This will be a quick post, since it’s my birthday.
For the last three birthdays, I’ve done a mile time trial at the track. (Do I know how to party or what?) A mile is just one measure of fitness–and even that is a snapshot in time, not the whole story–but it’s a cool benchmark to have as one starts a new year (and in my case, a new year of life).
Last year I invited running buddies to join me, and this year I did it again. This morning we had temps in the 30s and rain, but a small-but-cheery crowd braved the elements to run our hearts out. (Some just came to walk loops and cheer for the others! How awesome is that? Of course, the promise of a nice warm Starbucks afterward was a big draw too.)
Last year’s birthday mile was a mixed bag. It was better than it could have been, coming off of injury, but not as great as I secretly hoped.
Today was better. I ran my second fastest mile ever, and am just nine seconds away from a personal best.
More importantly, I paced myself well. You can see I’m wearing my “I love running, I hate running” headband. That’s the way I feel about these miles. They’re rough. I told someone yesterday that I’d rather run a half marathon than a fast mile. That’s an exaggeration, but not a huge one. I like the pace and strategy of a long race. And on the mile I typically poop out in the third lap and generally hate life. Not this time! I still started too fast but was able to end fast (for me), and the middle was consistent.
But most importantly, I got to be around friends who came out to support me and run with me, and who give me a birthday banner for my car:
Running is such a numbers-driven sport, but numbers only tell part of the story. As a confirmed middle-of-the-packer, I’ll never be the fastest runner, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone who loves it more. And a big part of that is the running community and the lifelong friends I’ve made. I wish the same for you, whatever your fitness journey looks like.
This is an annual post, with a new bit at the end!
Resolutions get a bad rap. There’s a lot of guilt in play, as people feel like they should make them. Other people make them and quickly break them: more guilt. Still other folks genuinely want to follow through but don’t know how.
As for me, I love setting a direction for the upcoming year. (I created a whole workbook-playbook for this purpose, called “Still Possible”! If you subscribe to my email newsletter you should have received it. It’s available to new subscribers too; click here.)
If you want to make some New Year’s goals stick, here are some tips that have worked for me and other people I know:
Set an intention instead. Resolutions have always felt too brittle for me. (After all, when we don’t follow through, we say we broke them.) Intentions are more flexible. Listen to the difference between “I resolve” and “I set the intent.” The former feels like one of Harry Potter’s Unbreakable Vows; the latter points you in a worthwhile direction. Maybe you need the force of the former, but I like the latter because it can bend as our lives shift. And we can set intentions again and again. There’s a reason people in 12 step programs take things one day at a time.
Make it a story. Most resolutions are vague goals that lack context. Donald Miller suggests we come up with stories instead. Stories are compelling, and they take us somewhere. According to Miller’s definition, a story involves a character who wants something and overcomes obstacles to get it. What could be a better framework for a New Year’s improvement project? “Lose weight” is a worthy goal, but without a concrete story to hang it on, it’s too easy to give up. So instead of getting in shape, a story-based resolution might be to complete a road race or do a big hike with friends.
Explore the 5 W’s. In ninth grade journalism class I learned the basics of a news story: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. (Also How.) If you want your resolutions to stick, you need to spend some time with these questions. Say you want to cook at home more instead of eating out. Who will support you in this effort, and whom will be impacted by this lifestyle change? What will you do to make this happen? When will you plan, shop and cook? Where will this happen—do you need to de-clutter the kitchen? Stock the pantry? And most importantly, Why is it important that you do this?
Take things monthly. Gretchen Rubin is a pioneer of this approach. Her book The Happiness Project chronicles a year-long self-improvement project with a different emphasis each month (money, home, family, etc.). Why not pick something modest to work on in January? Then on January 31 you get to celebrate your success (or shrug off your failure) and move on to something new in February.
Pick a word. Many of my pastor friends hand out stars with words on them to their congregations on Epiphany Sunday—I’ve done it myself. These words become a prayer or meditation focus. For folks who find self-reflection tedious, there’s something serendipitous about being given a word to live with for a whole year.
Let the resolution grow out of a deeper reflection. Ideally, a resolution, intention, or story will grow out of a period of reflecting on the year to come. In other words, don’t go for the same knee-jerk resolution you pick every year—it may not fit your life right now. If you’re about to move across country or get a promotion at work, it’s probably not the right time to take on a new hobby or join that CrossFit class. Or because of those changes, it may be the perfect time to take care of yourself. But the point is, your resolution needs to grow out of a realistic assessment of the year to come. I’ll be using the workbook I created to say goodbye to 2016 and hello to 2017 (see above or subscribe here), but there are tons of tools like this on the Internet.
Build in some No with your Yes. I’m convinced that a lot of resolutions fail because people add on habits or practices without taking other things away. So you want to spend 20 minutes each morning in prayer or meditation. OK… but what are you willing to give up in order to make that happen? (Additional sleep? that bleary-eyed early morning Facebook session?)
Tell people. Every December my writing group would get together for a Christmas luncheon, and we would go around the table and share our writing goals for the coming year. Stating our goals aloud in the company of trusted friends was powerful. We are communal creatures—only the most disciplined among us can make a major life change without any support, encouragement or accountability from friends and family. If you’re one of those rocks or islands that Simon and Garfunkel sang about, congratulations. If you’re like the rest of us, tweet or Facebook your goals. Blog about them. Tell a friend. Heck, tell me in the comments—I will cheer you on!
Take two steps, not just one. According to the Journal of Consumer Research, people who take only one step toward an exercise or weight-loss regimen (like joining a gym) were more likely to engage in activities that were counterproductive (like bingeing on brownies). Meanwhile, their peers who took a follow-up step (working out right after joining the gym) were more likely to stick with their plan. So while Lao Tzu is right that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, don’t neglect the second step either.
Focus on systems, not goals.I love this reflection from James Clear, in which he talks about the process as opposed to the destination: “I’ve found that goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress… Goals can provide direction and even push you forward in the short-term, but eventually a well-designed system will always win.” For example, the one year I set a mileage goal for running (1,000 miles) I got injured. Coincidence? Perhaps. But since then I’ve adjusted my approach and set different kinds of intentions: to run three times a week and to participate in various races along the way. In James Clear’s parlance, those are actually systems I’m putting in place rather than goals. I suspect they will result in a great end-of-year total mileage, but if they don’t, the journey still took me to great places, and that’s more important.
Do you have intentions or hopes for 2017? I’d love to hear.
I ran across this post on FB memories–it was posted to the now-inactive Sabbath in the Suburbs blog four years ago. Enjoy!
My view from this morning’s run. Lake Anne Plaza, Reston.
I’ve been running for some 18 months now. Somewhere along the way, I transitioned from being someone who runs to being a runner. I now read about running, strategize my routes, have strong opinions about my footwear, blah blah blah.
I also seek inspiration from running and its connections to life, and even to the spiritual practice of taking time for rest and sabbath. See if you agree about the power of these connections in a quote I ran across recently:
For some messed-up reason, our athletic egos still feel that we only get faster as we pedal harder, run quicker and swim stronger. It’s athlete psychology—all of our confidence is built around the times that we actually destroy our bodies. But it’s only the rest afterward that makes our bodies stronger.
Because of this psychological dichotomy, when and how long to rest is the hardest decision to make as an athlete. It takes a level of confidence above even the level necessary to push your body to the limit. You don’t get the endorphin release, the feeling of accomplishment, and the external and internal praise and satisfaction. All you get are feelings of losing your edge, getting out of shape and nervous anticipation.
So the next time you need to rest, whether it be for a mid-season break, post-big race, or just an easy day or two between training blocks, remember that it takes confidence to rest. Remember that it is just insecurity and a lack of endorphin release that makes you feel like you’re getting out of shape. Know that when you decide to rest, you’re making the right call—the better, smarter decision. Feel good and confident about it. You’ve done yourself a favor—you have literally just made yourself a better athlete.
It’s all book-writing and marathon-training here at the Blue Room. (Note to self–don’t have those things coincide in the future, mmm-kay?) Once those are both behind me I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled public rumination.
Kadey’s book is divided into Before, During, and After, with each section’s recipes formulated for that phase of exercise. Before features light, healthy, carb-fortified foods; During has stuff that’s easily portable (including your own gels!); After focuses on the right protein/carb ratio to replenish muscles and energy.
These Mini Mediterranean muffins came from the During section, but they’re excellent to snack on anytime. I used them on my last 20 miler, and it was so nice to have something savory to offset the gels and chews I rely on heavily.
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup finely ground cornmeal (I used regular cornmeal and it seemed finely ground enough)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons low-fat milk
1/3 cup olive oil
zest of 1 lemon (optional)
2 ounces finely chopped feta cheese (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup drained and finely chopped roasted red peppers
1/3 cup pitted, finely chopped Kalamata olives
Preheat oven to 350 and prepare 24 mini muffin cups with paper liners or cooking spray.
In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients (flour through salt).
In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, milk, oil, and lemon zest.
Add wet ingredients to dry and mix until just blended.
Fold in cheese, peppers and olives.
Divide into muffin cups and bake for 15 minutes or until toothpick comes out mostly clean. Cool on rack.
Keep chilled for up to 5 days and transport in small ziploc bags. (I have frozen a bunch for The Big Day.)
Note: I wrote this for my email subscribers a few weeks ago and am just now getting around to posting it here. If you want to receive similar stuff in your inbox 1-2 times a month, click here.
And boy, is August here with a vengeance in Northern Virginia. When I stepped outside to run early this morning, the humidity was 97%. Sixteen miles later, I felt every bit of it.
Many of you know I’m training for my second marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon, here in DC in October. This is my grudge match—I had to defer last year’s entry due to injury. I’m excited for this hometown race, known for being well-run with lots of cheering crowds. The only downside is the timing—race in October means long runs in July, August and September. I keep telling myself that these hot, humid, hilly miles are building mental toughness, but in all honesty, every time I step outside into air that feels like it’s already been breathed, I want to cry. (Come on, my people are from Northern Europe. I’m built for permafrost.)
I was running recently on one of those hot and humid days when I passed a man in his 70s. We exchanged a quick greeting and as he shuffled by he said, “Beautiful morning.” At first I was dumbfounded: Beautiful? I can literally wring out my shirt right now. But then I decided to get outside myself and really take a look around. And it was beautiful. The sun was still low in the sky and casting lengthy shadows. The birds were singing. The green on the trees was rich and deep.
This weekend I was in North Carolina for a family reunion, and again I went for a morning run—later than I’d hoped, so the sun was beating down on me from the first step. Again it was humid and gross, and I found myself longing for crisp November, or even frigid February. But this time I remembered my running buddy from the week before, and I let myself really look at the deserted country road, the soft blue sky, and the meadow fuzzy with mature grass:
I realized how often I get trapped inside my own experience—how easy it is to be stuck there without considering other perspectives. To put it in religious language, this is perhaps a foundational human sin or shortcoming—to see our own narrative as the only valid one. Much of our consumer culture is designed to feed this individualistic focus—marketing, social media, even news sites serve up targeted messages designed just for us: our preferences, our prejudices, and our longings. This sunny, soupy day was bearing down on me with its oppressive heat, so how could it also be beautiful? Yet it was. (Not to mention the gratitude that comes from being able to put one foot in front of the other, breathe clean air into lungs, and move slowly but relentlessly forward.)
Recently when I wrote to you, I shared a story from the wonderful book The Art of Possibility. Permit me to share one more tidbit from that book. The authors, Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, talk about shifting our perspective such that we see ourselves not as a pawn in a game, nor as the strategist of the game, pulling all the strings, but as the game board itself, “the framework for the game of life around you”:
The purpose of naming yourself as the board, or as the context in which life occurs to you, is to give yourself the power to transform your experience of any unwanted condition into one in which you care to live. We said your *experience*, not the condition itself. But of course once you do transform your experience and see things differently, other changes occur.
When you identify yourself as a single chess piece—and by analogy, as an individual in a particular role—you can only react to, complain about, or resist the moves that interrupted your plans. But if you name yourself as the board itself, you can turn all your attention to what you want to see happen, with none paid to what you need to win or fight or fix. …One by one, you bring everything you have been resisting into the fold. You, as the board, make room for all the moves, for the capture of the knight *and* the sacrifice of your bishop… for your miserable childhood *and* the circumstances of your parents’ lives… Why? Because that is what is there. It is the way things are.
On a superficial level, seeing yourself as the game board can seem narcissistic. But as I’ve considered this analogy, I find it provides an expansive space for me to receive life in all its complexity, not denying the unpleasant things, but also not letting them be the sum total of the experience.
Of course, things happen to us in life that are much more grave than a scheduled run on a humid day. This shift in perspective is very difficult work—lifetime work. But on a humid day in, with sweat rolling down my back, I got a startling and lovely glimpse that it was possible.