No to mindless miles, yes to mindful ones!

If you are a runner that spends time with other runners, especially those from the clan of mid- and long-distance ninjas, you might be familiar with this question: “How many miles per week do you run?”

This question seems especially popular between seasons, when runners are focused on getting ready for outdoor track or cross country. Usually, there’s a target number that a runner will aim for. It could be anywhere from 20 to 40 to 60 to upwards of 80… And generally, if you provide a greater number, your running buddies will take you more seriously. In fact, more and more kids seem to be taking pride in the number of miles that they run- it’s as if running more miles makes you as legit and superhuman as Usain Bolt.

Sorry to ruin your ego trip- But what if running more miles alone did not guarantee better times? What if running more and more miles o n l y for the sake of running miles led to injuries and fatigue and burnout? Would you still feel all macho and abs-o-steel and heroic?

In fact, what if you started asking your running buddies a different question: “What did you do this week to get better at running?” I guarantee you, “I ran x miles” sounds super lame.

This second question is the question you should be asking yourself; this second question is the question I should be asking myself.

Every mile should have a purpose- if I am not being efficient in training, then I am wasting my time. If I’m running with poor form or if I’m busting my butt on a recovery run, then what happens when I need to run a challenging workout?


I don’t run it as well.

And what happens then?

It is harder to reach my goals.

Yeah, this doesn’t mean I’m going to skip over my recovery runs. If every mile is to have a purpose, then I am going to make sure that my training is purposeful. And that includes recovery runs, hills, and so many other things.

What this does mean is that I should be able to justify EVERYTHING I am doing with my training time; everything I do in practice should be deliberate. 

deliberate• (adj)• aka purposeful, intentional. having purpose. thought out. no twelve mile runs just because.

case in point: Ninja Runner

Hopefully I have convinced you to stop freaking out about how many miles you run per week. And if you aren’t convinced yet, let me prove that what you do is more important than worrying about how much you do:

Ninja runner is looking to improve their mile time (and 800m and XC prs…). Ninja runner spends most of the summer before cross country building up to 40 miles per week, as per their coach’s request. With those 40 miles, Ninja runner is expected to- 

  1. put in a long run of around 10 miles
  2. complete one run at the ~mysterious threshold pace~
  3. run a fartlek
  4. …actually run 40 miles
Ninja runner is looking strong!

Ninja runner finds this reasonable and acquires a good running base for cross country season. Ninja runner feels more confident as a runner, especially being able to say, “I run 40 miles per week!”

And then…

At the beginning of cross country season in September, Ninja runner runs mile repeats around 5k-ish pace. Ninja runner feels frustrated when they are not able to complete the last repeat. Ninja runner wonders what they did wrong (“I was running 40 miles per week!”).


Ninja runner did nothing wrong.

In fact, Ninja runner’s coach gave Ninja runner a pretty solid plan- Everything in Ninja’s training indicates that they should be able to complete the workout.

But Ninja runner could do some things better. 

So Ninja runner starts thinking: What am I doing to get better at running each week? How do I formulate a plan to reach my running goals?

Ninja runner realizes that they’re not practicing some specific things that could help: 

Speed? Strength? Good form?…

some things that make for smart training

Ninja runner starts creating a clear set of objectives for each week and stops worrying about running a certain number of miles. With miles out of the way, Ninja runner can target specific skills they need to get better at.

“With miles out of the way, Ninja runner can target specific skills they need to get better at.”

Four months later:

Ninja runner is running mile repeats after a few months of their new, deliberate practice approach. Ninja runner has been healthier and less sore and is improving.

Ninja runner’s workout splits:


And for those wondering about mileage…

  • September: Ninja runner averaged 34.3 miles/week
  • January: Ninja runner averaged 28 miles/week

but really?

I’m not saying that you will magically meet your goals by running fewer miles.

In fact, it’s worth noting that before Ninja runner’s summer training, they had only been averaging 20 miles/week, at which point their track times had begun to stagnate.

The point is, MILES ALONE WILL NOT GET YOU TO YOUR GOALS (unless your goals are not that ambitious).

I am convinced that goals will, if worked towards intelligently, however, get you enough miles.

but I’m not a runner…

Okay, so maybe you are not a runner.

But maybe you play another sport. Or, maybe, you are studying for the SAT. Perhaps you play an instrument.

Here’s what you should know:

  • Fact: deliberate practice is not some concept I made up to combat this miles-per-week obsessiveness issue.



  • Random Observation: I get more done practicing violin objectively for forty-five minutes/day than I do mindlessly practicing passages for ninety minutes/day.


  • Not-so-random Observation: Ninja runner improved just by focusing on the things they needed to get better at…

It’s not easy to drop the mindless repetitions and the endless slogging yog* of miles, and it’s difficult to practice things well. But so far, for me, it has been worth the effort. And I know it will be worth it for you too!

*slang for walk-jog

**also: swog= swag jog


Helpful links:


Also… I’m curious- how many miles per week do you run/ how long do you practice for/ do you think deliberate practice is overrated?







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