May 27, 2022

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What the Hell are Badger Miles?

14 min read

Okay. I had to post this story about Jordan’s brother Josh. It made me smile. What’s this story have to do about cute, furry animals called badgers? I dunno. It’s a long read, but a good read… I promise that it won’t let you down. I liked this story because it reminds me of the qualities it takes to be a great athlete. Something we should all strive for and something Jordan’s brother most definitely is. I’ve never met Josh, but Jordan has told me about him many times. I know that Jordan is an incredible runner and he respects his brother Josh enormously. Josh has got to be amazing. It’s about competitiveness, focus, discipline, brotherhood, rivalry and more. Read along and enjoy….Also, the explanation for Badger Miles is below the article. It was meant for runners, pre-GPS.

Mike (Editor-In-Chief)

 What the heck are badger miles? Ever since we were young people have been fascinated with my brother Josh’s success and training. He never made how he trained a secret, yet somehow, maybe because we were not on a team in high school or because we were at a college not known at the time for its distance program, or possibly because of a long article talking about how Josh and I trained barefoot, not true, people tended to speculate on his training and were curious as to how he ran so fast. The second I was recognized as his brother the questions would start coming. Did you guys train together? What was that like? I heard he was running 90 miles a week as a junior in high school?

Somewhere along the line, I stopped giving the short customary answers and instead started recounting for them a story. My favorite story of growing up training with Josh McDougal. The story of the Badger Miles. The story starts with an old dirt road, more of a path really, tucked away in the northeast corner of upstate NY. Labeled on maps as a park service road, the “logging road” as we called it branched off of The Mud Pond Road through a green rusty gate a thousand meters from our mailbox. From the gate it rolled and twisted its way through miles and miles of uninhabited forest inside of the Adirondack State Park. Two neat lines of packed dirt with a thin line of grass and weeds in the center winding its way between hills and beaver ponds with no discernible destination. On any given month outside of hunting season we could run there every single day and not see another human being.   For a young distance runner it was heaven, and there is not a day that I run now that my feet don’t miss the undulating dirt of the road that practically made me a runner.

It was our junior year of high school and while there were a multitude of such roads within a few miles of our house the “logging road” had become routine. Sometime earlier in the year we had found a five pound weight plate at the top of a hill two and a half miles up the road. It was just a cheap plate, gray cement filled plastic, but it was round and we decided that each day we ran up there we would each give the weight a roll until it made it home.

In a way it was a metaphor for our own athletic advancement. Each roll only moved it a few feet over the bumpy road slowly, painstakingly, moving towards home, just like each one of those lung busting runs moved us just a little bit closer to our lofty goals. We ran the logging road a LOT that year and by the fall, when this story takes place, the weight had traveled a whole mile and now rested just one and half miles from its final destination. As the days grew cooler and our young legs adjusted to the training that increased every year, our runs also became faster.

In those pre GPS days each half mile of the road was measured out on an odometer attached to our mountain bike and known by landmarks burnt so deeply into our memories by repetition that I know neither of us will ever forget them. Exactly 5 miles out on the road was the “lookout”. Here, the road which climbed steadily on the way out, took a sharp left turn and headed down towards a marsh. At the apex of the turn a thin foot trail climbed several feet to the top of an open rock outcropping where a lone pine, branches swept neatly to one side by the unforgiving north country winds stood, a lone forgotten sentry forever looking out over the countryside. From the lookout you could see over miles of uninhabited wilderness.

The cliffs on the backside of Terry Mountain to the right and ahead and to the left open ground dotted with countless nameless creeks ponds and lakes that spawned ungodly amounts of mosquitoes and horseflies each spring. That fall the routine had become a 10 mile run out to the lookout and back. We would finish the 10 together and then Josh, who never let a day go by where he didn’t outrun me, would go out for at least 3 more. Since we were home-schooled we did not have a coach per se. My Dad read a lot of books, there was input from a friend and north country coaching great Scott Woodward and of course there was the internet. If there was ever a slower dial-up connection on the planet I never found it. This pretty much kept me offline and clueless. Josh however spent hours on Dyestat, Letsrun, and whatever other running sites existed outside of my knowledge, reading, learning and applying.

Since we didn’t have a coach and I did what Josh did this often meant that whatever recent workout Dathan Ritzenhein, or Ryan Hall had done would get interjected into our normal routine. Now, if any of you know Josh you know that communication is not one of his strong suites, or a strong suite for anyone with the last name McDougal for that matter. For me this meant that instead of being forewarned of any changes in our workouts, these changes would be sprung upon me much like a trap on an unsuspecting animal. 55 seconds into our routine 90 second rest between 3 minute repeats it would suddenly be brought to my attention that 90 seconds was far too long of a break and that, because some elite group of runners on the other side of the country only took 60 second rest intervals, or simply because he was recovered 60 seconds was about to become the new normal.

This knowledge would be brought to my attention by Josh simply saying, “we go in 5”, and picking up the pace. So it should have been that by the fall of our Junior Year I was used to these changes and could simply flow with them. However on this particular day the trap about to be sprung on me simply defied logic. It was cool and clear, the perfect running weather often found in the north outside of winter. Not a workout, just the typical easy 10 on the logging road. Never any surprises there. We both were feeling good and were running quick. The miles clicked by easily and as my memory serves me we reached the turnaround for 10 miles, mostly uphill to this point, in just under 32:30. We stopped our watches as we climbed to the lookout for a few seconds and then headed back. As our feet regained the dirt of the logging road I started straight, towards home, and Josh turned right, definitely not towards home. “What are you doing?!” this coming from him, as if he was surprised that I was doing exactly what I had done for the past 50 runs out here!

“I’m heading back!” I replied, unspoken question in my voice. “But were not at 5 miles yet!” I was immediately confused. “What do you mean! This is 5 miles!” “No, were at 32:28, 5 miles is 35 minutes”. A slight pause and then he simply stated, “Badger miles.” I took a second to process this as I followed Josh down the hill towards our 11 mile turnaround.

What the heck are badger miles I thought!

Yes in my sheltered home school mind, heck was about as vulgar as my inner monologue got. If I had possessed this information 32 minutes and 28 seconds ago I would have run slower.

I was tired however and in no mood to fight so I continued on, matching Josh’s strides so that we sounded like one person, the single staccato crunch of our shoes echoing simultaneously over the marshes. We reached 35 minutes within sight of our 11 mile turnaround. “That’s five” Josh said as we spun. “Fine” I said glancing at the bleached gray crag leaning over the road near a culvert, CLEARLY marking our 11 mile turnaround, “but I’m putting 11 miles down in my log.”

The look Josh shot me in reply to this, was one generally reserved for one of my younger brothers when they were being particularly annoying and were about to get what was coming to them. “No you’re not! were not running 11!” “Well were closer to 11 than we are to 10!” “No, with badger miles everything is based off of 7 minute miles. If you go out another three and a half minutes, then you can put down 11.”

The condescending tone in his voice made me believe that everyone should know this, but at least it explained badger miles. Kind of. I still didn’t know how badgers came to consistently run 7 minute miles and for the moment I didn’t really care. “Why does that matter!” I nearly shouted, “We actually have a measured course, and 10 miles is at the lookout” “Not today” “No! always! No matter what badger miles are that is ten actual miles, it’s measured!” There was a pause, and a slight increase in pace. “Well starting today we are tracking everything in badger miles, so you are only putting down ten. We are running the same distance and I am counting it as 10 so you can’t count it as more!”

The slight increase in pace became a little more noticeable and I knew that I had few words left to argue with. When we fought on runs Josh won by simply running me into the ground. “Whatever” I said. “I don’t care what you put down, I’m putting down 11” and with that I gritted my teeth and mentally prepared for what was to come. We were past the lookout now and cruising back down toward home, mostly downhill from here on out with just one solid climb ending exactly 2.5 miles from our house. As we neared to the climb I started struggling, we were clipping under 5:30 pace by now and I hoped that 5 badger miles out was 5 badger miles back no matter how fast you returned.

As I began to struggle I should have simply slowed down and let Josh run ahead and cool off, but if communication is not a McDougal strong point then pride is. Not haughtiness, but the kind of pride that breeds toughness and resilience, the never quite type of pride that refuses to acknowledge that someone is faster, stronger or better than you even if they have proved it to you every day of your life. That and I had a personal rule. One that Josh did not, and until he reads this, still does not know about. That rule was that I would NEVER, on a normal “easy day” (which all too often was not easy), under any circumstances get dropped on an uphill. I did not make Josh privy to this rule for the express reason that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if he knew of it, not only would he sprint the very first hill that we happened upon, dropping me easily, but he would seek that hill out with the deadly efficiency of a lion seeking its prey. As it was, I felt that we were just short of sprinting now.

Halfway up the 600 meter long hill, my lungs were burning, my heart was pounding, and my legs were filling with lead. The only thought in my head was to hang onto his heels until the top. I felt as if I was sprinting towards the finish line of a race and as was common in many of those occasions my stomach began to turn and bile rose to my throat. An all too familiar feeling. I closed my eyes and willed my legs to pick up speed drawing almost even with Josh. The final few meters of the hill loomed ahead, not only the steepest section but also, for those few short meters the only section of road where the perfect brown dirt had been covered with rough crushed stone.

We reached the uneven footing and I prayed my feet wouldn’t slip. With every ounce of energy and pride I clung to Josh’s heals, maintaining contact until we reached the pine marking 2.5 miles from our house and the top of the hill. He accelerated over the top with admirable strength and seemingly no effort. I felt like dropping, hands on knees, head down and heaving lunch onto the side of the road but pride wouldn’t let me. My breath was coming in deep desperate gasps and any thought of sticking with my brother was gone. I counted the top of the hill as a victory to be honest and if I held it together and didn’t puke, all the more so. Still, I didn’t want him to know how close to the edge I really was, so I maintained a normal training pace and waited for my head to stop spinning. Half a mile later a rusted gate, “the second gate”, marked 2 miles from home.

In the past when Josh dropped me he often waited here. But as I rounded the corner and the gate came into sight I could see his faded blue Hershey’s Track & Field T-shirt already 75 meters or so on the other side, not slowing down a bit. I wanted to settle my pace even more but I didn’t want to be too far back at the finish of the run. I especially didn’t want Josh to be passing the yellow turn sign 200 meters from our house on his way out for his extra miles as I came past it on my way home. That would be equal to being lapped and that was NOT going to happen! So I kept up a steady pace and even started to push again as the road continued downhill. Then I rounded a corner and there Josh was, plastic weight plate in hand and a half grin on his face. As I ran up to him I consciously slowed my breathing trying to hide the fact that I was spent.

“We were cruising there” he said as he glanced at his watch his smile widening. He must have seen how hard I had run and this was a peace offering. Nothing meant more to me in those days than Josh being impressed with a run of mine, and with that my anger was gone. “Yeah it was solid” I managed to spit out nonchalantly without sounding overly winded. Were I to force one more word out, the added toll on my lungs would have sent me into severe oxygen deprivation and I may have passed out.

We each rolled the weight and then headed off side by side. We talked the rest of the way home, just another easy run, nothing out of the ordinary. We both tapped the mailbox, and then Josh headed down the road for more. I glanced at my watch. It read 1:06 and change. Not bad for 11 miles. I walked inside and lay down on the floor. I felt like falling asleep but I was too curious to drift off. 24 minutes later I stepped out of our downstairs door and behind a rock wall where I could see the mailbox but bushes hid me from sight. 30 seconds or so after that Josh arrived at the end of the drive.

He glanced at his watch and ran past for about 15 seconds before circling back and tagging the mailbox at exactly 1:31! 13 Badger miles! He would run 91 miles that week. 13 every single day, regardless of weather, regardless of what our workout was, and regardless of what I did. He was focused, motivated, and proving to me and the rural dirt roads of the Adirondacks what he would soon prove to the rest of the running world. He was a champion.

Qualities of a Great Athlete:

1. DRIVE: You have to be driven to improve everyday and will not be satisfied with your last performance. You need to be able to push yourself through the hard moments and keep going.

2. DISCIPLINE: You have to have a plan and must stick with it. You follow a strict behavior and those regimented training and eating habits will help you get closer to your goals.

3. SELF-CONFIDENCE: You have to believe that you’re a winner.

4. HIGH TOLERANCE FOR PAIN:Ask the Navy Seals and other operators about pain thresholds. Being great takes putting up with pain. When the going gets tough, some athletes just quit, while the great ones mentally push through the discomfort.

5. DETERMINATION:Never give up, NO MATTER what!

6. TIME MANAGEMENT:Can you manage your time well? Do you choose to watch tv, goof off, party or do you train? Do you actually keep to your plan?

7.FOCUS: Some athletes are distracted by things around them, while others focus on the task at hand and will not quit until they achieve their goal.

8. AGGRESSIVENESS: Sounds like a badger to me huh? Grit makes up for a lot of things that we lack.

9.COMPETITIVENESS: If you don’t want to beat your competitors then why are you competing at all?

10. COMMITMENT:Commitment to your craft makes you good. Any one who became a master once was a beginner. Stay with it!

11. ADAPTABILITY: Few things in life are consistent. Be able to adapt and roll with the punches life throws at you.

Badger Miles

The University of Wisconsin running program has in place a system for distance runners called “Badger Miles.” There has been much confusion of what exactly Badger Miles are and the purpose of them.
Chris Solinsky’s explanation starts off by stating that each run is based on seven minute miles. So, if you go out for a run, you base the distance on your total time, based on seven minute pace.
Example – If I ran for 42 minutes today, it would be logged as a 6 mile run. Sounds simple right? Well….Most Badger runners don’t run seven minute pace. They run more in the range of 5:50 – 6:30 (this is a guess, but at their level this range seems fair). So if runner A goes out for a 42 minute run, he is more likely to cover closer to 7 miles, but only logs 6. Getting confusing?
At the end of the week, runner A might log 80 miles, but in actuality, ran 95. Get it?
Solinsky mentions in the video that when you look at 80 miles instead of 95 you feel as if you didn’t run as much, so you feel better. I guess this is a way to mentally trick the mind into believing that you are not training as hard as your body might be telling you.
Makes sense, I think. I have talked to a few Wisconsin runners in the past and after seeing the above video, there is one aspect that hasn’t been mentioned or fully explained. The reason for Badger Miles that runners don’t talk about and as a coach I feel is the main reason is… …ready, here it goes!

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