Starting a running streak

I had a great Memorial Day weekend! The weather in Chicago was crappy (50s and raining) so I spent most of it inside and I finished a big paper I've been working on for years (not exaggerating). It felt great to finally finish it.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about discipline. I remember reading Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running a long time ago and admiring the discipline with which he approached running (six miles a day, six days a week, rain or shine). Through this practice, "running had entered the realm of the metaphysical. First there came the action of running, and accompanying it there was this entity known as me. I run; therefore I am.” (If you haven't read it, the book is great -- and he obviously draws a lot of his discipline for writing from the same routines he built for running).

The problem is that I'm impatient. There are few areas in my life where I don't get to see immediate gratification for my efforts. This paper evaded me for so long, in part because the analysis and writing were SO SLOW. I could work on it for a whole day, and not be certain whether I was actually improving it, or muddling things. It was reaching a point where I wasn't sure if I was making progress at all, or just circling around and around.

Erich Fromm writes about patience in his book The Art of Loving (which is about all love, not just romantic love). He says that love, like all art, requires practice and discipline, and (long quote coming!) anyone who has mastered an art "knows that patience is necessary if you want to achieve anything. If one is after quick results, one never learns an art. Yet, for modern man, patience is as difficult to practice as discipline and concentration. Our whole industrial system fosters exactly the opposite: quickness. All our machines are designed for quickness: the car and airplane bring us quickly to our destination—and the quicker the better. The machine which can produce the same quantity in half the time is twice as good as the older and slower one. Of course, there are important economic reasons for this. But, as in so many other aspects, human values have become determined by economic values. What is good for machines must be good for man—so goes the logic. Modern man thinks he loses something—time—when he does not do things quickly; yet he does not know what to do with the time he gains—except kill it."

This wonderful paradox is one of the main reasons I love running the way I do. My blog name is a double entendre that refers the supernatural feeling of being outside the normal progression of time (also known as "flow"!) How many times have I procrastinated going for a long run only to find that once I start running, time just stands still, starting again only after I stopped running?)

There's no need to tiptoe around it -- my running is all over the place. I'm not getting in the base miles. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around training for my first marathon alone in a new city, on unfamiliar streets. I am afraid that maybe I just don't want to put in the work. I'm afraid I'll see my medium- and long-term goals slip away from me if I don't recommit to a base level of running discipline ASAP. And I am so annoyed with the side of me that easily loses an hour browsing for new running gear, plugging my times into various training plans, and registering for races when I can barely get myself to run two days a week.

At this point I feel the need to interrupt myself to just reassert that it isn't that I don't like running. I'm as into it as I've always been. The feeling I'm trying to describe isn't about running at all, really -- it's more of a childish wish to get something for nothing, an impatience with the work I know is required to become a stronger runner.

When I think about my running dreams/goals, I see myself running happy, painfree, BQ marathons, and  running for 3 hours on the trails in Duke Forest (I have no idea if there are actually trails there. I'll get back to you in a few months and let you know) for fun on the weekends with my dog. And instead of letting those vision inspire me to get out the door every morning, I dismiss the 4-mile run as "dumb" because it isn't what I want to do.

Murakami also writes, “No matter how much long-distance running might suit me, of course there are days when I feel kind of lethargic and don’t want to run. Actually, it happens a lot. On days like that, I try to think of all kinds of plausible excuses to slough it off. Once, I interviewed the Olympic running Toshihiko Seko, just after he retired from running and became manager of the S&B company team. I asked him, “Does a runner at your level ever feel like you’d rather not run today, like you don’t want to run and would rather just sleep in?” He stared at me and then, in a voice that made it abundantly clear how stupid he thought the question was, replied, “Of course. All the time!""

On Twitter yesterday I saw that Runner's World was promoting its Memorial Day to Independence Day running streak. I know No Meat Athlete did something similar to this, and reported that it worked really well. So, I'm going to start one, starting yesterday. I'm going to try to run at least 1 mile every day until July 4. I'll probably miss a few days here and there for travel (I have a busy two months coming up) but I'm going to do my best. I even started a daily mile account, if anyone wants to follow me and help keep me accountable!