In Praise of Junk Miles

I know I’m not alone in having my normal life upended. All of the races I’d signed up to do this year have been canceled or postponed. One was changed to a virtual run. None of this has worked out as planned.

My upheaval started last year when my parents’ automobile accident occurred. Once we recognized they wouldn’t be able to return to their home on Whidbey Island, we started getting the house ready to sell. Last February, I met with the real estate agent my father wants to use. We decided we’d have the house ready to go on the market by the end of March. As soon as I committed to that, I felt overwhelmed. It felt like there was no way I could get that done.

And then came the pandemic…Here’s where the tension comes in. Traveling to the island every weekend to clean out the house made it more difficult to stick to a training schedule. I’m a poky runner, and the stress of dealing with everything led to me making less-than-stellar choices in fueling. I put on about ten pounds through last spring, and adding that extra weight means I’m running a 14:00-15:00/mile pace on long runs. A 20-mile training run is an all-day event, and I’d be too tired to get much work done once the run was over. I lament not working harder on the house last fall, but I think taking it more slowly made it a little easier on my parents. (Intellectually, they recognize they needed to move. That doesn’t make it any less painful emotionally.)

Mid-March, my office started working from home, and my boss asked us to not travel more than fifty miles from the Tri-Cities. That meant no more traveling to the island. We let the realtor know, and we pushed our listing date out to a future, uncertain date. Being stuck in the Tri-Cities and working from home has given me a lot more time to run — that’s been a benefit.

By the end of March, I recognized it was unrealistic to think I’d be able to run the Millersylvania 50K. I still had three months to train, but I was really struggling on any run longer that eight miles & elevation was killing me. The extra weight I’m carrying meant I wouldn’t be able to maintain the pace I’d need to finish within the cutoff. I figured as the race approached, I’d ask if I could drop to the 30K or defer to next year.

I kept training, but I quit trying to match the training schedule I’d laid out. I’ve been getting up at 5:30 a.m. during the week and running before work. I like this, although it means I spend almost no relaxation time with The Hubs. (Most nights, we’d sit & watch TV for a few hours. I’m trying to avoid screen time after 8:00 p.m. in the hopes it’ll be easier to fall asleep by 9:30.)

And then Millersylvania 50K/30K/10K was cancelled. *whew*

The smart thing to do would be to start training for my hike of Section K in August. But I signed up for the Great Virtual Run Across Tennessee: it’s 1000 km, to be completed between May 1st – August 31st. It seemed easy enough – it’s just five miles a day, right?

But as travel restrictions eased, I had to get back to working on my parents’ house; that meant cutting into my time available for running. And while I’d love to get some hill training in to prepare for hiking Section K, the trails on Badger have been very crowded when I’ve been there. (Unlike Chamna, the trails on Badger are narrow in many places & it’s very difficult to create space.) I’m seventy miles behind the buzzard in the GVRAT – he’s the official sweep pacer. To complete the GVRAT on time, I need to average 6 miles a day now. Thus, I need junk miles!

While a lot of folks will decry junk miles, I’m mostly enjoying them. I’m not training for a particular race right now. I don’t need focused workouts to enable me to meet a pace goal. My goals right now are to get myself into better overall physical condition — I want to burn off some of this extra fuel I’m carrying! — and complete GVRAT. I not only want to be ready to hike Section K in eight weeks, I want to be ready to start training for the Badger Mountain Challenge next year. I’m shooting for the fifty mile race, although I expect to walk a LOT of it.

Right now, junk miles are good. Some days, I throw in a cadence interval workout to pump things up a bit. I’m working on stretching more than I have in the past (an advantage of working from home!). It’s nice getting out every morning. Most mornings, I run at Chamna in the cool of the morning. It’s a nice way to start one’s day.

There’s been enough upheaval in our lives. I think it’s time to embrace junk miles. It’s all relentless forward progress.


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