ASK THE GOAT: Junk miles
Goat: “I haven’t been able to do any quality training to get my distance up. All the miles I get in are just ‘Junk Miles.’ They don’t do anything for me. How can I get my distance up?” Signed “Junk Runner”
Dear Junk Runner: First of all, and this truly is a pet peeve of mine, there really are no “junk miles.” I hear runners slamming non-targeted miles all the time. The more I hear, the more I wonder how knowledgeable these “expert” runners are. Particularly if you are already maintaining adequate cardiovascular conditioning, pushing distance is what these “junk miles” can offer.
For the better part of two years, I have been testing a hypothesis. It may seem a little unorthodox at first but anyone who has trained with me will hear familiar themes. I was the initial test subject through the first year but phase one testing far surpassed my expectations and now I use this model with others for distance training.
There are two components to my “Junk Mile Theory.” The first is a constant flipping between anaerobic and aerobic thresholds during shorter runs. I have been pushing forward into lower intensity zones that create heartier stamina gains. By keeping my runs shorter, more power-draining and more numerous between sleep cycles, I've really been able to force some cardiovascular enhancements and muscular power increases.
This is not to be confused with high-intensity speed-training. For example, whereas I would try to maintain a slightly higher than resting heart-rate for a long endurance run, I shorten the run considerably and put forth a low level power increase to compensate for the distance shortage. The net result for overall energy expenditure remains comparable.
But here is the trick. I continue to replicate this exercise throughout the day until I reach the original long run distance. For instance, instead of plodding along for my 17-mile long run in a traditional plan, I fracture the distance into manageable “sets” and push through them at a slightly higher power output.
Once I cumulatively meet the miles established for the original run distance, I usually find that I am way under on the time it would have taken me to run the distance at a resting pace, meaning I have run faster, conditioned better and met the desired mileage in manageable time chunks. You can now wake up, run 3 miles, work until break, run 2 miles, work until lunch, run 5 miles, work until end of day, and run 7 miles. And there is your long 17 miles.
The beauty is this. As long as you do not push both speed and distance into high intensity zones, distance is virtually limitless and injury-free. Break your longer runs into smaller, slightly higher than resting low-intensity levels and do them throughout the day without benefit of a sleep cycle, and your training will benefit from these “junk miles.” Sleep releases the chemicals that aid in muscle healing. By not engaging in a sleep cycle between runs, your muscles are broken down the same whether they run 17 miles straight or 17 miles worth of “chunks” throughout the day. That is why the system works with any schedule, and leaves you stronger having done it. I have tested this theory and have found my findings to be consistent and easy to replicate. So go get some “junk miles.”