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Junk miles: Are “easy” runs sabotaging your training?

Some consider junk miles to be runs that are done too slow. Others suggest it's the exact opposite: running too fast on easy days.

Hannah Shultz running in Seattle, Washington. Running training miles easy running junk miles

If there’s one thing that most coaches agree upon, it’s that a lot of runners are making one significant mistake when it comes to their training.

That mistake: running too fast on easy days.

RELATED: Two coaches debate how easy an easy run should be

Easy run days are an important part of any training plan. They add all-important mileage while still allowing the body to actively recover from and adapt to prior training stresses. They act as the foundation upon which subsequent training can be done. But many runners sabotage their training by running easy runs too quickly.

“Training is about inputs, not outputs. Whether it’s an easy run or a hard workout, the result matters much less than the fact that you’ve actually gone out and done it,”  says John Lofranco, a Montreal-based running coach and the Manager of Coaching Education for Athletics Canada.

He describes “junk miles” as easy mileage run too fast. These are miles done too fast to help you properly recover for the upcoming workouts but too slow to be a stimulus for threshold training. It’s the runner’s “no man’s land” and a grey area that simply doesn’t help you get better.

But how fast is too fast?

According to Lofranco, your easy running pace should be no faster than your 5K race pace plus 75 seconds. For a 22:30 minute 5K (4:30/K) runner, that would equate to an easy pace of 5:45/K. It’s also okay if you run slower than this since the benefits remain exactly the same. Run faster however and you’ll end up putting undue stress on the body and possibly sabotage your next hard effort. If anything, err on the side of caution. “I don’t believe you can run too slowly” Lofranco adds.

Another problem is that “many runners also tend to place a disproportionate amount of importance on workouts and workout results,” he says. “Being a few seconds off on intervals or a minute or two off on a tempo run is almost inconsequential when compared to the rest of time spent training. Such a small discrepancy is not going to change the physiological benefits you get from a workout.”

RELATED: The what, when, why and how of any hard effort

You should always be able to answer the fundamental question: what is the purpose of this workout? What benefit am I getting from this run? Easy runs provide a low-stress stimulus to the muscles, heart and lungs which hastens recovery, adds training volume and should leave you feeling fresh for your next hard effort. So slow down and enjoy your easy running for what it should be: easy.