Junk miles- it's a phrase I see quite a bit on the interweb. I'm not entirely sure what it means. Some people say running with no set purpose is junk miles. You should always set out on a run to complete some specific training. Other people say that doing the rounding up thing is junk miles- you know, wanting to finish a run or a week's mileage on a nice round number. Then there's running because you feel you should. Running extra because you ate far too much cake...
So where does that put the running I do when I'm not following a training schedule? In theory it's all junk then.
I'm thinking about this now because of a discussion I had with a running friend yesterday. I went out running with my club yesterday morning with the intention of completing 13-14 miles including the run from home to the meeting point and then back home again. In the end I did 11 miles because I had an invite for coffee and toasted fruit bread which was far more tempting than an extra 20 minutes with the club running up and down the industrial areas of my side of town. As I ran over to my friend's for coffee it rained. Hard, cold, almost wintry rain so I ended up soaked and freezing. The offer of a lift home after coffee was most welcome!
Much later in the afternoon I was getting twitchy. I hadn't done the miles I'd said I would run. I can't say if it was guilt, my natural inability to be comfortable staying still or my obsessive streak winning out. Probably a mixture of all three- I do have a strong work ethic so if I say I'll do a thing I'll do it. A running friend suggested I was being daft. 'Miles aren't everything...you don't even have a mileage target'. A fair point- I'm not on a plan so why make myself do the extra miles? But I do like to run about 35-40 miles each week. You've plucked that out of thin air, haven't you?' Well, that's just what I seem to run most weeks and I want to keep that consistency. No, it's not a scientific approach to running but I'm not a scientist nor a professional athlete. Surely if I just feel like a run why not? 'Beware the empty miles' . Hmph. Now I'm starting to get just a little bit cross. They won't be empty they will be fun because I like running off road and it's been raining so there'll be lots of mud and puddles. He meant well; he and few other running friends have been worried about me crashing and burning and I do appreciate their concern. But if you suggest to me maybe I shouldn't do a thing then more than likely I'll go and do it.
So more determined than ever, I laced up my trail shoes and headed out into the late afternoon drizzle for 5km through the woods and heathland. I love the clang of the gate closing behind me as I step into the woods. And the smell of the damp leaves and pine needles. The feel of the ground there is really special- it's a mix of the usual woodland terrain: lots of mud when it's been raining, leaves, branches but also sandy patches which are either soft and dry or almost clay-ey when there's been lots of rain.
It was an aimless sort of run. Through the woods, over the heath down the steep steps, then turn around and go back up the steps because I like them. Then around a different bit of the heath before heading home.
It was worth going out just to see the rain clinging to the gorse seed pods like tiny diamonds. The colours were so beautiful as though the grey drizzle made everything more bright and vivid; the contrast of the bright yellow-brown sand and the almost shocking green of the grass. Spider webs sparkled with raindrops like tiny silver blankets draped amongst the gorse and broom. Droplets clung to the sedges transforming the unremarkable into foot-stopping beauty; you cannot run through all this and not pause to look and marvel. I felt restored after those 3.5 miles. Far more so than after the 11 'purposeful' miles I ran earlier.
So maybe they were the empty miles then.
You know what my friend? I think you're right.
So running isn't necessarily about completing training targets. If, like me, running is a complicated thing with mental, spiritual and physical aspects all intertwined and all equally important, then any miles can be nourishing and sustaining. If running is as much a spiritual exercise as anything else then physical improvement doesn't need to be the aim of a run. Of course there are the dangers of over-training, but perhaps we should talk more about soul miles.
Thanks to a certain someone for allowing me to use our conversation. You know I'm not cross with you, and maybe we both learned something from that exchange.