Runners have their own vernacular—a secret language. If you hang out with one or spend time at race, it’s likely that you’ll hear words such as fartlek, pacer, negative splits, as well as abbreviations like DNF/DNS/DFL and PR thrown around.
Another term you might hear is “junk miles.” But what exactly are junk miles and why am I suggesting we toss out the use of the term?
First, for fun let’s start with a little vocab lesson. Dictionary.com defines the word, “junk” as:
- Noun: Anything that is regarded as worthless, meaningless, or contemptible; trash.
- Adjective: Cheap, worthless, unwanted, or trashy.
- Verb: To cast aside as junk; discard as no longer of use; scrap.
Many runners use the term “junk” to describe those miles that are run at an easy pace to contribute to a desired weekly or monthly total rather than for a specific benefit, such as tempo runs, intervals, long runs, hill workouts, etc. In this instance, the term is used somewhat negatively and implies that these miles don’t count—don’t contribute to our running goals. Used in a sentence, it might sound something like this: “He’s not getting faster because he’s running too many junk miles.”
However, in some circles the term can be used to describe recovery runs—miles following hard workouts or runs. Used this way, the term becomes a little less derogatory; after all, not every run can be or should be intense.
My point here is not to debate the quantity over quality philosophy, but rather explore the use of the word as it’s used to describe our miles.
Why I do I care, you might be asking? Why am I focusing on the term and suggesting we toss it out like an old pair of running shoes (note: for the record, I would recycle my running shoes). Perhaps it’s because I just interviewed a running coach and wondered what improvements I could make to my training, which conjured up the term junk miles for me.
Or maybe it’s because I’m a bit of word nerd—with a background in communications and marketing, I’ve learned the importance of choosing words intentionally, that is, words that form meaningful stories; have affect. And the term junk miles just rubs me the wrong way. There, I said it.
How could any run be considered junk? Yesterday I only had time for about three miles, hardly enough to contribute to an impressive weekly total, but I spent these miles in the sunshine staring at leaves that were practically changing color as I ran by. It was a beautiful day and I enjoyed every happy mile on the trail.
It’s often on my so-called junk miles where I’m most productive—solve problems, come up with good ideas for my blog (or life), reflect on something good that happened to a friend (or me)—or even something as mundane as what I’m having for dinner. Again, how could these miles be considered junk? Yeah, I get it, it’s just semantics—how we interpret or use the word.
Still, I propose we reinvent the meaning of the word and instead throw around terms such as:
- Happy miles
- The sun-is-out-so-I-must-go-run miles
- What’s for dinner miles
- Friendship miles (some runs are just better w/ pals)
- Run for a nonprofit miles (many races have amazing beneficiaries)
- My house-is-a-mess-but-I’d-rather-go-for-a-run miles
- Because the trails are muddy miles
- I’m in-a-bad-mood-and need-an-attitude-change miles
- My creativity is stalled miles (this worked well for me the other day)
- Just cuz miles
Take your pick from the list above or create your own term to describe your “easy or short day” miles, but just please toss out the word junk from your running vernacular. I promise, you’ll feel better.
Let’s use our easy-mile days to remind us why we run—why we love to run. After all, every mile does count.
What term would you add to the list?