Running, Writing, and Productivity

Meb Keflezighi
Meb Keflezighi, of San Diego, Calif., breaks the tape to win the 118th Boston Marathon Monday, April 21, 2014 in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Over the last few days, I’ve increased my speed on the treadmill. I felt an uptick in energy, so I took advantage of it and pushed myself. I’ve been running steadily this summer, averaging 3.5-4.5 miles five days a week. My triumph has been consistency.

I missed the 5K I’d intended run back in June before my birthday (calendar conflict), so I’m planning to run one in October. I would like to run at least two 5Ks a year as part of my routine, long-term goals that keep me connected to the incremental goal of daily running.

For me, running is a solitary activity and I think it will be fun to participate in a group run. 5Ks are no big deal, less competitions, more fun runs. But, if this project has taught me anything, it’s taught me the importance and transformative power of meeting small, sustained goals.

This morning I read an article in The New Yorker, Meb Keflezighi, Bernard Lagat, and the Secret to Running Forever. While I doubt I’ll ever run a marathon, the habits of elite athletes, especially older runners, intrigue me. Both Meb (who is known by his first name) and Lagat train hard; their lifestyles revolve around their commitment to running. But the time actually spent running is less than I’d assumed; for Meb it’s only 12 hours a week. The common denominators and the key to longevity for these two athletes is a relaxed attitude and lots of rest.

I am one of those anxious types who believes stress means hard work and rest is lazy. It’s a complete shift in perspective to think about a relaxed attitude and rest not only as essential parts of a healthy routine but key factors in achieving challenging goals.

For Meb, rest literally means taking a nap. The body and brain at rest. Meb’s not standing around scrolling through 25 tabs on his phone, checking social media, rushing to answer texts and emails–my go-to downtime activity, one I often mistake for a “break” or rest. But screentime is the opposite of rest. It short-circuits my brain and zaps my energy. Not to mention, it steals valuable minutes that quickly add up. I know this. And yet, there I am again, falling down the rabbit hole.

On my way to the gym, I listened to a podcast with Lena Dunham interviewing Zadie Smith about the keys to productivity. Smith, a prolific author, said she was addicted to the internet, would sooner spend 4 hours on Google than write. It’s an addiction she believes is partly generational–we are the same age–that we succumb to more easily because we did not grow up with the internet. Smith’s solution: she blocks internet access from her computer when writing. She also traded her smartphone for a flip phone, which makes texting cumbersome, so if she is arguing with her husband, she’s more likely to stop texting and just call him and tell him to “fuck off,” which wastes far less time. It’s a great interview–and brief!

Now, of course, the irony is I found these ideas around productivity and achievement by falling down said internet rabbit hole (the New Yorker article was in my Twitter feed, and I follow Dunham’s podcast). A perfect finale to the great time wastage and distraction of the interwebs. I’m not getting a flip phone or buying one of those programs that blocks the internet, but I’m going to take a social media break, wait to answer non-urgent texts and emails, and attempt to apply the singular focus of Meb and Smith to my writing and running. I’m hoping that, in addition to increasing my speed and productivity, it will also facilitate a more relaxed attitude. And maybe all those saved minutes will allow time to rest–I’ll see what the toddler has to say about that.

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