How Counting Miles Is Like Counting Calories (TOL 36)

Lately, as I have been trying to run less and listen to my body more, I have found myself constantly thinking about miles. It’s become a bad habit ever since I started tracking my training, but I am always thinking about how many miles I want to run each day and how many I will complete that week. So even though I’m not following a training plan right now, I can’t stop thinking about these numbers! It can be a good thing, in that it keeps me from running too many miles, but it can also be really bad- when I want to do just 1 or 2 extra miles to hit a certain number that day or week.

22 miles

Last Saturday as I headed out for my “long run” I thought about doing 8-9 miles, because that was a natural progression from the 8 I did the week before, and also a gradual increase in my weekly mileage. Saturday morning was bitterly cold and windy. I thought about running on the treadmill, but really wanted to get outside.  During my 1st mile I considered quitting, only because of the cold. I realized I had been running directly into the wind, so it got a little better when I turned to face another direction. As I tried to figure out how many miles to run, if not 8-9, I kept thinking about how many miles it would make for the week.

cold run

From Instagram 

Why would that matter at all? It doesn’t! It’s just become a habit that feels impossible to break. 

It reminded me of how I used to count calories in my head. I have no idea when it actually started, but my guess is around the time I graduated college and all the hype was about low-calorie and low-fat and moving into the low-carb mindset. I would pick up an issue of a fitness magazine and it would tell me that I should be eating 1200-1400 calories per day. 

there are just so many things wrong about this

there are just so many things wrong about this

Thinking about it now, it seems absolutely ridiculous! 4 years ago I was using MyFitnessPal to track my food and calories. and even when I wasn’t using that I was adding them up in my head. Honestly I didn’t even realize I was doing it and never thought it was weird until I realized that I had STOPPED doing it. When I started training for my first marathon, I started to feel like I didn’t have to worry about calories because of how much I was running. Even though at the time I wasn’t eating the best quality food, it was definitely a good thing that I wasn’t as concerned about my calorie intake. 

It wasn’t until about two years ago that I truly became free from this habit. I began focusing on eating nutritious foods and from there I didn’t have to worry about calories. I realized that if I was eating the food I needed, everything else would balance itself out. From there, I stopped weighing myself too. I realized I was feeling better physically and had no concern about a number on a scale.


so much happiness running my first marathon

I’ve been thinking that my obsession with miles is similar to this past obsession with calories. It’s useless and anxiety-provoking. If I was running the miles that I needed to run to meet my goals in a healthy way, then the numbers would follow. If I trained by doing a few hard workouts a week with a few days of easy miles and a long run, the miles would add up to my “magic” mileage amount, whatever that might be for me at the time.


Since I am being totally open and honest in this post, I don’t plan to stop counting miles. I might say that I will, but my brain will still do it. Just like I couldn’t force myself to stop thinking about calories because it was something I automatically did. However, at least for now, I’m going to try to take my running one day at a time, and see where that gets me. As much as possible I will try not to have a planned mileage per day- other than a maximum amount of time that I have before work on weekday mornings. Maybe, starting with this approach I will eventually be able to move towards thinking of my running in terms of quality instead of quantity, just like I was able to eventually do with food. 

set your pace

I still have this on my fridge. I wrote here about how I saved it during my first marathon-training.


Does anyone else get obsessed with calories and/or miles? 

Do you plan out how many miles you will run each week and then feel like you have to stick to it? 

thinking out loud

Thanks to Amanda for allowing me to “think out loud” about all of that!


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80 responses on How Counting Miles Is Like Counting Calories (TOL 36)

  1. When I first figured out what apps were, I added my fitness pal for fun. I used to like to enter what I was eating into it when I was bored at work. It was terrible though! Suddenly I was looking at the calories or broccoli which is just so silly! I did not need this app nor did I need to count calories. I deleted it which totally eliminated my calorie counting in an instant.
    meredith @ The Cookie ChRUNicles recently posted…Thinking Out Loud In FebruaryMy Profile

    1. I know, counting things like broccoli and spinach was absolutely ridiculous! I could see how the app could be beneficial for some people, but it also has the potential to create some unhealthy habits.

  2. You are so spot on and I was just thinking on my run this morning how ridiculous the idea of knowing exact mileage is. I impulsively changed my route and don’t know how many miles I ran this morning, although I think it was somewhere between 6&7. Still, doesn’t matter at all and it’s so true that getting obsessive about it is the same as obsessing over calories.
    Michele @ paleorunningmomma recently posted…A Few Anxious-Mom ThoughtsMy Profile

    1. I guess its somewhat connected to my dependency on my Garmin. But even without my garmin I still know about how long my routes are and keep track of them. I realized something was wrong when I was tracking my mileage in my excel sheet the other day (which I have been doing for 2 years) and I got upset when the decimal places weren’t calculating!

  3. I feel like I could have totally written this post almost word for word. YES, yes, and yes! I used to count calories like crazy. I now count miles, and then I take it a step further by counting the biking/spinning mileage I’m doing and figuring out if I should include it in a weekly mileage total or only track my running miles..I am not organized enough to track everything, so this year so far I am only tracking running miles. But since I just got a fitbit it might be easier to log it ALL. haha.
    AJ @ NutriFitMama recently posted…Recipe Suggestions Needed and Thinking Out Loud ThursdayMy Profile

    1. It can really go to an extreme level if we let it! I think its helpful to have a general idea of how much we are running/working out but when it becomes an obsession then I think its more problematic than its worth!

    1. Thanks:) I was actually really nervous to post this because I know that there are definitely reasons that people should count calories/miles…but it my experience its only led to unhealthy thinking and habits!

    1. That’s awesome! I feel much better about my eating and overall healthy now that I have figured out how to fuel my body with what it needs and not worry about the numbers. Hopefully one day I can feel that way about my running!

  4. This is why I gave up running with a Garmin — running became too much of a numbers game for me. I’m not training for anything, nor am I currently trying to improve my time, so obsessively following number just seems silly. Not to mention stressful. It was the same way with calorie counting for me. Or weighing myself. Life got to be all about some arbitrary number that didn’t mean anything at the end of the day. And I was ignoring all the signals my body was giving me just to achieve those numbers. I’ve been number free for a good handful of years now, and I don’t see myself ever going back.
    Amanda @ .running with spoons. recently posted…. thinking out loud #116 .My Profile

    1. Isn’t is amazing all the stress these numbers can cause us?! That’s so great that you are free from it all. I know I feel a million times better about my eating and hopefully some day i will feel the same way about my running.

  5. There was a time where I wouldn’t leave the house for my run, unless I knew I could run at least 5 miles. I’m so glad that I got over that way of thinking. I never counted calories, and ate what I wanted, when I was running every day. That was fine, until I gradually decreased the miles. I then needed to be more aware of my food intake. You enjoy your eating, and running, much more when you stop obsessing about the numbers. So, happy running, and eating!

    1. It seems like alot of runners can get caught up in the idea that its not a “real” run if its not a certain amount of miles…for me that’s usually between 3 and 4. I definitely think the numbers hold us back from enjoying these things! Its a work in progress but hopefully I will get to a point where I am more carefree about my running!

  6. I don’t typically count calories but I do keep track of my miles. I’ve gotten to the point now after 3 years of constantly running long mileage, that I don’t beat myself up if I don’t hit the prescribed mileage for the week. It takes a long time to get there though. I have no intention of stopping tracking my miles though!
    Sue @ This Mama Runs for Cupcakes recently posted…10 Steps to Becoming a Morning Workout JunkieMy Profile

    1. I do think there are many reasons we should track our mileage or follow a plan…it becomes a problem when we feel like we NEED to run a certain number, even when we’re not training. Glad you have been able to get past that!

  7. Lisa, this is perfect! I too used to count calories obesseively, but I haven’t for a few years thank goodness! But I do obsess over miles. For some reason, I feel like I need to run at least 20 miles a week to be a “runner”. I know this isn’t true, but I have that set number in my head and if I don’t reach it I feel like I need to make up for it the next week, or with extra cross training. You’re so right though, when your body is happy and you’re healthy, you’ll find the right balance for yourself!
    Sam @ The Running Graduate recently posted…Life LatelyMy Profile

    1. It’s so hard to get past these expectations we put on ourselves! Something to work on, right? :)

  8. I really like this post a lot! I definitely count my mileage and think about my total for the week and I like weeks where I’m building up rather than reducing mileage. I feel like I’m always training for something so I don’t worry about whether I’m obsessing over it or not since during training I think it’s okay to obsess over it (?).
    Kristina recently posted…Back At It!My Profile

    1. I know what you mean…like when we are training we are supposed to be counting miles and running a certain amount. I think its become more obvious to me lately because I’m not really training but still doing this!

  9. Oh my god I never thought about it that way (counting miles like counting calories), but I think I’m guilty of doing the same thing. In the end it really doesn’t matter, but it’s such a hard habit to break away from.

    Right now I’m following a plan so I’m just hitting whatever mileage is set there, but I used to plan my weeks in advance and get all on edge if I missed any. Total unnecessary stress.
    Salt recently posted…Kick Asana Yoga Instructor #1: KarenMy Profile

    1. I think thats exactly how I realized it was a problem for me…constantly getting upset if I don’t hit an intended mileage! So unnecessary. I think following a training plan gives me a lot of comfort so that I know what I should be doing…so i guess there are pros and cons to that!

    1. Its definitely a slippery slope! I think that tracking stuff like that can be helpful unless we take it too far. It’s a fine line I suppose!

  10. This will be a tough habit to break, I’m sure. Since you aren’t training for anything specific right now, maybe you could take a day or a week and run garmin-free just to get out of that headspace a little bit. It might feel really liberating.
    Lizzy recently posted…recovery and self-massageMy Profile

  11. I have a very obsessive personality when it comes to things like this, I think it stems more from the feeling of not having any control so I like to be extra controlling in other aspects of my life. Since starting the Whole 30 though I feel like I can start to balance out some of that obsessiveness. Hopefully I am able to make this a long term relationship.
    Brooke@runningonchange recently posted…Have you ever?My Profile

    1. I also like having alot of control which is likely why I have this habit as well. I agree that the Whole30 is a great way to work towards a healthy relationship with food!

  12. I am guilty of getting obsessive about counting miles too, always readjusting how many miles I plan to run on each day to “make up for” ones I didn’t do to ensure I still hit the “magic number” for the week. You’re right though, it’s kind of meaningless, and I often don’t hit the numbers I was so concerned with in the end anyway, so I’m basically just setting myself up for disappointment. This post was really thought provoking.
    Brenda @ Don’t Lose the Trail recently posted…Where the treadmill fits in to ultramarathon trainingMy Profile

    1. Its interesting that even though you think about the numbers you don’t hit them…in a way I think thats a good thing because your’re not running more than your body wants you to, although its unfortunate that you still get disappointed about not hitting the number!

  13. I am obsessed with miles, and i used to be obsessed with calories. Like you, I choose (mostly) healthy foods and I’m very aware of everything that’s going into my body. I feel like if I fill it with all sorts of healthy stuff, why would I need to ocunt my calories? I should be worried about the quality of the foods instead. When I’m eating healthy, I feel better, and that is enough for me.
    Great post! I love hwo you compared your mile counting to your calorie counting! :)
    Nicole@TheGirlWhoRanEverywhere recently posted…Thursday Tangents & Randomness.My Profile

    1. Yes! I’m glad that you have also figured out how to eat well and feel your best without tracking your calories- for me it was so freeing to realize it was something I no longer worried about!

  14. I can’t stop counting miles, either! After my last marathon I forced myself to run by time for an entire month, and I think it helped a bit. I try to do at least one run a week without my garmin or a watch, too. It’s nice not to think about pace at all…

    I used myfitnesspal for awhile, and became really obsessive. It’s funny, because I don’t think that counting calories made any difference for me. If anything, I felt like I could justify eating MORE unhealthy things when I saw how few calories I had eaten at the end of the day.
    Chelsea @ runner’s table recently posted…Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken Meatballs with Buttermilk Blue Cheese DressingMy Profile

    1. I know exactly what you mean about being able to eat “more” due to myfitness pal! I used to put in my workouts which were sometimes long and intense, and the foods I was eating were not very high in calories so at the end of the day if I had calories leftover I would have no problem indulging in alcohol or treats! It was really not the best way to go about things and I’m so glad that I have been able to move on and become more in tune with what my body needs!

  15. Great post Lisa! It shows that we are human, and can’t always control how we think. I wish I wasn’t obsessive about numbers, but I am. I still weigh my self twice a week just as a check in. I like to have that reassurance. My obsession is on did I work out enough during the day. Did I get an intense enough workout in? Did I walk enough throughout the day? Did I burn enough calories. I wish I didn’t but I do. I think that is a good idea to set out more on time rather than miles. You might even be surprised with your milage that comes out of that :)
    Sara @ Lake Shore Runner recently posted…Free Month of Amazon Audible & Whole30My Profile

    1. I guess that alot of us have these ways of thinking! Its like a habit that starts out as something healthy can somehow get out of hand!
      I really should start tracking time versus miles!

  16. great post. when it comes to miles, i’m the exact same way. take today for instance… I told myself i was only going to run 2 miles and then thought about my totals for the week and ran 6 instead. It’s a hard habit to break. i’m definitely getting better but still have a ways to go.

    1. It’s such a hard habit to break, and its really amazing how many of us deal with this! Hopefully we can all learn to relax a bit and taking our mileage a little less seriously:)

  17. I completely relate to this and it’s why I put a cap on my mileage. I know I get obsessive about it (moreso than calorie counting). Last week I ran 34 miles which is on the high end for me as of late, and this week I found myself trying to top it. It wasn’t until I stopped and realized what I was doing that I was able to reason with myself that I need to cut back certain weeks to stay healthy. Thanks for being honest about something I think a lot of runners struggle with!
    Sarah @pickyrunner recently posted…What a WeekMy Profile

    1. It really is tempting to always try to hit a certain number or run more than the week before.I think as long as we are aware of it and try not to let it control us, that’s the best we can really do!

  18. I completely relate to this post! In college I counted calories—I think I started back in high school when we had to count calories for health class and everyone was diet obsessed (I went to an all-girls high school). Now I count my miles and focus on eating whole foods with a few indulgences. For me at least counting miles is a healthier mindset that’s focused on goals rather than restriction. I’m also just a huge numbers person so I think part of it is how my brain works!
    Laura @ This Runner’s Recipes recently posted…Iron Levels and RunningMy Profile

    1. I definitely agree that counting miles is less of a problem that counting calories! I think its important to be aware of both, but not let it control us!

  19. I’m the opposite in that I’m a shitty tracker. I use daily mile now but I forget to log stuff. I follow a training plan and I’ve been running long enough to know I’ll run the miles necessary. I never aim to hit a certain number. My mileage tends to be low because I do well running 3-4 days/week. I’ve tried to track food and failed repeatedly. Its just not a priority I guess. I love that thing on your fridge. So true!
    Marcia recently posted…Own Your AwesomeMy Profile

    1. I guess its a personality thing, since alot of people who tracked calories also track mileage, and you don’t see to do either! Its awesome that you have figured out a running routine that works for you!


    Counting calories IS an unhealthy habit–super anxiety causing. It’s a great way to keep the weight on.

    My life has been so much different ever since I stopped caring about the food amount and the weight loss–in fact, that’s when I dropped the weight. Just loved myself.

    I like that you are listening to your body more and you know? I like that you honestly said you’ll still count miles. What’s important is that you don’t force yourself to do this or that, and just love yourself for you.

    You’re awesome Lisa!!
    Kirtley @ The Gist of Fit recently posted…The Dangers of Giving Up MeatMy Profile

    1. Thank you! I’m glad to hear you agree with the calorie thing, because I know that there can be different opinions on that. I’ve just found that from experiences its not a helpful way to guide healthy eating habits. It seems like its more about what you eat than how much you eat- I don’t know too many people who have issues with overeating fruits and veggies!
      I guess for now the best I can do with my running is be aware of how I’m feeling and the reason why I’m running the miles I am. I would never want it to feel forced, since thats the fastest way to lose enjoyment in something.

  21. I really love your view on this! I’m definitely guilty of counting my miles (and in the past calories – but luckily I’m past that!) and became obsessed with mileage goals last year. Since becoming injured, I’ve tried to change my perspective on miles to something similar to yours. I do think I will always have to give myself a ballpark figure of how many miles to run, but that’s as much to keep me from going overboard as it is to make sure I run “enough”. But I actually didn’t give myself a total mileage goal for this year so that I wouldn’t feel the pressure to run a certain amount of miles :)
    Charissa recently posted…My happy hour…why I love runningMy Profile

    1. Unfortunately its seems like alot of times it takes an injury to be a wake up call that maybe we aren’t doing something right with our running. I am sort of regretting that I set a mileage goal for the year, but as of right now that isn’t my focus at all. I want to be able to run happy and healthy all year long!

    1. I think its definitely better to focus on getting healthy than worrying about hitting a mileage number! That way you can continue running and not have to take more time off!

  22. I can obsess about mileage too. I used to be really obsessive when my coach in college gave me a range for the week. I just “had” to hit the higher number, because I thought it would make me a better runner, until he talked with me and told me that there was a range for a reason and too not be afraid to hit the lower end of the miles.

    As for calories, I don’t count those and I don’t weigh myself either. I know what my weight is maybe once a year for a doctors appointment, but other than that, I can usually tell when I’m eating too little or a little too much by how I feel on my runs.
    Hailey recently posted…Yes, I do still runMy Profile

    1. I’ve always felt like I should hit the higher number when given a range too. Even now, I know that sometimes its better to do less, but I can’t help the desire to do more!
      I am happy that I am in a similar place now with my calories and weight. It was definitely not worth the stress around constantly worrying about numbers!

  23. This is a really interesting post Lisa. While I’ve never really counted calories before (too much effort for me) I am all about logging the miles. And I get really excited when I log a new weekly or monthly record. On one hand I can see how it is useful to keep track of what you are doing – you’re right that we need to not let the need to reach some arbitrary number be the reason that we get out and run.
    Sarah recently posted…A slight change of planMy Profile

    1. Yes, I definitely think there are pros and cons to tracking mileage! I actually think its really important especially when training for a race or for new runners. Its also important to be aware of how much you’re running as to not overdo it. I just think I run into a problem when I start keeping track of the miles in my head and then base my running choices based on that number.

  24. It’s so funny that you write about this…now that you mention it, I really don’t know when I stopped obsessively counting calories either. It’s just something that happened, and now I can’t pinpoint the “moment” when I woke up and realized I didn’t need to do it obsessively anymore. I think the same will happen for your miles…you can’t control your brain’s obsession but maybe, over time, you’ll loosen the grip on your expectations of counting miles and stop. Thanks for being honest though and say that you know you aren’t going to stop cold turkey — it’s realistic and refreshing to hear.
    Lauren @ ihadabiglunch recently posted…Thinking Out Loud: Challenge YourselfMy Profile

    1. Exactly- just like with the calorie thing I don’t think I could possibly force myself to stop thinking about miles. If I can just relax about it a bit more and shift my focus I think I will become less number-focused with my running too.

  25. Hey, I really like this post! It’s right up my alley. As you probably know, I count miles like it’s my job. And to be honest, I have an underlying OCD issue which ironically, I manage with running miles! About 99% of the time, I have to end my weekly mileage with a zero, so either 50, 60 or 70 total weekly miles. Once in a while I’ll change it up just to show my neurosis that it doesn’t own me but for the most part, running gives me more mental health than what counting miles would take away. Does that make sense? And because I’ve been a runner for so long, I’m good at listening to my body; I know when to stop pushing myself. I’ve never counted calories, mostly because my mom was (and still is) ALWAYS on a diet and it DROVE ME FACKING CRAZY. She was never an athlete and has always been quite “girly” and so I went the opposite: tomboy central. I drink beer, eat chicken wings, and run. And run. And run some more. And if my running ever crossed over into the other parts of my life (taking away from relationships, work, family, friends, etc) then I would reel it in. For me, life is all about balancing my mental health with my love for myself and for my family and friends and if I need to count miles as a part of this equation, then so be it. :-)
    Suzy recently posted…Woozy Wednesday: Stay With MeMy Profile

    1. Very interesting, and I can actually relate to what you mean about “tricking” yourself. I used to end every run on a round number and then I started purposely ending them on something different just to prove that I could. Its definitely a control thing for me too.

  26. You are spot on with this one! I know I have struggled with the calories and then worried about my miles too. It’s like one obsession turned into another one. I still count my miles and honestly for the piece of mind feel like I have to when it comes to training for my first marathon, but I’ve tried to listen to my body and focus on the quality of those runs. If I miss a run, I might add a couple miles to another run or take the day off if I feel like I need it. Its so easy to get caught up in the numbers instead of focusing on listening to your body. I count the miles and own every one of them but one of my goals for this year is self-love. So with that I’m trying to get out of the way and stop being my biggest critic. If I rock out only 28 miles instead of the intended 30 for the week then I’m good with it if I paced right and feel motivated. You can do it! I love your honesty!
    Alaina @ The Simple Peach recently posted…OFF THE GRID & THE RACE THAT NEVER HAPPENED { + back on track}My Profile

    1. Thanks! And it sounds like you have the right idea! Its definitely more about the quality than the number, and that is what I need to remember to focus on moving forward.

    1. I am all about training plans to help to structure preparation for a race…it can just get out of hand when we start running more than we need to because we feel like we “should” or to hit a certain number. I’m going to try to use my training plans as a guideline and not force myself to stick to the exact miles, but it can be really hard! Especially because we want to work hard to be successful runners!

  27. I’m still trying to lose some more weight and tracking is the only thing that keeps me accountable. I know what happens when I’m not tracking my food…so there’s that. I have made some serious shifts in how I eat since I started running, so maybe one day if I dropped the tracking, I’d manage.

    This training cycle, I’m not worried about hitting a certain number. My long runs need to be what they need to be, but for the speed and tempo workouts, I’m going purely on the workout. Like today for example, I followed my planned tempo run and when it was over, it was 2.92. I didn’t keep going to hit 3 (even though it wouldn’t have been a big deal) I was sticking to the plan, which was time based, and not letting myself get caught up with the even number.
    Sara recently posted…Quinoa!My Profile

  28. Totally did the same thing–my fitness pal, calories between 1200-1400, etc. definitely understand. Great post for people out there that might be struggling with the concept of always hitting your mileage or always getting in under their calorie count.

    1. Thanks! Yes, it helpful to see it this way and remember how much better I feel abut my eating now that Im not counting calories.

  29. This post totally hit home for me! As I was running last night I got so down because my schedule hasn’t let me run when (and for as long) as I want. I just can’t hit my weekly mileage goal, and have spent hours in my head trying to figure out where to fit in runs to reach an admittedly arbitrary number. I used to do something similar with calories, projecting out the day. It’s a hard habit to lose! Thanks for sharing!
    Hilary recently posted…Tired LegsMy Profile

    1. Absolutely! Once we start thinking of these “goals” in our heads its hard to let go of them. I am also constantly thinking about how to fit runs or other workouts in- it gets stressful and tiring!

  30. I can definitely relate to this post! One time I emailed my running coach if I should run 3 or 4 miles…She emailed back…3.5? That is when I realized I had lost my mind! We stress too much about the little things and forget the big picture!

  31. Great post! Do you think it’s about control? Being able to control the amount of calories or the number of miles…it might provide you with a sense of calm knowing that you can control it. Just a thought! Again, great post!
    Megan recently posted…Thinking Out Loud ThursdayMy Profile

    1. Yes I definitely think so- great point! I am really controlling about most things in my life, so these areas are no different:)

  32. I definitely used to count calories and did the same daily tracking on My Fitness Pal. Forever! Now I’m so happy I don’t stress about that and enjoy eating how I want. Same goes for running. I used to be training for a half marathon every few months and so enjoy not having to worry about miles but just going for a run whenever I feel like it for however how long I’d like. Crazy how much stress it adds to our bodies!
    Giselle recently posted…Around the House SurveyMy Profile

    1. Thats great that you have gotten away from it with your running too! I know I feel so much better not worrying about calories so Im sure the same would be true for miles.

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