I've been thinking a lot about the general unrest inherent to these difficult times.
While some of its causes might be intuitive (disease, division, restrictions) I've been distressed at times by something smaller: I have a lot of time on my hands and I'm not always sure what to do with it. It's a petty complaint - probably a thinly-veiled first world problem - but it's a valid one nonetheless.
Like for many others, parts of my life are on hold. I don't travel much, I see few people, and I'm so deprived of new stimulus that my heart now races when the postman comes, even though I know full well that the only physical mail we get is the electric bill.
Days at home on PEI with my family are peaceful and nice. Yet, my sense of purpose lately is fleeting, and I am trying to understand why that feels like a problem. After all, if I'm bored, restless and looking for something to do, it probably means that I'm not sick or grieving. Why can't I just be happy with that much? Isn't a nice neutral sit in the living room watching re-runs of Jeopardy kind of a good deal right now?
Bestselling author Mark Manson wrote in his bestseller The Subtle Art of not giving a F*ck that happiness doesn't come from the absence of problems as much as it comes from the resolution of them. In other words, we need stuff to fix, progress to make, goals to chase to maintain a level of well-being. Ever go to Turks and Caicos to lie on the beach for three weeks? It's boring and it sucks after day five, probably.
After a while, we need a challenge. Stanford Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman echoes Manson, and said we are programmed on a neurochemical level to pursue goals.
Huberman said it's long been known that obtaining a goal, like getting a promotion or walking into your new house for the first time, can cause a spike in dopamine - a neurotransmitter that helps regulate feelings of pleasure and well-being. But the pursuit of those goals is just as important a source of dopamine. (He explains it well at the 11:45 mark of this video). In the house example, that could mean that you felt positive emotion not only when you got the house, but also every time you deposited money to save up for the house.
James Clear goes one step further than Huberman in his bestselling book Atomic Habits, and writes that the brain has far more neural circuits designed for wanting rewards than for liking them. In other words, chasing a goal could make you feel even better than actually achieving that goal.
So what happens in a time like now, when we aren't always sure what to chase?
Clearly, we have an existential problem: a lot of us are stable and safe and nailing Trebek's Daily Doubles, but are also in duress because our future goals are ambiguous. What's helped me deal with that problem is to spend time running. It's trivial to the rest of the world, but it provides me with goals to hit, which in turn gets me all dopamined up and distracts me from vagueness.
I've also seen Manson, Huberman and Clear's work manifest in my running. I am unfit, I am not winning races, and I am still far away from my best level of fitness. Yet, I am extracting just as much enjoyment from running as I ever did, perhaps because I see a path forward (provided I can keep healthy.) So I've come to believe that well-being doesn't depend on where we are as much as it depends on how we see the road ahead.
So it's with that in mind that I made the video above. This is what a week of training looks like for me right now. It's not my biggest week or my most intense, but it feels like a step towards something else. And that, chemically and otherwise, is exciting.
Till next time,
I'm starting a Youtube channel.
I've spent the last two years obsessed with a question: How can I run well and consistently, while staying healthy and keeping it fun?
I still don't know the answer, but I've noticed that people of all speeds tend to ask themselves the same question. So I've decided to make my own search for fitness and health public. Here is an update of where I am in my recovery:
Two years ago was the last time I felt optimistic about my own running. I had just run my personal bests: 3:47 in the 1,500m and 14:28 in the 5,000.
It was around the time that people were debating over the attractiveness of the dad bod and whether they heard Yanny or Laurel. Trump had just called himself a "very stable genius" and some people still believed him. 2018 was a lifetime ago.
Since then, I've been stuck in an injury cycle that's lasted roughly 22 months. That's so long that when a baby gets that old, the parents stop counting his age in months and finally just say "he's almost two."
The ailments were joint patellar and hamstring tendinopathy on my left side. At their worst, they made walking painful and running impossible. The timing of their onset was terrible - I stopped running two weeks before Runners of the Nish was published. After my book came out, I found that even more of my life revolved around running, in a time when I couldn't do it myself. It was a weird and hard thing to live with.
But lately, I've regained some health. I'm running 50km per week and can do the odd workout without feeling like my hamstring is about to peel off my leg or my patella is starting a localized bonfire. I'm not yet able to put my body through a full training load, but am currently durable enough to admit that I want to make a comeback to competitive running.
So these videos are meant to entertain and connect with others of all speeds who want to run faster, more consistently, and with more fun.
So what is this channel for?
A place to share content like the workout video above, training recaps, discussions with friends and experts, new training ideas, and maybe a parody song if I ever see Nick Falk again.
A documentation of my own attempt at staying healthy, running well and finding fitness, and eventually returning to competition.
A means of connection with a community of runners trying to keep things fun and light in less-than-fun-and-light times.
What's this channel not for?
Teaching - I hope to explore ideas for better training, but I mean for those stories and exchanges to be taken as anecdotal. I have a kinetics degree but that doesn't mean I know what's best for you or that I listened in class.
Speed flexing - I am not here to show off my own running (there are many faster runners out there). I aim for my videos to be fun and helpful for runners of all speeds.
Promoting - There is no agenda here. If someone does send me as much as a rocky road granola bar, I'll make it clear that the wrapper on my desk is a prop.
Thanks for reading and watching, see you soon.