Joy in my running

This year, I decided to do something different when it came to my running. I decided that I needed to really focus on the joy and love of running, and not get caught up in big race goals. I had really struggled with peaking strong in early 2016, and then falling into a major slump with many DNS’s and DNF’s. I knew that if I wanted to keep running, I had to rediscover how to find joy in running again.

During the middle of 2017 I decided to re-focus myself on doing shorter races, so that I could get back into the swing of things and enjoy what I’m doing. It ended up working out great. Although 2017 ended up being a somewhat lower mileage year for me, I felt much stronger heading in to 2018. When I started this year, I only had one goal. I wanted to get back in to 50K shape again. I had no races on my calendar for the entire year, and I was OK with that. Before I signed up for anything, I wanted to feel like I was ready.

I started out the year picking up my basic training plan again, and tried to follow it as best I could. It wasn’t the perfect training cycle, but as I talked about in my Chippewa 50K report, it got the job done. Once again, after Chippewa I didn’t sign up for anything until I felt like I was ready, and this led to doing the Treasured Haven Farms 12 hour run, pretty much spur of the moment. I knocked out another 50K distance at that race, and once again, felt good coming out of it. Without planning it at all, I had done two 50K’s, four weeks apart. I’ve never done two 50K’s in a year before, let alone a month apart.

IMG_2528.JPGThis past weekend I decided to try something just for fun. I decided to run a 1 mile loop around Silverwood Park in New Brighton, MN, for as long as I felt like it. This is a simple paved path around the park with only a little bit of elevation change. I started at 6AM, setting up a small aid station in my car. It was a cool morning, but the humidity was already thick. I didn’t have any type of goal, so I just kept plugging away, figuring I’d quit whenever I felt like it was too warm and annoying.

After 10 miles I changed direction to give myself some different scenery, stopping at my car every couple of laps to drink fluids and eat food. As things got warmer and warmer I looked at my watch and realized I was at 17.5 miles. Twenty sounded like a good round number, so I set that as my goal and pounded out a couple final laps. I got back to my car and slammed back a bunch of fluids. I realized that despite having just ground out 20 miles on pavement, I wasn’t feeling THAT beat up. This was a first for me.

Normally, when I hit mileage like 20 miles (especially on pavement), I’m hobbling for the rest of the weekend. Saturday though, I felt fine and was moving pretty darn good. I got home and cleaned up, and then we went and stuffed our faces with good food. I was tired, and so a nap was in order, but at no point was I feeling so exhausted that I couldn’t move.

The next morning I decided to do a systems check and headed out for my standard 3 mile run. There was a tiny bit of stiffness in my right hip, but that passed very quickly. I managed to blow through my three mile run with negative splits, each one 30+ seconds faster than the previous. This is less than 24 hours after Saturday’s run, and I was feeling just fine. I even went for a 15 mile bike ride later in the day and felt good.

This is how I’ve been wanting my running to feel for a long time. What it took for me to get there was a refocusing of my goals away from external ones (running goal races) to internal ones (incremental personal achievements). There was an article that I read recently that talked about how we shouldn’t verbalize our big goals to others. We often get the same “high” and sense of satisfaction from telling people about our goals, that we would if we did the work and completed them. We’ve already gotten the serotonin hit, so it makes it hard to actually follow through. The flip side, is that when we fail to reach the goal, not only are we disappointed in our selves for not reaching them, but we’re also sad because we feel like we’ve let people down that have been cheering for us.

img_2799That’s why I’ve gone in to this year with all of my goals being personal, internal, goals. I wanted to get back to 50K shape. This past weekend I wanted to run loops on pavement. Some weekends I just go explore somewhere with only a vague mileage goal in mind. Things like that have made me more likely to get out there and get things done. I have shared some of these goals with my wife, and 1-2 close friends, but mostly I’ve kept it all off of social media. Even if I decide that I want to target something big, I’m probably likely to keep it to myself until I’m actually ready to do it.

Today, I still don’t have any races scheduled. When I feel like signing up for one I will. That does mean that I often have to let go of races that fill up quickly, but on the flip side, it means that I get to run some smaller races that might be even more fun. It also means that sometimes I need to be creative, and make up something. Running 20 miles around Silverwood is silly, but it was fun for me. In many ways I’m just getting back to old-school trail running where you grab a couple buddies and go knock out something crazy just for the heck of it.

What this comes down to is that, this year, I’m a happier runner, and a more joyful runner. I look forward to getting out there (most of the time), and I’m feeling healthy and strong. I’ve already surpassed my usual mid-year mileage and have a nice steady curve going. But the beauty of doing this for my own happiness means that I don’t need to worry about if I decide to scale it all back and take it easy. It’s all up to me, not a race schedule, and that’s incredibly freeing.

When the run feels good

My running schedule this week is a bit off. My birthday is Friday, and I’m taking the day off of work. Because we have the MN United home opener on Saturday, I’m going to move my long run to Friday this week instead of Saturday. That will give me more time Saturday morning before the 1:00pm game. Because this shifts my entire week a bit, I decided to do my Tuesday morning run tonight (Monday).

This worked out for a couple reasons, the first being that my run was scheduled to be 9 miles. That normally means I need to get up at 4am to get it done before work. Secondly, the temps tonight were amazing, in the mid-30s. It would be in the 20s at 4am, so tonight sounded much more appealing. Therefore, I packed up after dinner and headed out.

My plan had been to do my traditional 6 mile loop, followed by my 3 mile loop. However, about a mile into it, I made the choice to take a left instead of a right and take a slightly bigger loop. As I proceeded out of my neighborhood the loop got bigger and bigger, until I managed to swing all the way down to Columbia Heights and turn the entire evening into one big 9 mile loop.

I ended up having a blast doing some urban exploring through neighborhoods, and thinking on my feet as to where to turn next to keep the loop nice and big. At one point my headlamp batteries died, and as luck would have it I was only a block from a Walgreen’s. They take Apple Pay, and so I grabbed some new AAA’s and was off again. My eventual goal was to make it over to Main Street in Fridley, crossing back over 694 on the new pedestrian/bike bridge they just completed this summer.

I stopped on the bridge and snapped a quick selfie with the freeway as the backdrop. The grin on my face tells the story of how much fun I was having. I wasn’t going quite as fast as I wanted to, but that was mostly due to a lot of patches of refreezing ice. My slightly slower pace also meant that I was pretty well rested and felt amazing. I was relaxed, my feet felt good (partially thanks to some brand new shoes), and I was able to just lock into cruise control.

Soon I was back into my subdivision, only to receive a call from my boss about something at work I needed to take care of. That put a bit of fire back in my step, and my 9th mile was sub-10, my fastest of the night. I arrived home feeling really good and strong. I’m tired for sure, but I know I could have kept going if I had wanted to.

I love it when a run feels good, and you feel the joy of the endorphins. Tonight was one of those nights that makes me remember why I do this crazy stuff. I got to get a great run in, and I combined it with a bit of urban exploration, which always a bit of fun for me. I know every run won’t feel like this, so I’m going to savor this one for a bit and try and remember it for as long as I can.

Happiness, fulfillment, and identity

Something that has been on my mind a lot lately are questions of identity, happiness, and fulfillment. I’ve been dealing with a lot of mental angst about my career, and my place in life over the past few years. Perhaps it’s just a mid-life crisis, but I’m struggling with who I am, and where I’m going in the second half of my life. This post is probably going to get very long winded but I feel like I need to put pen to paper to help myself make sense of it all.

Growing up, I decided my career path when I was 13. I was going to be a pastor, and so I structured everything in my academic life around that goal. I got a B.A. in History with the intention of going on to Seminary. Shortly after starting seminary I met my first wife, and practical life took over. I fell into a career in the technology field because it was something that I was very talented at. I had been a computer geek since I was 8 years old, and even ran a computer BBS out of my bedroom all throughout high school.

In the early 90’s the internet boom was upon us and my proclivity towards computers came in very handy. I loved using technology to solve problems, and I was rather good at it. Being a liberal arts kinda guy, I tended to look at the big picture, and come up with creative solutions to things, even if they weren’t, strictly speaking, the best “computer science”. It made for a good career, and some of my best work was done between 1994 and 2008. However, in 2002 I still felt like I needed to pursue this theology endeavour so I started taking night classes.

I really loved going to Seminary, and I was reasonably good at it as well. I spent 2002-2007 attending classes, and over that time period changed from being a Protestant to a Catholic, and underwent a painful divorce. To say that my life went through some powerful changes would be an understatement. I completed my degree, but given the circumstances of my life, pastoring a church was simply not going to happen.

In 2008 I moved my career away from being strictly technical, to being an architect. I still played an important technical role, but I was more of a planner and designer at a system level. Enterprise Architecture can be a key component of an organization as it defines how it’s business and technology works, from a big picture perspective. My time as an architect was pretty fulfilling, but I would still feel like I wasn’t achieving as much as I used to.

I enjoyed the work, but always felt the pull to climb the corporate ladder and making more money. I made some career choices between 2008-2015 that had me jumping around every couple of years, moving up from System Architecture into Enterprise Architecture and eventually, management. I had this sense that I needed to keep moving higher and higher in the world because that was simply what you were expected to do as a middle aged guy. Now, here I sit in a job that I struggle with (but am good at), wondering what I do next in my life.

Even though I’ve never really thought about it, I think that somewhere in my brain I felt that if I wasn’t achieving new heights, I wasn’t happy or fulfilled. If I truly wanted to be happy I needed to be doing something in my job that made me happy, because my job was my identity, and my identity was all I had to define myself by. When I had made the choice as a child, to be a pastor, it was easy to equate vocation with identity. Pastors live a life where their vocation defines who they are. Perhaps that’s not the case for all pastors, but that is the image for many. My identity was to be a pastor, and then when that didn’t pan out in 2008, I ended up in  cycle of continually changing jobs trying to seek that next identity that would make me happy.

When my current wife went back to school I got a slight reprieve from my own inner angst, since I could live a bit vicariously through her, and her life change. Now that she has completed her journey, I’m once again at a crossroads. A few weeks ago, The Oatmeal, posted a comic that talked about happiness, and on the same day, my wife came home from her job with a revelation about happiness. The general gist of it all is that trying to find happiness in a job is fleeting. Happiness very rarely comes from what we do for our vocation, but is what we do with out lives. My wife LOVES what she does, and is tremendously fulfilled, but when she stopped trying to make her job account for her happiness, she ended up feeling a million times better. She finds her happiness in many other things in life, that her job pays for.

I’ve given lip service to the notion of “work to live, not live to work” many times in my life, but my wife is a living example of what that truly means. This is where I come to the crux of this entire thought process. Despite not looking to her job for happiness, she finds fulfillment in it. That is a key distinction that I think many of us often miss, including myself. The times in my life when I felt the most fulfilled in my job, were times when I was solving problems in a hands-on way. It was during times when I really felt ownership and responsibility for something, and saw it through to completion. As I was having conversations with someone recently, I realized that my biggest accomplishments in the technology world were back in 2002, despite being a lowly application developer.

That conversation got me thinking a lot about what I want to do in life, and how I create an identity for myself. I’ve also realized I’ve had a bit of envy for a friend of mine who seems to really know how he wants to identify himself with in the second half of his life. He has a plan and a desire for what he wants his life legacy to be about, and there’s a sense of jealousy around that. Not that I desire to follow the exact same path he’s following (though maybe), but that he has such a vision for what he wants to be known for in life. I’m not sure that I have that same vision yet.

So here I am, contemplating how I give up on expecting my job to bring me happiness, yet finding a job that leaves me fulfilled. I’m learning to find happiness in other things. As I’m writing this journal I’m sitting in the middle of a State Park by a campfire. I just finished volunteering at a trail race, and biking down a State Trail for 30 miles. I love being outside and being active, despite being older with a beer belly, and knowing I’ll never win any awards for what I attempt.

Fulfillment in a job will probably mean letting my aspirations for management, directorship, and executive level leadership take a back seat. I feel like I’m too young, and too capable yet, to just stop contributing in a real way. I still know how to get things done, and I want to keep doing things that actually make a real impact on the day-to-day. But I need to let go of letting my identity get wrapped up in my job. I need to find a way to let my job be my job, and my life be my identity. Maybe that means branching out into other things in my personal time, but it certainly means letting my passions drive more of who I am, and not just “stuff I do”.

Life is a long journey, and I’m only halfway there. I have a lot of time left to make an impact on the world, and leave my mark on it. Maybe that will be something new and crazy, or maybe I just need to get out of management and planning and start being hands-on more. I know I don’t have any answers yet, but I know that all of my thinking over the recent months will eventual pan out into something. I just need to be patient as I figure out what that is.