I have been doing the same 4.4 mile walk/jog since the summer began, three to five times a week. It started as a mostly-walk and is now a mostly-jog. There’s nothing magical about 4.4 miles except that the path hits a milestone at 2.2 miles from my house, and it’s a perfectly good place to turn around. Today I ran all the way there, took a deep breath, and ran most of the way back. I finally needed to slow to a walk, catch my breath, but finished in a sprint. In another week or two I’ll probably be able to run the whole way there and back without stopping — traffic at two intersections permitting — and then the really hard part will kick in: doing it anyway. Getting out there and running the same 4.4 miles three or five times a week, in all seasons, just for the health and fitness benefits of sustaining my ability to do so.
It’s one thing to enjoy the slow progress toward a goal, and another thing to simply keep doing something you’ve already done. That’s always been my failing when it comes to fitness. I can reach a reasonable goal, I just can’t sustain my interest once I get there. I’ve trained for ten mile runs, ran them, then lost interest. I’ve done the same with bike rides, and stair master workouts, and weight-lifting. In the same way I’m good at doubling up and paying off loans quickly, but uneven on the ability to save up for a rainy day. I’m good at losing weight, but bad at staying a healthy weight. I can get highly motivated to straighten out my drawers and shelves, but unable to stay organized. I’m good at specific goals, but lousy at the abstract ‘maintenance’ type of goal.
So now, as I jog back toward home, the thoughts running through my head are: how do I keep this up? What will happen next?
I see the full-time joggers out there, with monitors strapped to their torsos, their fists pumping the air, their eyes to the clouds. They live for shaving a minute off their time, prep for marathons. And that could be me, but the gains become smaller, and getting there becomes harder. And the truth is, I just don’t like running that much.
I’m also losing weight. Last winter I had the wake-up-call when I went to the doctor and the first digit came up as a 2 — not good for a guy who is five foot seven. I vowed to lose thirty pounds, and I am now hovering around 28 pounds toward that goal. (The running is a big part of that, diet is the other). As luck would have it, I am likely to hit the weight goal in a week or two. I could even do it the same day: take my 4.4 mile run, no stops, and sweat out the final ounce of that thirty pounds.
Then what? I’m already well out of the high-risk area for my weight, and don’t need to be a perfect physical specimen. I’ll have lost the motivating goal of seeing the tick marks toward my goal, and have to learn to love the long plateau of staying there. Yawn.
People sometimes ask me how I find the wherewithal to keep cranking out books when I have a day-job and a family, and I answer that I don’t know. I really don’t. I have no track record of being highly motivated for sustained periods of time. But I have found a plateau… I write regularly, if not every day. I take a day off here and there, but usually write a few hundred words five to seven days a week. I take a week or two off, turn my attention to other things — often reading — then come back to it. Most importantly, I reach a goal of a first draft and find the motivation to care as much about a revision.
It’s a habit I only got into well into my thirties, after years of haphazard piddling punctuated by brief flurries of antic activity. And I don’t know exactly why I turned the corner, except that I came to appreciate that progress in some things is slow, and to enjoy the process. I also came to depend on a circle (ever widening) of fellow writers who know what I’m doing and value it, and I came to believe in myself. Maybe I’ll do that with running, and find a way to make it work with my other obligations, find a circle of other middle-aged parents who are content with a middling pace. Or maybe I won’t, because my other obligations are a higher priority. I just want to give myself the added years–even decades–that regular diet and exercise can theoretically give me for those other priorities.