Tuesday Thoughts – Junk Miles, a Request and My ‘Two Songs’

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Day 2 of Megan’s Abs Challenge – Complete!

We are getting to the end of my 10 Days You list, and as I keep saying I have enjoyed this more than I expected and learned a lot along the way. The comments have been amazing, and I have added stuff to my various watch and wish lists as a result – thanks to all for sharing! Today along with the second-to-last day, I have a couple of other quick topics, so here we go!

No Such Thing as Junk Miles

The concept of ‘junk miles’ is one that fascinates me, and Carson at Running Southern mentioned it in her latest post, in the context of taking charge of her busy life and ditching ‘junk’ miles that don’t get her anywhere in her fitness. I am not bringing her up to disagree or criticize – I support her choice, and if you read her post you will see it makes perfect sense for her.

So what ARE these junk miles? The term ‘junk miles’ came as part of the ‘run less, run faster’ fad, which many have picked up and some have had great success improving their times and staying injury-free. But are they right? Can runners simply cut miles, run some more speed work and end up better for it? Um … maybe, maybe not.

From Competitor:

So who’s right? Science offers no clear answer. On the one hand, studies that have looked at various training variables in groups of runners competing in the same race and compared these variables against their finishing times have found that weekly running mileage is usually the best predictor of performance. In other words, those who run the most tend to achieve the lowest finishing times in races.

On the other hand, numerous prospective studies have shown that runners can achieve large improvements in performance without increasing their mileage by replacing some of their slow running with faster running.

When you look up and down the running literature there is evidence to support either side – and also to debunk either side. Bottom line – there is no absolute definition of junk miles.

But what matters more is looking at how and why you are doing workouts. Are you training for a marathon? If so, those long runs are contributing to your endurance, as well as your recovery. Or maybe you are using them for ‘active meditation’, stress relief, hanging out with friends, or some other non-training purpose. Again, in that case they are NOT junk.

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Image Source

The common context applied seems to be that miles – or workouts in general – are junk when you are in the midst of a training cycle and that specific workout contributes nothing to your training.

There are also three REALLY good reasons to focus on maximizing your training efficiency in fewer miles : injury, burnout and frustration.

If you are injury prone, or recovering while training for a new event, every mile can make you more prone to getting injured. And if you are getting stuck in a rut of doing the same thing again and again, chances are you aren’t improving and might be getting burned out and lose interest in your training. None of this is good.

So my advice would be to ditch someone else’s definition of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ miles, figure out based on your own personal experience what YOUR balance of ‘quality vs. quantity’, and develop your own optimal training plan … regardless of how someone else would judge it.

A Quick Request

I am fortunate to not have been in a position to ask for money for a very long time other than for charitable support, and as a result I try to support charities for others when I can. This weekend I got a request from Ann Brennan, the blogger at Ann’s Running Commentary. Ann’s site was one of the first I found when I started tracking blogs through a guest post she did. Eventually I did a guest post for her, and she remains a good blog friend. Here is what she is asking:

This year I will be running the Marine Corps Marathon for the 7th time. But this year is different. This year I will be running with my dear friend Jeff Prs who has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Please help me by donating and/or sharing this link on your page. Jeff is an incredible man and does so much for so many. Raising money and awareness for prostate cancer is the very least I can do.

Check out her donation site, and thanks in advance if you can do anything at all to help.

10 Day You Challenge

OK, so now I am up to Day 9, and the theme is Two Songs. Wait … what?!?! TWO … W.T.F. Anyone who knows me knows that music is a HUGE thing for me, so picking just TWO songs is impossible. So I chose to do something different … I chose one song for myself and one that has special meaning in my life. And once I made that choice – the two songs were immediately chosen and I am satisfied. So let’s go!

Day Nine: Two Songs

1. ‘Bitches Brew’ by Miles Davis – I have written about this song here and here, saying:

within that 27 minutes there is everything I love about music; elements of classical, rock, funk, soul, free jazz, fusion and so on.

And it really is one of the singular pieces of modern music, featuring a double quartet (two drums, two basses and two keyboards) as well as multiple ‘world music’ influences and contributions from rock and classical and funk music. Yet it has a harder edge than so much ‘free jazz’ of the period while remaining harmonically tethered and loose all at once. The musicians were young and dynamic, and so while they had no preconceived ideas of what was happening … once the recording started they let loose with some of the greatest music of the last century.

Here is a live version from the Tanglewood Jazz Festival (in Western Massachusetts):

And here is the original album version … all 27 glorious minutes …

2. ‘Skywriting’ by The Bible – Music is important to both Lisa and I, and we have shared music back and forth through the years. I lent her tapes of Pat Metheny and Miles Davis, and she gave me late-80s British new wave stuff like The Lilac Time and The Bible. We really enjoyed listening to why the other one liked certain things, and over time The Bible’s album ‘Eureka’ became ‘ours’ … and the lead song ‘Skywriting’ became our song, played as our first dance by the band at our wedding. Traditional? No … but who the F cares?!? πŸ™‚

The song tells the story of a young couple trying to succeed against the odds and opinions of others. While I was already employed as an engineer (i.e. not broke), just as we fell in love Lisa moved to Albany for a year of graduate school in medical technology. So we had the long distance thing going – and plenty of people ready to cast doom upon us.

Now Lisa only had this on tape, and it was out of print (this was 1990-91), pre-internet, MP3 or YouTube, so it wasn’t something easy to get. But I did some poking around record stores in Boston and was able to special order an import CD through one of those shops – and ‘our songs’ were safe.

We still listen to this CD all the time, and it remains a special part of our life and our family. Here is a live version circa 1990:

What do you think about ‘junk miles’? Have you ever run for a cause? And what are YOUR two top songs – and why?

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39 thoughts on “Tuesday Thoughts – Junk Miles, a Request and My ‘Two Songs’

  1. Since I’m jut beginning my running journey, there’s no such thing as junk miles for me. Every run is an accomplishment, whether it’s 2 miles or 10. It’s amazing that I even get out there at all. That may change someday, but right now every mile is challenging me and helping me to be a better runner.

  2. I love junk miles and most of my commuting miles fall in that category. Slow, easy, no training purpose other than volume and time on my feet (and that whole “getting me to and from the office” thing). I follow a training plan for quality miles, but then I bulk it up with junk miles to get to my happy weekly mileage number. If I felt on the cusp of injury, boredom, burnout, whatever, the junk miles would be the first thing I’d cut, but generally, they’re quite enjoyable. The junk miles make me more inclined to work hard on my quality miles.

    • Interesting perspective – and I would say that many of the miles I run might fall into the junk category, especially whenever I run a double. But I wouldn’t trade them for the world πŸ™‚

  3. I think when I first started out running, I didn’t think much about “junk” miles, I just wanted to run as much as I could and build my fitness base. My mindset shifted a bit over the years and through my running experience.

    I personally really like the philosophy behind run less, run faster (and its the program I picked to follow when I started my Boston training because of that) and I do think that for me, being prone to injury, that cutting out miles for the sake of miles works, again for me. I also love that it forces you to cross train more, something I think a lot of runners don’t do enough (just a personal opinion.) I also think I was starting to get in a rut with my running, likely because slogging through a ton of miles without a purpose is not motivating for me, so RLRF in general is more appealing to me, but I wholeheartedly agree with you that people need to really determine what works for them and go with it, regardless of what a book or anyone else has to say about it.

    Some people love to rack up the miles (and I am jealous of those like you who can do so and not get injured) and then there are others like me that take a different road. It’s all good, as long as you are on YOUR journey to a healthier, happier you!

    • Excellent, excellent comment that gives me relief that I came across the way I wanted to! πŸ™‚

      I think you are a great example of someone who is doing a great job listening to her body – you really mix things up, pay attention, and keep it fresh. And I agree that too many runners don’t do enough cross-training – myself included. But as always, I agree that it is all up to what works for each of us to best enjoy the journey we are taking! πŸ™‚ Thanks so much!

  4. Junk miles is something I waffle with, in terms of quantity–ie hitting a certain number of miles a week. In terms of quality, I value every mile that I get, regardless of whether I am KILLING IT or slogging through. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for you to choose just 2 songs! I am going to have to investigate these. I am sure that, even if they are not my taste or whatever, that they will be beautifully constructed.

    • Thanks so much Susie!

      And I do like that distinction – the whole thing about hitting numbers. To just be out there in order to make some daily or weekly total is SO beyond meaningless – especially when you might end up hurt as a result! It is one thing to challenge yourself – I always say I like to be ‘half marathon ready’ … but it is another when it takes on a dimension that has nothing to do with the running.

  5. I think as long as you are running for a reason then do it! Escapism, enjoyment, health, achievement, towards a goal, a race… I guess you could say that ‘junk miles’ may exist when somebody has an injury and feels they have to run to train for X and that would be junk as you don’t gain anything, quite the opposite. Well apart from perhaps a lesson learnt! But other than that, no not really. Just do what’s right for you ultimately πŸ™‚

    • MY SONGS! I forgot! Super mainstream but oh well.
      1. Oasis – Whatever. “I’m free to be whatever I choose” pretty much my mantra for life. And I just love it!
      2. This one’s embarrassing… The definition of a guilty pleasure! Five – Keep On Moving. I listened to this when I was 17 on the way to GB under 18 rowing trials (feeling completely terrified). I had struggled through injury and illness to get there but listening to this I just knew everything was going to be okay. And it was πŸ™‚

      • Thanks for sharing – and music is about LOVE, not categories! So what if you like a boy band (#snicker) … seriously, my wife brought the Backstreet Boys CD we’d bought for the kids when it came out into work last week – and EVERYONE was singing along! So who really cares? The more important thing is the meaning the music has for you and your life!

      • Oh – and The Bible (along with the Lilac Time, Billy Bragg, Railway Children, etc) were all big on the alternative Brit-pop scene in the late 80s … only Bragg made much of a US splash. πŸ™‚

    • I hate when I see that someone has learned a lesson throuhg injury, but I know what you mean! I have definitely seen folks ramp and ramp too fast and wind up hurt, and even seen someone who coming off an injury ramped again too fast and re-injured … ugh! So not worth it! Because at a certain point you become much more prone to injury as a result! Those are worse than ‘junk miles’ – they are more like ‘danger miles’!

  6. I never really gave much thought to “junk mileage” until after I finished the marathon and I agree with you that everyone is probably going to have a different definition of what is quality mileage. Like…as I’m recovering, worrying about hitting a certain mileage and pushing myself to do that when really all I’m going to do is exhaust myself would be junk miles (in my opinion). I’m starting to realize that I might be one of those people that are a little more injury prone (just based on the anatomy of my feet alone), so I want to be careful that I don’t overdo it.

    I don’t know either of these songs, but I love that you posted videos for both so I’m going to give them a listen!

    • Ugh – ate my own comment! 😦

      You have learned a lot this year, and I think through the streak and injury have discovered things about yourself (including not liking NOT being able to run) that will make you smarter going forward.

      Hope you enjoy the music … if not, it at least shows the diversity between Lisa and I in terms of music πŸ™‚

  7. Ahhhh the junk miles. While it varies per person, I tend to focus on getting my miles in no matter how terrible they are. Getting bogged down with the numbers usually means I see no progress in getting faster, which is my ultimate goal. Great debate, though, regarding what they really are.

    • Thanks Carson – and I think that knowing and working towards your ultimate goal is what it is all about. And the ‘it varies by person’ is about what it all came down to as I looked across all kinds of sources. I think it likely varies within a person based on what they are working towards at the time!

  8. Love that you love music like that and that you chose something out of the box. What a fun list–may have to get in on this over the summer. As to junk miles, I agree, it’s a tough one. I tend to like to run for running’s sake, so I probably do a run or two per week that might fit into the category. At the same time, I think every run should at least be defined, in terms of easy or hard and that the majority should be easy. Trouble starts when there are too many hard junk miles.

    • Thanks Amanda – and I agree on the too many hard miles. I was just ranting a bit on the ‘easy’ claims I see so often that are pretty much BS – people who can’t break 2 hours at a half-marathon are claiming 10 mile runs at an ‘easy’ 8 min/mile pace. Um, no. Slow it down. And I think that is a way social media put pressure to perform on younger people that wasn’t there when some of us more ‘seasoned’ people started running πŸ™‚

      As for my music tastes … some would say ‘out of the box’ is a generous description! πŸ™‚

  9. It’s the first time I hear about ‘junk miles’! I think I’ll have to agree with you on this subject however, especially, that I’m still very new to running. Every single mile makes me proud πŸ™‚ xoxo

  10. I actually don’t agree with the term junk miles for me. Every mile I run serves some purpose, even if it isn’t “necessary” for a specific race goal, it might be very important in terms of burning off some stress, helping me build my overall endurance, or just increasing the time I spend on my feet. Unless I’m clearly running on an injury, I view every run as helping me in some way, even if it is helping me learn when my body needs a break!

    • Very true Laura! That is pretty much where I am at … to me junk is something I would have been better off discarding, and I can’t think of any run that fits that guideline.

  11. I think if the miles you’re running are for any purpose that adds to your quality of life, they are not “junk miles”. I see junk miles as being extra miles run that hurt your performance because they bring you closer to overtraining and injury. I think only with experience can you know what that is for you. No one else can judge it just by looking.

    • So true Michele – one thing I read is that if you do a long run and it keeps you from doing scheduled speedwork or other focused activities, then THAT is junk miles. But like you say – it is ultimately up to each of us!

  12. IMO, junk miles concept only applies if you are seeking to maximize one aspect – performance gain versus miles run in training. Your write up nailed it, if the journey of those miles and the time spent running is your actual goal, then the junk is when you see your home in the distance and know your run is almost over.

    My number one song is Beethoven’s 9th Symphony – Ode to Joy. I’ve got a recording of it with the German vocal opera in it, I don’t understand a word of it, but I’ve loved that song my whole life.

    #2 is corny but Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey. This song was part of a few moments that, while not quite life defining, stand out as shining stars of positive hope to escape some extreme dark emotional times that my wife and I survived.

  13. As someone who is not a runner but is trying to be, I guess all of my miles would be junk miles. However, all of them have taken a lot of effort. I am doing the Couch 2 5K program and every minute is an effort right now. So, although my miles might be slow and not very steady, I appreciate the completion of each one. Be blessed.

  14. I’ve always been a little perplexed by the term “junk miles” since I think we all run for different reasons. It sort of falls into the whole “what’s a ‘real’ runner” argument that kind of pisses me off. My issue is when people disdain others for how they choose to run. Not everyone wants to push hard to get faster, they just want to enjoy their run. Others enjoy their runs when they are getting faster. I don’t think there is a correct way to enjoy running, nor do I think it’s a lessor runner who chooses to not be competitive.

    • I agree – and I think that referring to them as ‘junk’ implies a meaning and context that can come across as condescending to others, and make for a defensive conversation. Good point!

  15. I don’t believe In junk miles, I believe all miles are helpful in some way. Even though we may not push ourselves every run we are still getting out and keeping our body loose. So the term junk miles to me is something that doesn’t exist.. First time on your blog and It has some good reads, I look forward to keeping up on it. Feel free to stop by mine as well… http://runnerscommunity.blogspot.com/

  16. Pingback: Very Inspiring Blogger Award | Running Around the Bend

  17. Pingback: 30 Days of Gratitude – Day #20, Another Year of 3000+ Running Miles | Running Around the Bend

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