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Puget Sound and the Olympic Peninsula, shot from West Seattle

A different day in West Seattle than the one I’m writing about, but still a very nice one.

Seattle gets this stretch every winter when, for about a week or so, it feels like spring’s come early. The skies are clear, it’s “warm” (50s), and you get to peel of a couple layers. Inevitably, it snaps back a week later and we plunge into at least three more months of cold and darkness.

But, man…that stretch is for real.

It happened just this past weekend, so I threw on some running shorts and headed out the door.

At one point, I ended up on the western shores of West Seattle, facing the Olympic Peninsula. I’d run this particular trail about a million times before. But for whatever the reason, this was the first time it hit me:

I’ve run on this trail. I’ve sailed that Sound. I’ve hiked through those mountains.

There was something weirdly satisfying in that realization. Part of it was that sense of ownership that comes with having spent a significant amount of time in any particular place. Another part was a feeling of accomplishment for having actually gotten out and done stuff. And maybe that was all it was.

But whatever — I kicked up my pace a little after that. I felt excited. This was just a slice of where I lived. There are thousands more trails to run, waters to sail, and hills to conquer. It’s the New Year. It’s a new day. Let’s get out and do all this shit.

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A post shared by Paul Balcerak (@paulbalcerak) on

Some of these little red X’s are half-marathons.

Some are long walks to the bus stop.

A couple are from a 20-mile hike through the backcountry.

Others are yard work.

Some represent hours spent at the gym.

Some are leisurely 2- or 3-mile runs through the neighborhood.

A handful of the X’s are hard days that were easy.

A bunch are easy days that were hard.

Some were earned in rain. Sun. Snow. Sleet. Daytime. Darkness.

They all counted. They all mattered. 2017 was my best fitness year ever. Here’s to building more streaks in 2018…

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A tunnel, moving really fast

Mathew Schwartz

This is one of those unfortunate I-read-this-thing-and-now-I-don’t-remember-where-so-I-can’t-attribute-it things.

But.

I’ve been rolling this around in my head a lot lately. Paraphrasing:

Everyone always says, “Don’t touch anything if you go back in time! The slightest change could have major ramifications on the present!” But no one ever thinks anything they do in the present will have any impact on the future.

via GIPHY

Whoa.

Seriously, though. That blew my mind.

I mean, look: I’m an idiot. It takes something like time travel to make me think my actions in this world matter.

I’m also a human being, though, and we all do this. What does my one little vote/donation/action/etc. matter? …Fuck, I don’t know. Maybe nothing! But even if that turned out to be the case, wouldn’t it still be worth it?

We’re living in precarious times. If there were ever a moment to do something small, this is it.

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How I Ran A Shitty Half-Marathon

Some dude running toward the horizon

lucas Favre

Early in 2017, I set a goal for myself: to run a shitty half-marathon.

My thinking was basically:

  • 2016 was a not-great fitness year.
  • I’m a dad of two young kids and not a lot of time on his hands…
  • …so if I try to run a sub-whatever-time half-marathon, I’m probably gonna fail.
  • But a shitty half-marathon is doable, and still difficult.

Or, to quote myself:

I’m going to adjust my definition of success. Specifically, downward.

Well, guess what, mofos? I did not run a shitty half marathon.

I ran two.

And here’s the real kicker: the second one turned out to be my best pace ever. I don’t even know how the fuck I did this, except that I know exactly how I did this.

Before I get started: This should not at all be construed as official running or training advice. I am not a coach, a doctor, a professional runner of any sort, or even a guy who is all that physically fit. What I am is a dude who has figured out a way to run long distances without stopping. This works for me — doesn’t mean it will work for you. Honestly: when in doubt, assume I’m an idiot.

Anyway. Here’s how I ran a shitty half-marathon.

1. I prioritized consistency over performance.

I knew I wasn’t gonna get a nine-mile run in multiple times per week. But I knew I could almost always make time for at least one mile. And I knew that if I stepped outside to run one mile, I’d probably end up ultimately doing at least a little more than that.

Some days, I really did only run one mile. Others, I went out with the intention of running just one and knocked out four, five, or six.

Truthfully, I didn’t really care. Some of my one-milers were more satisfying than some of my six-milers. I went off feel. That felt like my best run ever — even if my pace sucked or if it was way shorter than what I was scheduled to do.

Feelings like that are important. They keep you going and get you excited for whatever’s next.

Hot tip: There’s nothing like being able to look back and see what you’ve accomplished. And for me, an app just won’t do. I got one of Tracksmith’s free (less shipping) “No Days Off” calendars [Update: They may not be free, free anymore] and put a red X through each day that I completed a workout. No, I’m not being paid to say this. Yes, I would absolutely take payment or gifts from them if they asked me.

2. I had a plan for when shit inevitably went south.

One mile of walking — that was my bare minimum that I was determined to accomplish on the days I had a workout scheduled.

A mile of walking is stupid easy. For me, it was basically the equivalent of, OK, I’ll get off of my bus two stops early, or, I’ll walk around the block a few times on my lunch break.

Why make it so easy? That’s the goddamn point. If my minimum was too high, I knew I’d fail to do it and then just feel awful. Making it easy enough to hit no matter what meant that I’d still feel good about myself and be motivated to get up and try again the next day.

This was hugely important. Maybe the most important thing. Because I knew there’d be days:

  • The kids would wake up early and I wouldn’t be able to run.
  • I’d stay up too late or drink the night before and feel like shit in the morning.
  • I’d get sick.
  • Some other bullshit.

I knew I could always knock out a one-mile walk. Whether I did it in full workout gear or wingtips and slacks didn’t matter. It was a mile either way.

3. I switched things up.

I get bored easily. I’m one of those people who will hear a song, think, Oh, that’s good! and then kill it by listening to it 200 times in a row over the next two days.

I love running. But I also get insanely bored with it.

So as often as I could, I’d switch up my routine to make it less of a routine. Midway through the year, I started to mix in weight training at my local YMCA. I did that two times a week.

I ran the other four (I gave myself one planned day off per week), and I’d change those up by making them different types of runs.

  • Sunday was always for long runs. I knew that.
  • Tuesday was for recovery runs, meaning I’d just shuffle my feet along at the slowest pace possible.
  • Thursdays and Saturdays were the ones where I’d always try something out of the ordinary. I’d run through a part of town I’d never been to before, try fartleks, or do a hill course.

The variety helped keep me interested. And I think — I don’t know — it may have made me a stronger runner by keeping my muscles guessing, too.

4. I forgave myself.

Some days I just had to remind myself:

You’re a 33-year-old dad, not a professional runner. Chill out.

There were days when I shot my eating plan straight to hell. There were days where I couldn’t even bring myself to walk a mile. There were days where I could, but I decided to just sit around eating doughnuts instead.

Look, if you’re gonna run a distance race, you’ve gotta get used to taking the long view. One day of shitty behavior or bad running isn’t going to kill you. A string of days like that won’t kill you. You string together multiple strings — OK, maybe it’s time to refocus.

The point for me was to be able to look at the long arc of my year and say, I got in a workout more often than I didn’t.

So, to recap, here’s how to run a shitty half-marathon…

  • Be consistent, not good.
  • Have a plan ahead of time for what to do when everything goes wrong.
  • Break your routine.
  • Relax and have fun.

Fun facts about my shitty half-marathon

I benefitted a lot from reading about other people’s training experiences. So here are a few random facts about things I did/used/etc. that helped me make it to my goal.

  • My first half-marathon of the year was one that I just ran around my neighborhood by myself. I walked-ran it and my time was 2:24:32.
  • I later ran the Seattle Marathon Half-Marathon and my finishing time was 2:26:27. That’s juuuust under 11 minutes per mile.
  • (The half I ran around my neighborhood was slightly shorter, and my pace was more than 11 minutes per mile.)
  • I rotated between a small handful of shoes, including the Brooks Glycerin 12s, the Adidas PureBoost Climas (in white, my favorites), the Brooks Ravenna VIs, and some old-ass Nike Pegasuses, which I don’t think they sell anymore.
  • Food: My wife works for Clif Bar and I ate a lot of those on my longer runs. I also brought a couple along on the official half-marathon day. (Mojo Bars — they’re delicious.) My favorite thing, though, was to pack an almond-butter-and-jelly sandwich and eat it midway.
  • Hydration: Water. Don’t fuck around with Gatorade or any of that shit.
  • My go-to app was/is RunKeeper.
  • I started training on Super Bowl Sunday and it was snowing. When I ran my first half of the year, it was pushing 90.
  • During training, I ran in the dark, in the rain, in the sun, in the snow, in multiple layers, in shorts, in Seattle, in Hawaii, in the morning (almost always), at night, in the middle of the day, occasionally twice in one day, with a stroller, with a double stroller, without any stroller, with a phone, without a phone, in shoes, out of shoes, with and without headphones, with and without music playing, and also podcasts, on a treadmill, on the street, on grass, on trails, on the beach, up hills, down hills, across flats…I ran well, I ran poorly…I ran a lot.
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Flippy clock flipping fast

Loic Djim

There’s a myth that time is money. In fact, time is more precious than money. It’s a nonrenewable resource. Once you’ve spent it, and if you’ve spent it badly, it’s gone forever.

-Neil A. Fiore

Having kids does a lot of things to you, but more than anything it puts this idea in stark relief. I have two that are younger than five, and I’ve thought about this idea of time-as-money a lot in the last few years.

It’s easy, especially when you’re young, to get lazy and feel like, Yeah, fuck it, I’ll have time for that later. For the most part, you look and feel the same as you have for years, and so it’s hard to really appreciate that time is passing.

When you have kids, you see time literally unfold in front of you. In the span of weeks or months, the people they are can completely evaporate, replaced by someone not entirely new, but definitely different. One day they’re crawling, a few weeks later they’re running around. They’re babbling one minute, and before you know it they speak sentences.

One day, you put your kids down and you never pick them up again.

It’s a young person’s game to worry about how much money you make. And for good reason. You’ve got student loans to pay. You’ve got rent. You’re under the (mistaken) impression that wealth is accrued by increasing the size of your paycheck.

But money — if you’re smart — can always be turned into more money. You can and will rapidly switch jobs for other, higher-paying jobs. It happens ridiculously fast sometimes.

But — you will never, ever get back the moment that just passed.

And at some point, you start to wonder:

  • Is it really that important to get into the office right on time every day?
  • Do you really need to check your phone, just in case?
  • Are you gaining anything by working harder or more often?

Why are you doing all this shit in the first place?

Seriously — why?

If you don’t know, don’t spend up your non-renewable time doing work just to do it. No one gives a fuck how hard you work or how many hours you put in. People care about results, sure, and some of them will reward you for good ones. And if you want that, go for it.

But know your limit. Don’t let someone else take time from you to get more for themselves.

Because that time? You’re never, never, never going to get it back.

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It's a picture of a lion lying on his ass, like he wants to get up, sort of

I woke up this morning to my two kids yelling at each other. (They share a room.) 5:30. A half-hour before my alarm was supposed to go off.

My throat had that sandpaper feel in it that comes right before you get sick. My legs were creaky from running six miles a couple days before. My son wanted an early breakfast.

I had every reason in the world to not run. But—I had 3 miles scheduled in my RunKeeper app.

So I got my son some breakfast and sent him back to bed. I stretched and got warm while I made sure he fell asleep. I drank some water. Put my shoes on. Waited around some more. And then I said to myself, Ughhhh, fuck it, I’ll do it, and stepped outside to run.

Here’s the crazy thing—my ‘fuck it’ run was one of the best ones I’ve had in a long time.

I was planning for this run to be shitty. I was just gonna check a box and move on with my day. Whatever. Not every run is great.

Then, about mid-run, this guy ran past me in the opposite direction. I recognized this guy from around the neighborhood. Dude’s always running. He’s one of those 50+ year-old guys who makes you feel like a dick because he’s trucking at like an 8-minute pace—uphill—while your 33-year-old ass hobbles along at a 12:30-something clip on flat ground.

Anyway.

I knew this guy was a hell of a runner so I watched his stride as he ran by. (Side note: I’m always trying to improve how I run, so I often stop to watch people as they’re running. It probably-definitely makes me look like a total creeper, but it’s for science.) He took these big, almost slow-motion steps. Which was the opposite of my short, staccato running style (that I adopted after I read Born to Run).

I leaned forward, flexed out my chest, and pushed my feet behind me in slow, big-ass strides, just like Old Fast Guy. It felt different. Softer. Like my legs wanted to do this. I could feel unworked muscles twitch to life.

It felt fucking amazing. I felt like a goddamn gazelle.

I sure-as-shit didn’t run like one—my pace still ended up being somewhere around 11:30. But still! That’s faster than normal for me.

None of that would have happened if I hadn’t said ‘Ughhhh, fuck it,’ and ran.

I read a post yesterday that talked about some advice from a Navy SEAL on how to be resilient. He said that every time he suffered a setback, he said “Good” to himself and carried on.

“I actually have a fairly, simple way of dealing with these situations. It’s actually one word to deal with these situations…and that is ‘Good.’ When things are going bad, there’s going to be some good that is going to come from it.”

“Good.” “Ughhh, fuck it, I’ll do it.” Same thing, right?

Hey, it worked for me. And that’s the whole point. I’m not a trained motivational expert. I’m not a psychologist. Maybe there are some drawbacks to talking in a negative voice instead of a positive one. But what I said to myself got me outside and running, which was what I wanted to do.

Use any word or phrase. Or make one up. As long as it helps you do the thing you want. Because sometimes, what looks like a pointless, shitty day might be the best day ever in disguise. And even if it’s not, you’ll have done something, which is better than nothing.

What word or phrase do you use to motivate yourself?

Tell me in the comments, because I’m sure I’ll get tired of “Ughhh, fuck it” after a while. Here are some others that I brainstormed:

  • (Sigh) Sure. I guess. Why not?
  • OK, but I’m drinking a beer immediately afterward.
  • Just go run for two minutes, and if it’s that bad, you can walk the rest of the way.
  • If there were a tidal wave chasing you right now, you could run easily.
  • If there were spiders chasing you right now, you could run easily.
  • You’ll run past apartments of people who decided to sleep in, and you will instantly be scientifically better than those people.

Again, share yours in the comments.

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I started my formal half-marathon training program on Monday. It was straightforward: Run three miles.

 

My alarm hit at 5 a.m., I warmed up for five minutes, and ran straight out and straight back on flat ground. Three miles. Steady.

On Wednesday, I had the exact same assignment: Run three miles.

My alarm hit at 5 a.m., I warmed up for five minutes, and then I went on a loopy ass hill course.

Guess what Friday’s task is? Yep—three miles.

It would be easy for this training course to become tedious. And it’s only Week One. By switching up how I tackle each workout—even though they’re technically the exact same—I’m able to stay interested because I’m doing something different.

That helps keep me motivated. And, more practically, it keeps my muscle groups guessing, which helps make me fitter.

I’ll probably try a bunch of other weird stuff between now and race day. Running around a track. Running barefoot. Hiking. (OK, it’s not all “weird.”)

Go ahead and figure out a way to apply this to anything. I know I do. It’s a hell of a lot easier to do the same thing over and over if you do it in a different way each time.

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a-picture-of-a-lady-who-is-tired-of-running

Doing it anyway is an exercise in mental fortitude.

I’ve had this George St. Pierre—the MMA/UFC fighter—quote in my head for quite a while. It’s about how not even he is immune to crappy training days. (He probably lifted it from someone else, but that’s beside the point.) The quote is:

You don’t get better on the days when you feel like going. You get better on the days when you don’t want to go, but you go anyway. If you can overcome the negative energy coming from your tired body or unmotivated mind, you will grow and become better. It won’t be the best workout you have, you won’t accomplish as much as what you usually do when you actually feel good, but that doesn’t matter. Growth is a long-term game, and the crappy days are more important.

I mean, what if most of your days are crappy days? I would argue that’s bound to happen at some point. And getting your reps in—I don’t care what you’re doing—is way more important, in the long run, than the quality of those reps.

Why a lot of crappy work is good, too.

Here’s a great example. I like to run. I’m almost always thinking about running a half-marathon (13.1 miles) or longer. Training for a half-marathon takes at least a couple months.

I also have small children. They get sick, a lot, so I do, too. The upshot is that, during any given training stretch, I’m likely to be sick for a week or more. I’m human, so, yeah, sometimes I end up just sitting around during a sick week.

But my good sick weeks are the ones where I’m able to convince myself to at least do something. OK, I’m not gonna get a nine-mile run in. But if I can run for one mile, or take a brisk walk for three, that’s way better than if I would have sat around eating Cheetos and watching TV.

This can go on for more than a week. Still—better than doing nothing at all.

Crappy work is by definition crappy. But it’s also by definition work.

Truly long-term crappy work is a problem. But a week? Two weeks? A month? That’s nothing in the grand scheme of a career or a life.

Do some crappy work. You’ll bounce back.

Photo: Unsplash

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Yet another reason to practice empathy.

If outsourcing was the greatest U.S. job-killer of the 20th Century, automation will be that for the 21st Century. Machines don’t just build cars anymore. They can run complex algorithms and analyze data. Soon, they’ll be able to put that data into action.

Even those of us in the creative industry have a right to worry. Artificial intelligence can already create a nonsensical, terrifying Christmas song. It’s not hard to imagine a world where that applies to all sorts of creative work.

So…fuck.

But the one thing robots can’t do is feel.

Artificial intelligence and automation will continue to improve—exponentially. But what it won’t be able to do—at least not for a long time—is stuff like read a room. Sense a mood. Know when to not say something.

And that’s the crux of what Megan Beck and Barry Libert at the Harvard Business Review say will be workers’ value in the not-so-distant future.

Skills like persuasion, social understanding, and empathy are going to become differentiators as artificial intelligence and machine learning take over our other tasks.

These skills are already valuable. But they’re about to become competitive. If you can relate to other people, you’re in much better shape than your wallflower coworkers.

Pretty soon, you won’t be able to beat a robot. So you’d better start practicing to become a better human.

This kind of robotic takeover of work is still years off. But probably not that many years. I’m 33, and it won’t surprise me if bots start replacing workers en masse before my kids start college. Look how fast the internet replaced physical objects (banks, books, newspapers, CD collections).

That’s scary. But it helps to prepare. I’m no mental health professional, but here are some things I recommend:

  • Read anything by Brené Brown, but particularly Daring Greatly.
  • Practice empathy—there are a lot of good resources online.
  • If you have the means, see a counselor or therapist regularly. (It’s  one of the best things I’ve done in my life. Plus, this type of person can give you better suggestions than I can.)
  • Get off your phone and talk to strangers.

Even if you feel like the least emotionally intelligent person in a room, you’ll be surprised how fast you can start to work through the fog.

Photo: Unsplash

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What you want to do, and what you can do, are sometimes two different things.

Two years ago, I ran a half-marathon. That’s 13.1 miles. It was the furthest I’d ever run in my life. And once I finished, I assumed I’d just keep running progressively further.

Didn’t work out that way.

Fast-forward to today. I’m not in half-marathon shape. I have two young kids. I have a job I love that on a slow week is 40 hours. I have commute time. Lunches. Laundry. Cleaning. And the sleep loss. God, the sleep loss.

I don’t have a whole lot of room in my life to run for an extended period of time. But I’m gonna run another half-marathon this year anyway.

How? Easy.

I’m going to run a shitty half-marathon.

I’ve already run a good half-marathon. This time, I’m going to do it shitty. Which means I’m going to adjust my definition of success. Specifically, downward. Here’s what that looks like for me:

  • I’m not aiming to finish in any particular amount of time.
  • If I have to run-walk the course, that’s fine.
  • When I can’t train, I’ll do the next-best thing (like getting off my bus a few stops early).

This sounds like cheating. Maybe it is. But the way my life’s structured right now, it’s a path to doing what I want to do.

It’s like that saying—”you can have it all; just not all at once.”

Maybe someday I’ll be a legit half-marathoner. Or at least, maybe I’ll run one in sub-two-and-a-half-plus hours.

That day is not today. It’s not this season, and it’s not even this year. That’s OK. I’ll still have fun trotting my way around more than a dozen miles of whatever city I’m in.

In the meantime, the rest of my life will continue to function the way I want it to, and the way I need it to. If all I have to do to achieve that is run a little slower or a little less, that sounds like a fair deal.

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