No Junk Miles, Please
It’s spring, and people are out on the roads, sidewalks, and trails. The body longs to be active and outside, and our desire, like the buds emerging on the trees, is to become fitter, stronger, and healthier.
I share that desire, although I have been outside during the cold weather, training to be faster and have more endurance. But for many years I was like many of the people I see. “I think I’ll do (name the number of) miles.” Might be just two or three to start, but soon the desire turns to five, or six, or more. People get obsessed with a total for the week. They want more and more.
And it does get them in better shape than they were. No doubt about that.
But what it did to me, and what it will do to many of the people I see this springtime, is injure.
You see, for most of us to do that kind of mileage, we have to run badly. Watch most recreational runners and you’ll see bad running biomechanics: heel strike, overstriding, understriding, bad ankle mobility, overpronation, and more. Or you simply see people shuffling along, barely lifting the knee, sometimes running more slowly than they walk when they’re in a hurry.
This practice will get you hurt. IT band issues, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, patellofemoral pain, even stress fractures: these all come about from biomechanical flaws when you run. And if you pound your body weight through an eight-mile run, or even day after day of three-milers, you are going to hurt your body.
I had to change. What I do instead is to insist to myself that every stride I run is as athletic as I can make it. I make sure my strike is mid-foot. I make sure my strides are quick and that my foot always strikes under my knee, never out in front of the knee (especially going downhill). I actively engage my core, and keep an upright posture; if I cannot do that, I’m too fatigued to run. I keep my hands relaxed but I make my arms active. I focus on the athleticism of running, and exert the proper amount of force (more for sprints, less for tempo runs) to keep me pushing off the ground behind and landing athletically to spring forward. In the Galloway Method, they talk about a sense of controlled falling. Running is the sweet spot between that “falling” and springing forward.
If you watch elite marathoners, like the ones above, you see what this activity looks like when you can maintain it for 26.2 miles. I can’t do that, and you can't either in all likelihood. But what I can do is to program my runs so that, when I run, I do look something like that, to the extent my 62-year old biomechanics let me, for as long as I can. When I cannot hold that form, either because of strength or cardiovascular limitations, I stop.
That’s right. I stop. I don’t do “junk miles.” Junk miles will just get you hurt. I believe that’s one of the lessons of the Galloway method as well. Run athletically and well for 4 minutes (or 3, or 2, or 1), then walk for 1 (or 2, or 3). Whatever you do, do it with great form. Don’t hurt yourself.
It is the same principle as saying, “I can only squat 100 pounds properly, but I will squat 140 badly.” You’re going to get hurt doing that. Squat what you can squat well. Nothing more. You will improve.
One of my goals this year is to run close to my age in the 400. To do that, I’m progressing with a short-to-long training cycle. I am programming now with 30 meter flys for speed and 100 meter tempos at the 62 second pace (15.5 seconds). If I cannot do that for the first 100 meters, I sure don’t need to be doing it at the 400. I will also do some mile work at 8 minute pace, to build cardio strength. But note that I’m not doing junk. All these are athletic movements. If I can’t do it athletically, then I’m not ready to train for that goal.
If you can’t run athletically yet, then do drills that will transfer that ability over time. In the meantime, walk. A lot. And as fast as you can without hurting yourself. As I say, I see runners every day who can walk faster than they’re running.
And if they’re walking fast, they’re outside, breaking a sweat, and getting fit. In the springtime. And that’s a good thing.