I was talking to my friend Susan the other day about this series of posts.  She’s a runner. We’ve been following each other’s progress since Nik & I started 4 Feet Running in 2007.  She’s run loads of marathons and tried a bit of CrossFit recently too.

She said my last post, where I went examined first year with CrossFit, was “anti-running.”  She didn’t mean it in a hostile way — just sort of noting the fact.  It made me think. And after thinking about it, yeah, I agree. It is anti-running a little bit. You could say the same for a lot of the posts I’ve written here.1
But I’m not so much “anti-running” as “anti-running-exclusively” — for me, mainly, but probably I’d suggest for most people who want to lose fat and be all-around fit.  I don’t believe anymore that running can do that by itself.  Great things happen in terms of fat loss and muscle creation when you combine reasonable amounts of cardio with strength training, and running all the time by itself only made me better at running, to the extent that my body composition and experience and training would allow.  But what the hell, I’m not an expert.

I should be clear also that I’m mainly concerned about me.  I don’t much care what other people do, because (a) I’m really self-involved and (b) what other people do is their business, and if they want to run all day every day or lift weights all day every day, lose fat, gain fat, stay the same, or don’t much care what they look like or how they perform, or want to keep trying a particular strategy until the cows return to their domicile no matter what results they get, that’s up to them.  Have a ball.  I’m snarky about running-only because of this: over the past year I’ve gone back and forth between being pleased as punch about my progress and furious at myself — me, Dan from 4 Feet Running, who was a nice enough guy, kind to animals, quiet at parties, a portly gent, who did several years of half-assed long slow distance running and ended up getting moderately better at being a half-assed long slow distance runner, but hoped one day he’d end up with the leaner and stronger physique of someone who lifts weights, yet just kept doing cardio, didn’t actually do anything proven to reach that goal of losing fat and building muscle.  And if that’s what Dan wanted, then he could’ve and should’ve done something about it earlier. Basically I regret that I didn’t do sooner what works for me now.

All this said…

There are several things I miss about running. These things are hard to replicate given my current strength-based exercise habits.

I thought it might be fun to talk about 5 of them.

1. Going places

Nik and I talk about this all the time when we drive through neighborhoods that we used to run through regularly. In our running days we used to see all kinds of fun stuff on foot, right up close. We had all of Fall River mapped out by mileage. It was 2 miles from our house to a big weeping willow tree and back. We had a regular 3-mile route on a boardwalk along the waterfront to a carousel and back. Another 3-miler took me from the house to the quaint, shady cemetery where Lizzie Borden is buried. Nik’s 4-mile route was a ferociously steep hilly one north, and I never attempted it — I had a different 4-mile route that took me east by the vocational high school and in a neighborhood near my aunt’s house.  My usual 5-miler was a massive loop that was uphill at first then fast and flat, going past the community college and high school, then cut into downtown through the Portuguese neighborhood where I grew up, past an old pharmacy and a bakery and the dirty movie store, then eventually heading by the park near my parents’ house. The 6-mile loop was a major one — it went into a quiet, rural section of town where people keep goats. And it wasn’t an out-and-back, so if you embarked on the 6-mile loop and 2.5 miles in got tired, tough shit. Nik introduced me to her 7-mile route, where we got to run southeast past the Rolling Rock, this massive boulder sitting in the middle of an intersection, deposited there thousands of years ago by a glacier. The turnaround point was at this baseball diamond way the hell and gone in another section of the city by the highway, with barrels conveniently located for chucking empty gel packets. I know we had a specific 8-miler but can’t remember it offhand. I know sometimes I’d do the 4-mile loop twice, or do the 5-mile route and then the 3-miler. The 9-miler took us west over the bridge into the next town over, along their waterfront to their town beach. I ran a 10-miler once with Nik heading south into the next state, touching the “Welcome to Rhode Island” sign, and turning around and going back. Nik had 11-mile routes, 12-mile routes, 13s and 14s and 15s and so on — all mentally mapped out, all with their own unique features and landmarks and histories. During the hot summer months we had routes that were good to run with the dogs because I knew there would be rain puddles for Stanley to drink from. There’s a guy I used to see all the time when I went out running, this middle-aged dude with a mustache who I’m pretty sure used to be the police chief — we’d nod at each other all the time.  I saw him just the other day after an absence of many months. We nodded again.

I’ve been trying to organize all my photos from the past several years, and I noticed how many of them were running-related. We ran everywhere — down Commonwealth Avenue in Boston and Hope Street in Bristol and Bellevue Avenue in Newport, past cranberry bogs in Lakeville, along the beach in Mattapoisett, by upscale suburban homes in Wellesley, by projects in New Bedford. We ran through Philadelphia a bunch of times. I saw a homeless man pissing into a coffee cup on an early morning run in Berkeley, California. I ran through Salem and Savannah and St. Augustine. I ran through Providence and Pawtucket and New York and New Jersey. I ran across the 50-yard line at Gillette Stadium. It really is fascinating to visit these places on foot.

I lift weights either in my garage or at my CrossFit box.  What this tells me is that I need to get out more.

2. Listening to podcasts

At one point podcasts were by far the bulk of my listening diet. I had loads of them on my iPod — running ones, yes, and science, literature, movies, news, TV, history, and on and on. I went trawling for new ones all the time. I spent at least a couple of hours running around every week, and that’s where I listened to them.

Since I don’t go running for a couple of hours a week anymore, the number of podcasts I regularly check in with has plummeted from 25ish to about 3, maybe 4. I don’t even get to them right away. I let them pile up and tear through them one after the other while doing something other than exercise.  The other day I caught up with five Running From The Reaper episodes in a row at 1.5x playback  speed while shoveling snow. Speaking of which, hope your foot feels better, Nigel. Oh, and I’m kind of sad that Parkrun doesn’t exist in my area because they sound fun and I’d probably do one every so often. And I snicker every time you spot a pair of Great Tits.

I don’t listen to podcasts while lifting weights. I haven’t tried, but I’m pretty confident you’re not supposed to have a headphone cord flapping around when you’re cleaning and jerking a heavy barbell. I guess I could have have them going on a stereo. Maybe I’ll try that. But it seems wrong somehow. Podcasts sound weird when they’re not piped directly into my earholes.

3. Thinking about stuff

You know that brain thing, where you shut it off? It’s hard for me to do that. People have told me they sort of meditate while running. I think that’s what Zen Runner has said happens to him on a run — he’s called it “moving meditation” before. I assume that means people get into a zone where their legs move on their own and they blank out mentally. That never happened much with me. I used to use running time to think about loads of things. I came up with new story ideas and played around with old ones. I’d think about fitness plans and decide which races to run next, plan out my year. Recaps of whole weeks would be rebroadcast in my brain. Back when Nik & I recorded the podcast, I would mentally edit it and decide which music cues to use when, so that by the time we were done running I could sit down in front of GarageBand already with an idea which chunks to delete and what songs to insert. It was a nice way to multitask.

You know that brain thing, where you shut it off? It’s hard for me to do that.

When I lift weights or do CrossFit, I think about nothing. Zero. It’s either that zen state or brain damage. The other day I had to do as many rounds as possible of 10 jumping lunges, 10 push-ups, and 10 pull-ups. The whole time, all I’m thinking is, “One … two … three …” and so on until I hit 10.  Then I start at one again. That’s it. Some workouts, I emerge from them afterward and it’s like I’ve had a nap.  I look back afterward and try to recall what I was thinking about and realize I wasn’t.

That’s why I find it relaxing — it’s hard for me to turn off otherwise. But on the other hand I used to get more done. So there you go.

4. Being with the dogs

Not going to lie. I barely run lately, and the main reason why I do at all is because I feel bad for my dogs.  Stanley and Myrna used to log pretty major mileage when Nik & I were both running regularly. We had a Buckeye Outdoors account for them.  Stanley comes running when we put on workout clothes  — he doesn’t do that when I put on jeans and Chuck Taylors — and pitches a fit until we leash him up.

In the past year, that’s gone to shit. I dress up to go lift weights in the garage and Stanley gets all excited and then this look of disappointment crosses his cute little fucking face, and he lies down on the floor like a sack of potatoes.  They used to run all the time. Now they get walks and occasional runs. With the holidays and the baby taking up a lot of my time and energy, and a load of crusty snow and ice on the sidewalks, it’s even harder to take them out. Sometimes when we do take them out for walks, the baby will decide it’s a fine idea to pitch a conniption fit after about 10 minutes, and we have to turn back for home. The dogs get into more trouble in the house when they’re not properly exercised, to say nothing of the fact that they wander around looking depressed. Which makes me depressed.

This has to change. Although Stanley’s getting older and his stiff legs can’t handle the runs the way he used to. So I don’t know exactly what to do.  I just feel bad.  Not going to lie (again). I feel like a shitty father to them. Stanley and Myrna are like my kids and I’m their crappy neglectful dad who doesn’t take them out for ice cream. One of my cats died not long ago and I felt like a shitty father there too. Then I play with the baby and she cries and I feel like a shitty father to a human being for a change.  So I don’t even know what in the fuck this one has to do with running anymore. I’ll move on.

5. Running with people

Nik & I used to run together quite often for the podcast, but we ran together quite often besides that too. I wouldn’t have started running at all, would not have kept it up, and would not be talking to you now, if she didn’t push me along. We spent lots of hours out there shooting the shit and exercising.  We don’t get to exercise together anymore, and that’s a damn shame.

One of my nicest running memories was in February of 2011. John Vaughn and I had both been recently laid off from our jobs. Nik, John, and I decided since we didn’t have anywhere to be anymore, we should get together and see Mattapoisett on foot. The roads were caked with ice and it was freezing cold.  We commiserated for a while about our lot in life and ran for a couple of miles. Three or four, something like that. No pressure — just some simple exercise, good views, chit-chat and a coffee afterward. That’s nice. Another thing: the Mojo Loco from St. Augustine to Daytona Beach is probably one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever been lucky enough to have. I’m really grateful that Zen Runner and Maddy, who organized the Mojo Loco, were nice enough to think of Nik & I and invite us. We had the privilege of spending a day goofing off with some of the greatest people in the online running community, and as a bonus we got to run a 50-mile relay. I was backing up my laptop the other day and came across those photos, and all the memories of that long, sweaty day suddenly hit me again.

You can certainly lift weights with other people.  I take CrossFit classes with a lot of friends. But when I get into it, I zone out. I don’t really do a lot of talking because my brain goes into Sleep Mode. I suppose people do CrossFit competitions and powerlifting events and whatnot, but I’m not sure it’s the same vibe as a running event. I did a Pizza Helen at CrossFit not long ago for Charity — it’s where you do the Helen WOD (3 rounds of 400 meters run, 21 kettlebell swings, and 12 pull-ups) but eat a slice of pizza between each round. That was loads of fun. I got to hang out with other Crossfitters and listen to them burp and groan while doing pull-ups. But it didn’t quite compare to a full day of running along the Atlantic Ocean with a dozen friends. And I can’t picture having pleasant chit-chat with people about applying for unemployment while hoisting a barbell over my head.  Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe I’ll try it next time, if I can pull my brain cells back into consciousness.*

  1. Here’s where I brag about how I was able to smash my 5K PR by barely running at all. Here is where I called running “a cult.” Here is where I said I wouldn’t want skinny elite runners to move a couch for me.