No Time Like The Present

2024 has been the year for speeding up (a move to California in 3 weeks), for slowing down (my marathon time, which was also in California), and for letting go (recently ditching wearing my Apple Watch every day).

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about the move soon (after it happens) but I don’t think I have it in me to recap the marathon. What I do want to type about is embracing a far less quantified self than I’ve been accustomed to for the better part of a decade: my Apple Watch.

Funnily enough the Apple Watch, and specifically the Clockology app, got me excited about traditional automatic and quartz wristwatches to the point that I bought an Orient Mako II and later a couple Casio G-Shock models and numerous micro brand watches.

The reason the Apple Watch hasn’t felt fun recently is the osteoarthritis in my knee. If I’m not running regularly – and I’m not – it means I’m not closing my rings and I’m not meeting the (admittedly) arbitrary goals I set for myself years ago.

It’s been a net drain on my mental health to have a tether on my wrist that feels slightly like it’s shaming me. Over the past month I only used it to get notifications from my phone, which has been a little overwhelming during a house sale, subsequent house purchase 2,000 miles away, and planning for the move.

Between my athletic deficiencies and my desire not to be pinged every thirty seconds, I decided to start wearing my other watches.

I’ve been matching my eyewear to my GA-2200-2A and fixing my solar chronograph for the Summer. I’ve broken out my all-red GA-2100-4A to warm it up before football season, and I even wore my modded Casio World Time over the holiday weekend.

The negative is that I’m definitely not keeping up with my fitness habits, but I feel so much lighter and less stressed without reminders every hour and every day that I’m falling short of my goals. But those goals were never meant to be set in stone and I’ve needed to adjust them for a while. Plus the break I’m taking from being so completely tied to my phone has given me the mental and emotional space to breathe and I’ve needed that.

(In an ironic twist I don’t track my breathing exercises like I do when I wear my Apple Watch, but I can metaphorically breathe easier.)

It may not seem like much but whatever fashion sense I do have is enhanced by a fun watch. Some are colorful (see the links above), some have fun complications like a compass bezel or a chronograph, but they all have more personality than the Apple Watch.

So for tonight the Apple Watch is charging on my nightstand waiting for my next run or workout. While it’s not in use I think I’ll be shopping for another fun watch for Fathers Day.

I know I don’t need another timepiece, just like I don’t need new eyeglass frames, but having variety to help dress up or down my wardrobe makes me happy. I also know I love the Apple Watch and want to use it mindfully as only a fitness tracker for a while.

It was time for a change of pace now that my pace of life (running, moving) demanded one. There’s no time like the present and if you’re checking your watch the time you see is always the present.

Time In A Bottle

I think my earliest memory of a piece of media that resonated with me emotionally is Jim Croce’s “Time In A Bottle” on The Muppet Show.

Now this episode originally aired October 10, 1977 just before my 1st birthday so I must’ve seen it in re-runs. This is how I was exposed to The Muppet Show as a kid, since we didn’t have cable when we lived in Michigan. We got the big 3 network affiliates, PBS, and WGN.

There’s something about the poignancy and sadness of that song juxtaposed with the scientist aging in reverse that still speaks to me today. I know I heard Croce’s version on the radio or on a record as a kid too, and I think I’ve always been drawn to that wistful, romantic vibe.

Anyhow, just some mid-week musings from someone who doesn’t like to delve too much into nostalgia. I just watched it again and wanted to share.

Everyday Poetry

Earlier this month I took the opportunity to have a fantastic lunch at Bone Garden Cantina with my dear friend Troy. We had been threatening to catch up since prior to last Thanksgiving but some combination of parental duties and holidays got in the way every time. Thankfully we had a sunny, crisp January afternoon to reminisce and reacquaint after a prolonged absence.

Troy is what some would call an “old soul” but I always think of him as a Renaissance man. He loves denim, Auburn, photography, and his kids. He can hold court on the topic of live-streaming video, but is equally comfortable sharing his favorite verse – from song or poetry – he enjoys good beer, and is a fantastic dancer.

In the extended run-up to our reunion, I was reminded of a poem Troy would quote during the introspective stretches of our March Madness tenure. They were the last two lines of The Summer Day by Mary Oliver.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA
Copyright 1992 by Mary Oliver

The stories we shared that afternoon were reminders of how we were both dealing with our wild and precious lives in ways that were at once similar, but also worlds apart. Troy has had to deal with some immense loss and change over the last 3 pandemic years, and I guess I have too. It felt cathartic and holy to share that space and those stories, but I wouldn’t betray any confidences by sharing them here, only to note that this is why we are friends: we can easily shift from the sublime to the ridiculous over a basket of tortilla chips and some craft beer.

The lunch was all too brief but it did remind me to renew my library card and check out a book of Mary Oliver’s poetry. Here’s a new one (to me) in a similar vein to Troy’s that I hope you’ll also enjoy.

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

from American Primitive, 1983
Copyright Back Bay Books
by Mary Oliver

I hope everyone will take time this year to cherish their friendships and to read some poetry (Troy and I would both suggest Mary Oliver). The world needs more of both friendships and poetry; now, more than ever.

Re-establishing a baseline

10 months ago I had foot surgery to correct a bunion on my left big toe. I’m not above sharing gross pictures on the internet, but I’ll save you the disgust this time. Suffice to say that what once looked and felt pretty terrible, now works like a dream. What hasn’t quite recovered, however, is my cardiovascular health.

At the height of the pandemic I was working out and running enough that I got my vO2 Max to a pretty awesome 44. For a guy in his mid-40’s having a vO2 Max in the mid-40’s is pretty impressive. When I started back to regular running about 8 weeks ago, it had dropped all the way down below 36 – a below average number for a man my current age (46).

Being a devotee of the Apple Watch I had gone down to that one piece of technology for tracking my workouts. I had previously used iSmoothRun for my running but Apple’s native Workout app on the watch makes it super simple to swipe to the correct activity and just start moving.

This time when I started back running I got the urge to try Strava. I’ve had a free account for a while now and I always see the bike rides of my cousin in Taiwan or the snowy adventures of an old classmate in Minnesota, so I decided to give it a shot. I had the watch share data to Strava and have been quite happy with the social aspect of getting “kudos” for my runs and walks. (Shoutout to the 80’s granola bar of the same name.)

This afternoon I switched things up and used the Strava app on the watch to record my workout. I wasn’t a big fan of the way it displayed realtime data – and I’m a known hater of the signature color of the app, orange – so I don’t think it’s a longterm solution. I do really dig the social aspect so whichever app I use in the future, I’ll keep sending data to Strava for those tasty kudos. 😉

What I’m really after is the flexibility to track not only my running but also the lifetime mileage of my new Christmas footwear – two new pair of Altra Torin 5’s! This was the deciding factor that led me to use iSmoothRun in the first place years ago. The app itself isn’t very Apple-y at all, but it does tick the “tracks shoes” box and it did let me easily save, export, and ultimately hack around with the individual TCX files for all my runs. iSmoothRun was the way I captured running data that I used to send to Runkeeper and then sent to Strava, but ultimately just dropped in Dropbox so I could do with it as I saw fit.

For now I’m just taking things slowly, the running and the run-tracking. I’m not in too much of a hurry to get faster (that’ll come) but I do want to be consistent about moving. I’ve found that focusing on my cadence has been very helpful. And while the v02 max hasn’t climbed much – just over a single digit – my cadence has been over 160 strides-per-minute on all of my runs.

As someone who’s over 6 feet 2 inches tall and north of 220 pounds on the scale, focusing on keeping my footfalls fast does pay dividends. I’m not as fast as I once was, but I’m training my legs to turn over quickly which will make me faster in the long run. I can also really appreciate just how magical my foot feels post-operative when I’m thinking about my footfalls. Huge credit to my amazing surgeon for fixing my bunion.

Since my commitment to getting healthier is the linchpin here, I’m likely to continue to tinker with all the apps and data aspect in an effort not to overtrain. If I can put some mental energy towards the nerdier parts of the training I won’t feel quite so much pressure to run more often/faster/longer.

Look for a fun data visualization or heat map or some other cool graphic concerning my running in the future!

Still I Run

2022 was a trying year.

I had foot surgery in March.
I changed jobs in late June.
I had a falling out with my parents in July.

I’m lucky enough to have a loving family who supported me when I couldn’t walk let alone run. A family who encouraged me leap to a new role with an entirely remote company. A structure that rewarded me for making the brave decisions that needed to be made in order for me to grow.

About a month ago I got an email from Altra, the shoe company that makes my favorite footwear, asking me to sign up for the Breaking Stigma in Stride 5k – a virtual race supporting the Mental Health advocacy through running organization “Still I Run“.

As someone who has experienced the mental illness of several family members first hand, I thought the race would be a great way to support them. If my own (lesser) 2022 challenges taught me anything it’s that we have nothing to be ashamed about and that we should be more transparent about the challenges we face.

So I ran the virtual race as an act of solidarity for those I love, as a way to bring more attention to a mostly hidden issue, and to get myself off the couch and towards better shape. Since my surgery – and honestly since some time in 2019 – I haven’t been much of a runner, but I’m committed to getting better in 2023. I came in 71st place out of 235, which isn’t too shabby and will serve as my benchmark for this year’s runs.

I don’t want to make any dramatic pronouncements but I do want to keep myself accountable. Hopefully this blog post is a public statement about where I want to go in 2023 and how we all should acknowledge the paths or others on their own unique journeys.

I’m not perfect, none of us are, but we can all try to improve by first owning our starting point. There’s absolutely zero shame in that.

Happy New Year!