Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Don’t run junk miles, make your training count

I was struggling with my motivation early the other morning, and my normal 15 minutes from getting out of bed to getting out of the house had increased to 30 minutes. I stood outside the house, having planned to do a long (30-40km) session the night before, and was weighing up a quick run up the local mountain (as the easy option) or a hills session instead. The longer session was not even a consideration!

During these 5 minutes of mental deliberation I did manage to have a moment of clarity.  Basically the run up the mountain would have contributed very little to my training, especially as I’m only 4 weeks out from my next 100mile race (actually 174kms) – the Great North Walk 100. Also I felt I needed to do something worthwhile given that I had had a two rest days as my wife had been away for the weekend and I couldn’t tempt my 6 and 8 year olds to come and join me for a few hours running!

Junk miles!
I opted to do a hill session, where I knew I was going to get a genuine benefit, and could probably have squeezed the effort of the 30-40km session into a much shorter period.

To have taken the easy option would have been to run “junk miles”. They can be detrimental using up energy reserves, risking injury and offering little in strength (or running form improvement), without actually progressing your training.

All too often runners, and especially ultrarunners when training for a specific event, find themselves watching and pushing their weekly mileage to fall in line with a training plan. Now I am very much in favour of having a plan, but that should be centred on the output and performance benefit, not just on the distance you run.

This doesn’t mean you should be out there killing yourself in every session, finishing completely spent and needing days to recover. You should still go out and run for the pure pleasure or being out in the environment, feeling the blood pumping and endorphins rushing, but not every time.  There should always be flexibility in any training schedule, but I would suggest keeping true to it about 80% of the time, sort of the inverse of Pareto’s principle.

Just keep in mind that there is a limit to how much you can improve your running performance in a short space of time, or with intermittent training sessions.  Always train with a goal in mind and whatever that specific goal is, it should be for some performance enhancement, be it in speed, strength, running economy, or even psychological enjoyment.

So train hard, become a better runner and have fun.

Happy running, 

 “It is futile to do with more things that which can be done with less” – Occam’s Razor

Training 16-10-2010 (30km Hill session on trails)
Training 19-10-2010 (Hill repeats on trails)


  1. Great post.

    Great information.

  2. Great advice - I swapped quality for quantity last year. Not only did I have more spare time, but I got faster and enjoyed it more.

    Just out of interest, what is your local mountain run?

  3. Thanks guys

    Ali my local mountain is Mount Tinbeerwah, which is stretching the term "mountain" but certainly more than a hill! It involves about 300m vertical in each ascent,and some good rough trails. Not quite in the league of the Swiss Alps in you recent blog post though.


  4. I loosely follow training schedules, I use them more as a rough outline. Depending on how I feel during the run, I may go 5 miles or 20. The same is true for speed workouts, if I'm feeling great, I'll go for it. If not, then I listen to my body, and run accordingly.

  5. hey Andy. We are up the coast now and getting settled in. We will have to catch up for a chat.. Sadly i have not been doing much running of late as i am still carrying an injury which is really taking a massive toll on my motivation and putting my north face dreams in danger. Hopefully we can catch up sometime soon!

  6. Hi Shannon,
    That's the best attitude to training programs, although you must also make sure you are getting out of your comfort zone every now and then. I'll always do "just one more" set, it amazes me how you can find the energy to push that little bit further when you think your spent.

    When I've finished a tough hill session for example, I feel that I should lie down and wait for the Grim Reaper, and yet 5 minutes later I'm up and running back home at better than race pace! Just goes to show how significant your mind can be in terms of feeling tired, rather than being physically exhausted.

    Hi Clint, I have just sent you an email.