So, I Ran Every Day for a Year

I can’t remember the last time I made a plan for something big where I didn’t just “decide to do it” one day for no particular reason.

Case in point, last year, somewhere around mid-May, I decided I was going to run every day for a year.

Well, to be really specific, I didn’t decide it would be “every day for a year,” I just decided I was going to run every day. Every day, at least a mile, I would run. For how long? Who knows? It was just a thing I wanted to try out and see how far I could go.

(Disclaimer: Let me say at the outset, here, that running every day is not a thing you should take on lightly, as I did. I’ve been running for over 10 years and have a pretty good sense of what I’m capable of …. check with your doctor, or something.)

So I went for my regular Monday morning run, and then on Tuesday morning, I got up and took a quick tour around the neighborhood (just over a mile). Then on Wednesday, regular speedy run (speedy for a forty-something unathletic dude), and on Thursday, another easy jaunt around the neighborhood. Friday and Sunday runs as usual, with another short one on Saturday to round out the week.

Well, that week went okay, so I did it again the next week. And after that second week went without incident, I figured, why not go for a full month?

Then, with a month in the bag, why not try for another? And then, with two down, another month is a full-on quarter of a year, so … yeah, sure, let’s try for it. Three months in, I’m halfway to half of a year, and I’m not suffering any more than usual, so yeah, let’s go for six months with at least a mile every day.

This is where the prospect of going for a full year starts to set in. You can do just about anything for a few weeks, or even a couple months, but finding the time and the energy and the drive to run every day for 180 days in a row is a thing that comes with its own challenges, and then you’re thinking about doing it all again. And here’s where, as a teacher, what might have made sense in May became a lot trickier in August — over the summer, if I didn’t wake up early for the run, I could get after it later in the day, and the only drawback would be the late morning heat. Once the school year is in session, sleeping through the alarm for the morning run just isn’t an option — *if* you want to keep the streak going.

(Here, too, is where I come down on myself like a ton of bricks for slacking so badly on the writing over the past *let’s-not-actually-talk-about-how-long-it’s-been* while maintaining this other commitment. Then again, these are different types of commitments with different requirements, but still … if I’m not hating on myself for one thing or another even in the midst of tremendous accomplishments, then I’m not really myself.)

There came a point — maybe after three months, maybe after six, certainly after nine — where I decided I’d sunk in enough time toward this thing that to give it up would really be selling myself short. And, not for nothing, I was enjoying myself. There’s a lot to be said for the beneficial psychology of having a “win” first thing in the morning, and getting that mile in — even if that was *all* I did — was enough to tick that box every day. So I marked the calendar, girded my shoes, and didn’t think about it too much — except for on the occasional morning where I *really, really, really* wanted to snooze the alarm, when that brutal inner voice would whisper “are you really going to let the streak end today? Is this the day when you turn back into a pumpkin?” (My inner voice is a jerk and often mixes its metaphors.)

But the point of this post isn’t the streak, it’s how I embarked upon it, to wit: callously, on a whim, and without much if any consideration for the long term. At no point in the first 5%, 10%, even the first 20% of the undertaking did I say “Yeah, I’m going to do this for a year.” Rather, it was a “well, let’s see if I can push it a little further, and we’ll see how I feel at the end of the week, or the month, or after I get through this difficult weekend.”

Yeah, I still run in these goofy things. Note the holes in the soles. My feet look like the Flintstones.

I finally took a day off after 402 days in a row (having gone a full month and change past the full year because, at a certain point, it becomes stranger to *not* do the thing than to keep after it), that day being in mid June, just over a month ago.

I took that day off because I had bloody well earned it, because I was exhausted and beaten up to a point I’ve not often been in this life, and certainly not within recent memory. I had to rest. Not resting was not an option, because I found a New Thing to satisfy that morning workout … and scratch some other itches, too.

But more on that another day.

I’m still exercising every day, but I’m down to only three or four days running — and that’s fine. I’m even, crazily enough, feeling the urge, some days, to sneak in a quick mile on those days when I *don’t* run, because after so long running every day, it somehow feels like getting away with something if I *don’t*.

Maybe I’ll shake that off, maybe I won’t. Still, this is now officially A Thing I Have Done, and I guess that’s worth being proud about.

And you know, I think if I *had* started back in May of 2021 with the goal of “running at least a mile every day for a year”, I don’t know if I’d have been as successful. The commitment at that point, from just starting out, is almost too big to process, too big to be borne. I have to do this *every single day*, starting today, when yesterday, I did nothing like it? Maybe that works for some people, but it sure doesn’t for me.

The point here is, I think — for me, at least — that as much as you *can* get good things out of planning and visualizing and forethought, there’s no substitute (and it may even be better) to just jump in and *start doing a thing*. For one thing, one way to make sure you’ll never finish a thing is to never start it.

The Marathon is Over

So, here we are.

There are a lot of political things to be said today and in the coming weeks, and they should be said by people smarter than me.

But I just want to point out that today is the finish line of a marathon. (To be fair, it’s a marathon that we thought ended two months ago, but just like the actual finish line of a race, it turned out to be just a bit farther off than it actually was.)

And at the end of a marathon, you see a sea of humanity. Some people are overjoyed. Some people are totally wrecked. Some are bewildered, delusional. You see people staggering about, zombie-like. You see people sprawled out, nearly lifeless, on the grass. You see people high-fiving and hugging strangers. (Maybe not so much this year. Y’know, COVID and all.)

Because a marathon is this incredibly demanding, physically destructive thing, right? You train and train and then on the day, you just keep putting one foot in front of the other for mile upon mile and you stop and catch your breath at the aid station but there’s really nothing to do except keep on running toward the next one and the sun’s getting higher in the sky and your nipples are chafing and that twinge in your ankle transforms to white fire with every step and all you hear, all you trust, all you know is the soft metronome of your footsteps, the muffled roar of the breath going in and out, the blood pumping in your ears.

We’ve all been through it over the last four years, and the last year, especially. We’ve all been running a mental marathon, and it’s been absolutely brutal.

No matter which “team” we’re on, 2020 was a rough one, and 2021 seems not to want to be outdone so far.

But we’ve all crossed the finish line, or at least, *a* finish line. There are more miles to be run. But not today.

Today is a day for celebration at reaching the end, it’s a day for nursing injuries. It’s a day for walking down the stairs backwards because your legs just can’t handle the strain.

And it’s worth remembering that all our neighbors have just run the same race, even if they’re not showing it on the outside. And even if, instead of the jubilation that I feel, they’re shell-shocked and lying at the grass or screaming at the sun in hopes of somehow changing reality.

Nobody’s mind is right after a marathon.

Take a few days, at least, to recover. And know that everybody else is recovering, too. And spread a little kindness.

Because a marathon is a hell of a thing to go through. We’ve earned a couple of mental rest days.

A Good Excuse

I am finally realizing the secret to why I’m so cyclical with working out.

I go back and forth on this. I’ve done it for years. I get into a good habit — waking up early, getting after it before work — then I slack off and fall off the wagon. Then I get mad at myself and climb back on the wagon. And a few months later I’m off again.

It struck me the other morning why this happens. (Or at least, why I’m going to allow myself to believe it happens.)

The days are getting shorter right now. There’s less daylight out there to go around. Therefore by the time I’m going to bed, the night hasn’t been upon us for very long and when the morning comes, daylight is still a long way off.

There’s something in here, too, about the fact that when we’re deprived of the natural day/night cycle, our body naturally calibrates itself to a 25-hour day, not 24. So, y’know. That’s a thing. And it’s relevant somehow, I’m sure of it. (It’s also heckin’ bananas. Evolution finely tunes organisms to exist in a certain environment under certain circumstances, so how the heck is our natural clock off by an entire hour every day?)

This is not, in other words, a me-versus-my-alarm-clock thing. It’s a me-versus-my-evolution-given-circadian-rhythm thing. It’s the adjustment from long days and short nights to the other way ’round that gets me crossed up; not staying up late to watch Cobra Kai and Jessica Jones.

Or at least, that’s what I’m telling myself this week.

Of course, I’m still able to drag myself out for runs, somehow.

I’ll solve that one later.

Anyway, maybe I’ll work out tomorrow.

Little Things

A reminder that, when things spin out of control and the world is in flames outside your door, the little things can help keep you grounded, keep you sane.

For example:

I had a run this morning, and caught a high off it like I haven’t in a while.

My first sip of tea this morning was at just the perfect temperature.

I re-read my first two chapters to kick off one last editing pass in my book, and I didn’t totally hate them.

These are tiny things — absolutely inconsequential in the scheme of things, and probably totally unimportant in the teeth of 2020 — but they gave me a lift today.

Black Coffee, Coffee, Cup, Desk, Drink, Espresso

We deserve every lift we can catch just about all the time, but that goes doubly and triply for 2020.

Nobody Knows How to Do the Thing Until They Do It

Once in a while, a man of a certain age gets it into his head that he’s capable of certain things; certain things that he never thought about before. And depending on how much of an idiot he is, he may actually try his hand at these things with varying levels of disastrousness.

Which is my cheeky way of saying I re-did the floors in my basement this weekend.

I should preface by saying I don’t feel I’m particularly handy, which I will then undercut by saying that over 10+ (help!) years of homeownership I’ve done drywall repair, replaced toilets, fixed a ceiling (never do this by yourself) twice (definitely don’t do it twice), replaced faucets, rewired lighting fixtures and garbage disposals, and any number of tiny fix-it tasks around the house.

So maybe I’m slightly handy.

The usual pattern — almost without deviation — is as follows.

  1. Notice the thing that needs doing
  2. Ignore it for a few months
  3. Get annoyed by the thing in a heated moment
  4. Get good and angry and watch a few how-to videos
  5. Go to Home Depot and buy about 2/3 of the required supplies (possibly also buying the wrong items)
  6. Attempt the repair, in the process removing the original thing or damaging it beyond repair, thus moving past the point of no return
  7. Screw up and start over
  8. Slink back to YouTube covered in grime to watch more how-to videos
  9. Attempt the repair again, going slower and super cautious not to make mistakes and screw it up even worse
  10. Realize I’m short on supplies or have the wrong equipment, go to Home Depot again
  11. Finish the job in roughly twice the time the how-to videos suggested it should take
  12. Feel immensely satisfied
  13. Spend the next several weeks to a month cleaning up the mess from the job
  14. Get annoyed over new thing, repeat process

I’ve done this over a dozen times, now. So I dunno what I was thinking, thinking I could handle a large basement room (plus an angled hallway) in a single day, but there I found myself, standing by a stack of floor planks, ready to rip up the carpet.

Needless to say, the pattern held. I was a box short of enough planks to finish the job, necessitating a return trip to the HD. I didn’t know what the fargo I was doing installing the stuff, resulting in a totally crap job after four hours of work covering about 15% of the room that had to be disassembled and started over. I tore up the walls taking the baseboards off, a subsequent repair I have yet to properly tackle. And instead of finishing the job on Saturday evening, it took me until late Sunday afternoon before I was satisfied enough to call the job “done” (barring the unfinished baseboards and the aforementioned holes in the wall).

And as with everything, or at least, as should be the case with everything, there were some lessons to be learned in the doing. Here they are, in no particular order.

The hard part is starting.

Before. Bonus points: All those plaques and awards belong to my wife. My awards are on the same wall. There just aren’t nearly as many of them.

This isn’t news to me: every time I run, I have to convince myself to step out the door. And the first mile is nothing if not mild self-torture. Every time I sit down to work on my novel, I hesitate: do I really want to put myself through the pain of working on that project? Can I really face the task of pulling words out of the nothing in between my ears? The starting is the hardest part.

As I stood there, pliers and pry-bar perched in my hands, staring at the carpet before me (which I hated), I hesitated. Once I start, there’s no going back. And the doubts were the same. I’m not up to this task. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I shouldn’t be doing this at all; I should hire a professional.

But up the carpet came, and from there, it never made sense to stop. Just like the run — as soon as I’m out the door, it feels foolish to even think about going back. Just like the novel — as soon as I’ve written the first word (or deleted it, as the case is lately), stopping or going back seems idiotic. Take the first step, and the rest of the steps follow after quickly, almost automatically.

You’re going to screw it up

Finally making progress … eight hours later.

Fix-iteering is about trial and error, it’s about testing yourself, it’s about learning. And unfortunately, nobody starts life knowing how to lay down laminate planks. (Or, for that matter, knowing how to write a novel, or how to run long distance.) You figure these things out by taking that first step, screwing it up (perhaps even catastrophically), learning your lesson, and coming back to the task like Rocky getting up after Creed has brought the thunder to his skull for the forty-seventh time.

Once the carpet was up, I started the job the way I thought it was to be started — and it didn’t work. So I scrapped it and started over, and it still didn’t work. So I started over again and I thought it was going better, until the wife came down to check on me and the look on her face told me I still didn’t have it right. This was four hours into the work, by the way. I was ready to stop, return all the flooring to HD and pay triple to have the carpet replaced.

But I didn’t. Partially because that’s not how you grow, partially because I’m penny-squeezing cheap, and partially because …

You can’t do it alone

Laying the floor turned into a family affair. First the wife came down — bless her — and helped me puzzle over the process, pick a new starting point, and convinced me to apply a little more force — a little more EFFORT — to the task than I had been comfortable doing before. I had been afraid to damage the flooring, but it turns out, to make this stuff click together, it takes a bit of percussive maintenance (i.e., a few — or a few dozen — whacks with a mallet). Then my father — bless him — came over to help out when he learned that I was not nearly finished with the project by 7pm as I had naively boasted that morning, but rather just starting over. We listened to the Beatles, who usually I can’t stand, but somehow under the circumstances quite enjoyed, and laughed as we figured out the tricks and the techniques to get the job done.

Come to think of it, my brother helped me move the furniture out of the room before I actually started the job — and would come over again several days later to help me bring it back in. My mom would offer to help re-paint the trouble spots afterward. Even my seven-year-old son would help me out with the cleanup afterward, doing what would have been the backbreaking work of pulling spacers off the walls, had I been the one doing it.

We all have a lot of sweat equity in the finished product, which makes it feel a little sweeter, a little more satisfying, a little more ours.

And, you know, the running and the writing are like that, too. Sure, these are activities completed mostly on one’s own — but comes a time you need other people to check on your work, because they’ll see it in a way you don’t. Comes a time you’ll want a running partner, because it’s too hard to get out the door on your own if you don’t have the extra obligation of somebody counting on you (even if the somebody goes on four legs).

Point is, no man is an island, even when he’s laminated himself into a corner.

Starting day two.

Finishing feels incredible, no matter how long it takes

Long story short (too late!) we have brand new floors in the basement. And they look bloody awesome.

Not bad for a Drama major. Now about that drywall…

And yeah, it took about nine hours more than I expected. And yeah, working my butt off for two days wasn’t what I wanted to wrap up our vacation days. And yeah, I was sorer than I’ve been in recent memory. But the floors are done, and I love them; not just because they look great, but because they’re also a symbol.

They’re a symbol for all that hippie-dippy stuff I was talking about up there; a symbol of teamwork and of willpower and of tenacity. And above all, they’re a testament to the fact that if you put your mind to it, as George McFly once said, you can accomplish anything. If you decide to do the thing, and undertake the task, you can get it done — as long as you’re willing to suffer a bit, learn from your mistakes, and keep hammering away, you can do the thing. Be it running your first mile, writing your first chapter, or laying down the floors in your basement. Do the thing.

Even if you have no idea what you’re doing.