The Case for the Badger Mile
For many runners, weekly and monthly mileage is a badge of honor. While plenty has been written about the need to take easy runs truly easy, most of us still feel the pressure to push the pace every day (who doesn’t want to earn those Strava likes, or have something to post to Instagram?) – and to log more and more miles in pursuit of matching up with our peers. It’s with this sentiment that I introduce you to the relatively unknown Badger Mile.
When I was training for my last marathon, I spent a lot of time talking to my coach about pace. Consciously, I was worried because slowing down too much on my recovery run days felt awkward (and maybe subconsciously I was worried about how I would ever hit my race goals if I wasn’t running as fast as the next person did – I should have read this sooner!) I was hitting my paces in my workouts, but my long runs and my easy days weren’t that much slower. Just the same, I kept dutifully hitting my mileage numbers, eagerly watching the weekly mileage totals increase.
I distinctly remember one call with my coach where I yet again questioned my non-workout paces (after rushing through a long run, much faster than I should have, trying to get home in time for our weekly call). In very clear terms, he pointed out that he ran most of his recovery runs at about the same pace that I was – which momentarily made me feel good, until he also pointed out that his half marathon time during that training block had been over half an hour faster than mine (and his pace per mile had been about three and a half minutes per mile faster than it was during those recovery runs). It was clear that I was nowhere near as cool as I had temporarily felt a few minutes before – and that easy days really did serve a purpose.
The Badger Mile
I did a little more research on easy run pacing online (including pouring over training notes posted to LetsRun.com from former collegiate runners), and happened across a different training philosophy used across the border in Wisconsin called the Badger Mile (please don’t judge yet).
The concept of the Badger Mile is to pick an average pace that is truly easy (no racing on easy days!), then round up to the nearest 5-minute increment unless the math works out perfectly. For example, if your easy pace should be 9 min/mi, two miles should take 18 minutes – but under this formula, you would need to run for 20 minutes before you could log those same two miles. Workouts are still tracked in terms of exact distance/pace (i.e., 8×800 at 7:00min/mile would still be tracked as 4 miles of running, a weekend long run with some tempo work in the middle would be written down as the distance actually run), but all other runs – recovery runs, easy days, warm up/cool down miles – follow the “Badger Mile” pacing metric.
How the Badger Mile Works
As an example, let’s assume that Jane should run ten-minute miles on her easy days (her race pace is around 8:00 min/mile). On her easy days, she slaps on a basic Timex watch (or starts the stopwatch on her phone, save your Garmin or smartphone app for your workouts!), and heads out the door. After her run, she could use the following table to still track her miles:
In this case, the math was pretty easy since Jane’s easy pace is already a round, 5-minute increment of time and works out perfectly.
Let’s get a bit more advanced. Joe runs a 6:00 min/mi race pace, and should be hitting 8:00 mi/mi on his easy days. His table looks more like this:
As you can see, there is a bit of a gap between what counts as a three-mile run and a four-mile run (while only 5 minutes separate 2 and 3 miles, and again between 4 and 5). This might seem a little goofy, because it would seem like Joe is averaging 10min/mi on a two-mile run, 8:20 on a 3 mile run, and then 9:15 for a run logged as 4 miles – but the point remains: we work hard in our workouts, we take it easy on our easy days. If Joe starts running a few 7 minute miles on his Wednesday recovery run, or gets excited about his upcoming workout and starts pushing the pace too hard during his warm-up, he gets no credit for the extra distance – a ten minute warm-up only gets him one mile for the log book; thirty minutes of running on an easy day would get logged as 3 miles. Once you buy into the process instead of worrying about the math, you should find yourself slowing down on your easy days, which is the whole point.
What About Tracking Distance?
Admittedly, I have spent a lot of time tracking things to the closest hundredth of a mile (because Garmin is kind enough to tell me that I just ran 10.01 miles). As I already told you, I’ve also spent a lot of time running “medium hard” instead of either going hard or taking it easy. For those of us who need to be as precise as possible, the Badger Mile will be tough.
I highly recommend saving your fancy running watch or your smartphone for your workout days, and spending a couple of dollars on a digital watch with a stopwatch function (seriously – a $5 watch might do the trick). If you don’t know your actual mileage, there is nothing to get worked up about. Just focus on the time, listen to your breathing, check in with your body every few minutes…do whatever you can to take it easy and be good to yourself. Save the exact paces for your workouts, and prove what you are capable of on race day.
Give the Badger Mile a Try
As we roll into the colder and darker months of the year, most of us will slide back into cross-training and base building before our next training block starts after the New Year. Now is the perfect time to take a fresh look at how you approach your training, why not give something new a try? Sound off in the comments section below, we’d love to hear if this strategy helps you (and if you have any questions about the math for your own runs, don’t hesitate to ask).