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No such thing as junk miles

“Anything over an 8min/mi are junk miles.”

These words are like nails on a chalkboard to me.

A couple years ago, one of my runners told me that her previous running coach had told her this. I was floored.

Maybe you have been told a similar thing in the past. Maybe this has been ground into your brain as it had been a way of thought for many years. I’m here to tell you this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Whether you want to be able to run farther, longer or faster, slow miles is the key to any of these goals. The ONLY way you are going to improve as a runner is by doing slow miles.

“There is no such thing as junk miles. Probably just the opposite.”

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Pounding out hard mile after hard mile can only be beneficial when you give your body time and intensity to repair itself. This time to repair is truly where the additional strength gained takes place. In order to for your body to repair, you need give it the opportunity to recover — by slowing down.

High intensity puts a large amount of strain on structural tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments, facia.) Without the proper recovery between these hard workouts, the damage done to these tissues accumulate to the point of injury. There are many aspects of recovery I am not going to get into in this (sleep, hydrating, nutrition,) the focus is on low intensity recovery.

When you slow down the pace, you allow your body to adapt to the demands that you have previously placed from the high intensity. Your body will only become as strong as you allow it to recover.

“Being strong comes down to how hard you recover.”

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Low intensity increase mitochondria

Low intensity/slow miles, on a cellular level, builds up mitochondria. Mitochondria are considered the “power house” of the cell, or in other terms they are the little guys that produce ATP aka energy. The more mitochondria you have, the more energy your body will be able to produce when the time comes to push hard.

...and an aerobic base.

In addition to the increase of mitochondria, slow miles also build a larger aerobic base. The larger the aerobic base the more potential you have for building speed (because you have more power houses in each of your cells.) Another way to think about this is analogous to the base of a pyramid. The larger the area of the pyramid’s base, the higher the pyramid can be built. Same goes for running slowly in order to run fast — bigger base = more speed.

So this all sounds great, but you may be asking, how many miles/much time should be slow versus fast?

Rule of thumb: 80/20

80% time should be spend building a base

20% of your time should be spent pounding hard (race pace or intervals)

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Approximately about one race pace run and one interval run in a week. Being sure to have a warm-up and cool down for each. I will go into more detail of run structuring in a different post.

What does “slow” actually mean?

How do I know if I am going slow enough? Or too slow?

There are metrics such as heart rate, power, pace, etc that is easy to get wrapped up in. I’ve heard of some Olympic Trials Qualifying runners not wearing a watch on easy days. It is so easy to be consumed by trying to hit a certain metric that you can lose touch with how your body is actually feeling. You will common hear the best runners “running off of feel” and this is what it means.

“Once you are able tap into your body, you will be able to unlock the next level of your potential.”

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Judge your effort without numbers

I’m not saying that you need to run without your watch (that gives me anxiety even thinking about it) but what I am saying is to let go of heart rate, power, pace expectations and run off of feel. Some ways to measure effort without numbers:

  • The talk test.

    • You want to be able to hold a conversation with someone (or yourself.) Not chopping 4 word sentences, I mean, an entire monologue. If you are finding yourself unable to give a speech, first tune into your body, take note of what you are feeling and how quickly you are going, then slow down.

  • Green Light.

    • This one is my own creation. Think about a stoplight, red, yellow, green lights. Using this as a means to measure intensity, green = easy, yellow = moderate (race pace), red = hard (intervals). Your easy miles should fall into the green category making up 80% of the time on your feet only allowing for only 20% of your time spent in the yellow or red within a given week.

  • 5k + 3min/mi.

    • Okay, so if not using numbers gives you just as much anxiety as not wearing a watch, then here is a way to calculate your own easy pace. Think of your last 5k race time, now add 3min/mi to that number. This pace is the middle of your easy pace range. Stay within 30sec slower but no more that 30sec faster.

“If you want to get faster, you need to go slower.”

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I hope this has shed some light on the benefits of slowing down your running. There is basically no such thing as too slow, but absolutely certain there is a thing of too fast.

Email structure update:

Via the feedback I received (thank you), I am structuring my emails differently. I will be sending out 2-3 emails each week focusing on exercise, nutrition and one of reflections over the past week.

Do you have a topic you would like me to cover?

Let me know here leaving a comment below

I would love to reach more people, if you find value in the content, share on social or let your friends know about my email list. Thank you.

Interested in coaching? Find out more and get started here:

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