run that I do around midday or early evening. I give myself plenty of time after P90X and my physical therapy exercises to recover. I set the timer for 50 minutes and run intervals “up the ladder” as follows:

  1. 2-minute walk warm up
  2. 2 minutes at 5.5 mph
  3. 1 minute at 7.5 mph
  4. repeat 2x
  5. 2 minutes at 5.6 mph
  6. 1 minute at 7.6 mph
  7. repeat 2x…

This continues until my time is up. I end up at a 07:30 pace for the final minute before the treadmill sets itself to cool down.

The first Monday I did just 40 minutes.

The following Monday I did 50 minutes as above.

This Monday, I did 50 minutes but only repeated each interval once. This meant my final minute was run at 07:19. It isn’t an easy workout, but already I can see the benefits.

How? Well, today, I did an easy paced run. I actually turned off everything but my heart rate so that is all I heard every half mile. My aim, after listening to Ben, was to keep the heart rate below 170, while breathing only out of my nose. I knew this would slow my pace down, yet I didn’t want to know how slow as I was running. I felt at ease the entire run. In fact, if it weren’t as humid as it was, it would have been the perfect day to run forever. I never tired and I never was at a loss for breath. In the end, it was a hugely successful run. No walking needed!

Tuesday's heart rate controlled run.

Tuesday’s heart rate controlled run.

So, yes. I am inspired. I have a plan to train for Chicago. My biggest challenge will be continuing to do my physical therapy exercises religiously, and foam roll, ice, and elevate my leg after each run. Every week, my long run will get a little longer. And with two half marathons scheduled before the marathon, I should have enough to combine with two long runs to make this all work.

Here is the training plan:

Monday: P90X Upper Body resistance workout du jour/Physical Therapy exercises/midday speed intervals on treadmill

Tuesday: Medium length run (heart rate training – no walking – light effort) 5-8 miles/Yoga

Wednesday: P90X Legs and Back/Physical Therapy exercises – Running rest day

Thursday: Run/Walk intervals (slightly faster than Tuesday’s avg pace for running intervals) 4-6 miles/Yoga

Friday: P90X Upper Body resistance workout du jour/Physical Therapy exercises/60 minute cycle or Zero Runner at low resistance

Saturday: Long run day using timed walk/run intervals. Light effort.

Sunday: Yoga/Running rest day – Walk or house cleaning

This will take me through to my first half marathon on August 29th. After that, I may regroup.

For the first time in months, I’m hopeful. I’m more than hopeful, I’m inspired.

I’m ready.

Get ready for neon, Chicago! I’m-a comin’.

How is your marathon training going? Fill me in!


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