In 2016 I ran 459 miles — a few more than Mark Zuckerberg but less than I had hoped to pile up. This hope was built around an expectation that I would be focused enough to tend to my physical well-being in a way that makes sense to me now, as a 37 year old man: If I run, I can think more clearly and I feel better about the clothes I can fit into. If I don’t run, I am moody and puffy and generally not what I imagine to be the best possible version of myself.
This expectation is borne of how I lived in 2013, the year in which I ran 1,204 miles and my first marathon. Swash Labs and I were both a few years younger and certain aspects of my life both at work and at home seem as if they were simpler. This is symptomatic of the lens I use to look at that year: I ran more so everything must have been easier or less complex, allowing me to spend time on myself. I ran less in 2016 and felt every second of the year drag by, so clearly things were harder.
However, after thinking about 2013 for a while as I planned out my running goals for 2017, I clicked back one more screen in Garmin and looked at 2012, my first year as a runner. I ran 388 miles that year. Running 459 miles in 2016 feels like a failure, but those 388 miles in 2012 felt like some sort of incredible achievement, like I won the Nobel Prize for Basically Taking Care Of Your Own Damn Body For The First Time Ever. I went from living at a keyboard with a diet of mostly whisky and candy to understanding basic nutrition. I changed from someone who couldn’t run for more than 30 seconds at a time to someone who could run 10 miles without stopping. I lost 60 pounds. I, in effect, totally changed and remade myself into a new person from the inside out.
What I didn’t know then (and what I generally know now but forgot in the moment of being hard on myself for “only” running 459 miles last year) is that you more or less become a new person every day, and certainly every year. Yes, in 2013 it was fun to try on pants and not hate myself after five minutes, but creating an expectation out of that experience short-changes every other way in which I’ve grown and remade myself over the last few years, high mileage or not.
Running 388 miles in a year was once a miraculous accomplishment that set me on a path to greatly increased overall health, but ever since the 1,204 miles of the next year, I have been punishing myself for only running 450-600 miles while I spend time on other things.
I want to run much more this year, but I want to do it because it brings me joy, and helps me focus, and makes me better at everything else in my life. I am looking for ways to be kind to myself in 2017 because I know that will create space for me to be kind to other people. I am re-engaging in the battle for being present, because I know that the best gift I can give everyone else in my life that matters is my attention, and to truly listen.
Can we change? Or, perhaps more relevant on New Year's Day: Do we get better? I think we do, if we learn from the past without attachment, and without setting expectations for ourselves or others based on the different people we were, reacting to different circumstances in a different time. I always tell my kid she shouldn't compare herself to someone in the middle of a lifetime of doing something when she's just at the beginning. "Comparison is the thief of joy," I say. Well, so too is comparing yourself to yourself at different times and being hard on yourself about it. You can use it as a way to see the path to where you're going, but you'll never get there if you don't let yourself get started now - you can't dwell on the past.
If I spend less time interpreting and more time just being with people, or with my work, or with myself in 2017, I will have achieved a goal that will be far more satisfying than an arbitrary mileage number.
(Failing that, I bet a thousand miles by 2018 will at least give me the tools to keep working on the rest of myself.)