After running 977 miles last year, my first full year as a runner, I set a goal of topping 1,000 this year.
Last Thursday, with 24 days to go, I broke the tape on that mythical finish line. Smashed it two miles into my usual five-mile trek. And as you might imagine, the moment I accomplished this feat … nothing happened.
No one handed me a medal. Or even a cup of water.
Heck, I had to force myself to smile, a strange reaction considering I’m usually an emotional sap. I’d expected that particular mile-marking buzz of my GPS watch to trigger something between the euphoria of my first half marathon finish line and the relief of every half marathon finish line since.
Something else happened, though.
Over the final three miles of that run, I began thinking about how all these miles have changed me. I’ve continued refining those thoughts, narrowing them to the following five takeaways. Some are running-specific and some aren’t. None are meant to be advice, although under the premise that all advice is autobiographical, I hope something in here connects with you.
MY BIG U-TURN
In late 2014, my size 38, easy fit pants were getting tight. Instead of buying size 40s, I bought a Fitbit and started walking. I worked my way up to taking really long walks, and they took a really long time. To speed things up, I ran a little. Then a lot. Around that time, I began learning more about nutrition. Soon enough, I bought size 30 pants. (Even some 29s!) By continuing to run and watch what I eat, I’m probably in the best shape of my life, at age 47.
This leads to my biggest epiphany:
I no longer run to control my weight. I now control my weight to run.
I skip dessert if I know I’m running the next morning. Ditto for drinking; a little buzz tonight isn’t worth slowing me tomorrow. When a race is coming up, I scrutinize every meal; the longer the race, the longer I commit to strictly eating clean.
And, get this: I’ve found that trying stay between these lines is kind of fun. It’s my ongoing challenge. It’s not a struggle, either, thanks to the mindset I adopted early in my conversion to a healthy lifestyle: For 43-plus years, I ate anything and everything. Now I hope to do this for the next 43 years.
BRAG ALERT: I OFTEN RAN WITH THE LIKES OF JOHN GRISHAM, MALCOLM GLADWELL & TIM FERRISS
Running groups are terrific sources of friendship, accountability and motivation. Or so I’ve heard. I prefer running by myself — or, rather, in the company of my favorite authors and podcasters.
As a “podfaster” (someone who listens at 2X speed), I’ve gone through about 20 audiobooks and hundreds of podcasts this year alone. They’ve covered important things and trivial things, the hilarious and the depressing. I’ve been introduced to subjects and people I never knew existed, often prompting me to delve deeper. So in trying to improve my body, I’ve expanded my mind.
I know lots of people prefer running with only their thoughts and I’ve done that, too … by accident. Sometimes I forget to charge my Bluetooth headphones and they run out of power. Sometimes the gizmos go kaput, like in mile 3 of my last half marathon.
For what it’s worth, I also run to music from three Pandora playlists; they’re all I listen to during races. Johnny Cash anchors my country fix. Fall Out Boy anchors my up-tempo list. The go-to is anchored by Tom Petty for the familiarity of every song. I mention this to offer an RIP for Tom, who also was the focus of a great audiobook.
SEEING THE SIGHTS
I spent 20 years as a sports writer and was fortunate to log datelines from Argentina, Mexico, Australia, Greece, China, Italy and Canada. While I did my best to experience each locale, I now know how much more I could’ve seen.
The first time I ran while on the road was like discovering a secret passageway. It’s become my favorite way to sightsee. Boston, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Philadelphia … I’ve explored the hearts of those cities stride by stride over the last two years.
My most memorable runs of 2017 came alongside the Pacific Ocean. This includes the time I misjudged how far and fast the tide was coming in; remnants of the salt and sand remain on those shoes.
Living in Dallas, there ain’t much beauty, natural or man-made. But there are a few exceptions. Sunrise at White Rock Lake can be spectacular; it was even spooky one foggy morning. Over the summer, I routinely enjoyed picturesque sunrises on my usual route. Several events have crossed a cool new bridge near downtown.
Growing up, I remember that whenever family vacations reached a majestic sight, my father would linger, saying he was embedding the image into his memory so he could call it up next time he’s in the dentist’s chair. Thanks to running, my mental hard drive is filled with files to draw upon.
WHAT GETS MEASURED GETS MANAGED. OR DELETED.
You may be familiar with the “10,000-hour rule,” which theorizes that you can become an expert at anything by investing that much time into it. But are you familiar with the 10,000-experiment rule?
The theory is to treat everything as an experiment. Keep mixing things up to find better ways of doing things.
Some things will fail spectacularly. I find those better than near misses.
I’ll spare you the details of this year’s experiments, except to say they’ve included everything from pre-run stretches to smoothie ingredients, from combinations of vitamins and supplements to setups for my standing desk. I’ve done deep dives into IF and MAF, which also go by the names of intermittent fasting and Maximum Aerobic Function running, and played around with tracking things like BMI, macros and strength training.
I’ve also become a believer in the concept that what gets measured gets managed … or, in the spirit of the 10,000-experiment rule, deleted.
Many of my experiments could be tracked via spreadsheet, so I did. Things that showed little or no benefit got scrapped. Some things I dreaded recording. That was a sign that something was out of whack. Either I didn’t care enough about the experiment itself or I liked the new approach enough to stick with it but hated the accounting component, so that’s the part I dropped. (I became highly attuned to dread; whenever it crept it, it was time to end an experiment.)
Tracking things helped with prioritization. Motivation, too. I must admit to the dorky satisfaction I get when adding that day’s miles to my yearlong total following each run.
The experiments, and the tracking, continue to evolve. In writing this, I wondered how many runs it took to get to 1,000. I now know that it came on outing №155. And I now have a category in my running journal tracking that.
WHILE MOTHER NATURE GIVETH, SHE ALSO TAKETH
No, this isn’t about the time I got poison ivy following my first (and still only) outing on a path that goes from my neighborhood to White Rock Lake.
It’s actually about failing to reach the other goal I set for 2017: finishing a half marathon in under 2 hours.
This requires a pace of around 9:10 per mile. I was in the 9:40s in March, the 9:50s in November.
Then again, both days were overheated for runners. In March, an ambulance zoomed by me during mile 12, presumably carrying the woman I saw being treated for heat stroke around mile 11. My November event occurred on what turned out to be the second-hottest November day ever recorded in Dallas; before the race, organizers warned everyone to treat it like running in July.
Last week, I ran with temperatures in the 40s. Without being in peak shape, I averaged around 9:30. I’d like to think that between fine-tuning and race-day adrenaline I could finish in 1:59.59 (or faster) in the right temperatures.
I’m OK with carrying this goal forward. I’ve got others, too. I’d like to eventually work my way up to a marathon. I also like the idea of traveling to a race. The Honolulu Marathon sure seems like a way of combining it all.
I can see it now: my gaze fixed on the roaring waves of the Pacific Ocean, my legs churning strong thanks to my latest and greatest experiments, “Runnin’ Down A Dream” blaring through my headphones as I cross the finish line, euphoria washing over me as I’m handed not just a medal, but one dangling from a lei, my post-race hydration served in a coconut shell.
Even if it doesn’t work out that way, I’ll conjure that image the next time I get my teeth cleaned.