Sustainability

Six days. I have six days until my first full marathon for the season. I’ve run one full marathon, in my life, and while I finished, and I finished ahead of my personal “goal”, and, so, it was successful, it was a disaster. It is now a model of so many things “not to do”. I am not “worried” or “anxious” about my upcoming race, nearly two years since my first, flawed, full-marathon. I do know that I am approaching this next race with certain expectations, certain trepidations, and, again, somewhat handicapped.

Scarlette Begonia

My first full marathon was in early December in 2013. I was traveling for work, which was, then, my life. The last quarter of each year is an extremely busy time for us in “training and consulting”, and it is the height of our travel season. That I managed to be in any kind of decent physical shape is still a wonder. I was living a completely “unsustainable” life, especially for someone hoping to run a marathon. The week before the marathon, I was nearly 3,000 miles from home, living in a hotel and subsisting, out of necessity, off of the healthiest food I could find in restaurants on Long Island.

Because traveling from east to west on Friday nights is virtually impossible, without spending several hours curled up on the floor of some airport, which I refuse to do, I scheduled my flight home for Saturday. The race was Sunday. I found myself on a flight with a whole bunch of other runners registered to run the C.I.M., the California International Marathon in Sacramento. The race is popular with elite marathoners, as it is flat (Sacramento is flat), and so, a fast course. The C.I.M. is a “Boston Marathon qualifying” race. If you can finish in a certain time, you qualify for one of the most highly sought after marathons in the world. The folks with whom I shared space on the aircraft were elite runners. I was a boob, by comparison. Nonetheless, kindred folk chatted, exchanging stories of races, nutrition, and training. And, through these stories, my suspicions were confirmed; I am a boob. I live in hotels, eat at restaurants, weeks and weeks on end. My weekends are spent traveling, and, maybe, squeezing in a training run here or there. I was entered into a marathon where I would have to sustain a quasi-running gate for 26.2 miles, sleep-deprived, jet-lagged, and nutritionally unprepared.

Like I said, somehow, I finished the race, alive, and in less time than I hoped. But, I was nearly physically ill the entire time. Because of the high sodium content of restaurant food (especially in Long Island) and the travel, and trying to, as advised, hydrate before the race, I was, in fact, seriously over-hydrated. I stopped at every porta-potty and felt like a water buffalo, not the animal, but the equipage by which you store and transport water; round, bulging, and sloshing with water when moved. Following the race, I had outrageous swelling from edema in my legs, for nearly a week. And, to make it worse, I was on a plane, again, Monday morning after the race back to the east coast.

This was not sustainable; my lifestyle, my training, my diet, the travel. All of it.

A few things have changed, but, again, I find myself questioning sustainability.

In early October I completed a fun little half marathon, again, in Sacramento, and one I’ve completed a few times. I’ve stopped traveling for work and have made a bit more of an effort to maintain an appropriate training schedule; though it is still a struggle, and, again, my lifestyle, currently, may have some sustainability issues impacting that. But, I felt healthy and prepared and I had a goal; I hoped to “PR”, I hoped to beat my “personal record”, to run a half marathon faster than ever before. My goal was to finish in two hours and fifteen minutes. My fastest half marathon, to that point, was completed six months earlier at two hours and seventeen minutes. In training, with my running club, we run for six minutes at a regular pace, then walk for a minute, then run again. This was how I intended to run this race. In prior races, there had been a “pacer” from our club, they would keep track of the intervals and pace whoever wanted to keep up at precisely the pace necessary to achieve the desired time. Pacers identify themselves with a sign they carry with the finish time on it. I quickly found the “2:15” sign and stuck close to the energetic and enthusiastic gal grasping it. I didn’t recognize her from my club, but I knew the race organizers provided pacers, and, well, here was my girl. If I stuck with her, she’d get me in by my goal. I’d PR.

The race started and she took off. I followed her along with a small herd of other runners. I still had my watch, and it was programmed for my desired run/walk intervals. Six minutes passed, my watch beeped, and my pacer kept running. In the next few seconds, which seemed an eternity, I had a terrible realization; she wasn’t running intervals. If I wanted to run with her, and make my goal, I’d have to run continuously for 13.1 miles. I have never trained for this. The club I run with has a certain “philosoply” and “methods”, by which we can run, sustainably. Sustainably, here, means without long term injury or wear or tear, and with optimal physical results. It’s a theory, but one I am counting on and one that seems to hold some truth. One of my coaches is 59 years old. One of my pace group teammates is 71 years old. I’d like to run for the rest of my life. I started running at the age of 48, four years ago. My knees are, so far, holding out, I think, because of the sustainable philosophy and methods I’ve been training under.

Fortunately, for me, I usually run quite a bit faster on my own, than I do in training with my club. So, I quickly changed my strategy at about six minutes and twenty seconds into my half marathon; I ran faster. My new strategy was to keep the 2:15 sign behind me. At all costs. I questioned the sustainability of this, but, I ran with it. I got ahead of the 2:15 sign a bit, took my walk break, and ran again. Repeatedly. I revised my strategy a little further, knowing with the increased pace, I may end up having to slow a bit as the miles accumulated. I needed a bigger “buffer” between me and the 2:15 sign. So, instead of running six minutes and walking one, I ran for ten or twelve minutes and walked for thirty or forty-five seconds. I knew this wasn’t sustainable for every day running and training, but for a race, one day, sure. I never saw the 2:15 sign again.

In fact, as I ran and ran and ran, I came upon the 2:10 sign, which was being carried by the very popular, well-known, and highly respected organizer of my running club. My running club is over 500 members strong, if that is any indication of the faith people have in this guy’s philosophy and methods. I passed him up and, now heady with my accomplishments, revised my goal and strategy about half way through the race; keep the 2:10 sign behind me. At this point, with half the distance still ahead of me, I, again, question the sustainability. But only momentarily. My plan, again, was to establish a distance between me and the 2:10 sign so I could take my little walk breaks and even slow my overall pace down later in the race, if necessary.

I got cocky, again, and decided to see if I could catch up and pass the 2:05 sign. My ultimate goal is to be able to run half marathons, consistently, in less than two hours. Look at how close I was! What if I could do that today? But, alas, I ran out of race before I met my ultimate goal, or before I even spotted the 2:05 sign. I did, however, finish 13.1 miles in 2:06, taking more than ten minutes off my previous, personal best. My pace and my strategy were totally sustainable.

One short week after my success in my half marathon, I found myself entered into another. Two half-marathons in two week’s time is not what many folks, runners included, call a sustainable practice. But, here I was. This was a hillier course, run in Sonoma County. I had never run this race, and, in fact, knew very little about it. I’d received an email about it, late one evening, probably after a glass of wine, and thought “what the heck” and signed up. I may also have been influenced by the fact that there was beer and wine at the finish line and that the medal was a commemorative wine bottle stopper. Whatever the reasons, I was in the race.

I have a fairly competitive spirit and the person I most want to beat in any competition is myself. I cannot imagine being in a running race and not bettering my last time. I have, in fact, only ever been in one half marathon where I didn’t do better than my last; a few months earlier, extremely hilly, and I had stayed out way too late the night before and overindulged far too much on food and wine and such. I only missed my personal best by a minute and fifty-eight seconds. I’d only ever run flat courses, and this one boasted over 1,500 feet in elevation gain. That I got within twenty minutes of my previous PR was miracle enough.

So, with another less than flat course ahead of me, and, again, the unsustainable practice of too much food and all the night before, coupled with not quite enough sleep (I can never sleep before a race whether I find myself horizontal in bed twelve hours before the race or four hours before the race), I dared myself to beat my PR, set only a week beforehand, and shattering my previous one. I thought maybe, just maybe, I could beat the elusive two hour mark. Could I sustain that pace, sustain that level of energy, in spite of hills and overindulgence and sleep deprivation? I had my doubts but figured I’d at least try. I found the girl carrying the 2:00 sign, and, adopting the same strategy from the week prior, I endeavored to put some distance between me and her so I could still take some abbreviated walk breaks and so, when the hills manifested, I’d have enough of a buffer to slow my pace, and not of a voluntary choice. On the first hill, the first walk break, she soared past me and took with her all of my confidence and spirit. My plan was not sustainable.

As I crested that first hill, I picked up my pace downhill and caught up and passed the 2:00 sign, again. This went on for about eleven of the thirteen miles and I was spent. I let her go. I ran in the last couple of miles at a pace I could sustain, and managed, again, to beat my PR, taking another couple minutes off and getting another couple of minutes closer to my ultimate goal.

My race next week is wholly twice as long as the races I ran earlier this fall. My training regime has been more sustainable, on weekends, with the club, since I stopped traveling for work. Traveling was no longer sustainable, on several levels, and I was able to negotiate a change. The change was good, but still, I find myself in an unsustainable situation. I end up working nearly every morning at some unholy hour and I let this compromise my mid-week training. I manage a run or a hike here and there, but I am most definitely not working the plan that my running club philosophy and methods recommend. My knees now hurt with the longer weekend runs because I’m inconsistent with my mid-week training. To further the practice of unsustainability, I’ve enlisted in two full marathons within a few weeks of the other. A very bad idea and wholly unsustainable. But, here I am. The moment is nearly upon me and I am trying to develop a strategy that will help me sustain my pace for an entire 26.2 miles that will be better than my first full marathon two years ago. And without pain. And without compromising the next race in, now, less than a month. I’ve done all the math, I know the numbers, I know the course, and I am just hoping it’s a sustainable plan and an attainable goal, whichever one. There are three; to beat my last full marathon time, or, to bring it in in under five hours, or, the lifetime and, I know, completely unattainable goal, right now, to beat the four-hour hurdle. The first is likely, the second sounds impossible to me from where I’m sitting at this moment, and the third, even in my lifetime, pretty lofty. We shall see.

Scarlette Begonia

A constant theme in my trials as a runner, as a marathoner, and as an athlete hoping to be able to sustain a certain pace, for a certain duration, for a race and for a lifetime, has been my lifestyle. My lifestyle and its sustainability. What I’ve learned is this; simplicity is sustainable.

I have always struggled with sustainability, in lifestyle. I don’t think I’m alone. I tend to overcommit in every arena of my life. As I grow older, and, hopefully, wiser, and as I accumulate more experiences to hold as example, more knowledge to draw from and refer to, I’ve come to the realization that sustainability is something that needs to be examined, and re-examined, at nearly every turn.

Sustainability applies to relationships. The big question for me, and, as evidenced by the high divorce rate, the number of very unhappy people in our midst, and the middle-aged dating scene, relationships don’t appear to be sustainable. True, there are those anomalies, the hangers-on, the “at all costs”, long-term, relationships, but, yes, at what costs? I know of approximately two long-term marriages I’ve evidenced over a time that appear to be truly and totally sustainable, at no apparent, adverse, cost. Freaks. And, yet, as I stand in the rubble of a few failed relationships of my own, I scrambled to the top of that pile of rubble and embarked on another that I hope will be, truly, freakishly, sustainable, in every respect, all benefits and no costs.

After much reading, reflection and introspection, for me, a sustainable relationship is nothing more than a sustained, mutual enjoyment of one another’s presence. Each person in the relationship is responsible only for their own happiness, and, so, enjoy the benefit of each other’s happiness. There is, and never can be, one party that makes the other happy, nor can there be that expectation. I am reasonably happy, you are reasonably happy, therefore, we, together are reasonably happy. I know it all sounds sort of Barney the purple dinosaur, but he may have been on to something. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. If you like being around the person, make them welcomed in your life for as long as you like being around them and for as long as they like being around you. I think keeping it that simple and that basic may provide better results than all the other stuff.

Sustainable relationships, also, again, based on what I’ve witnessed, and endured, and learned, can never be based on expectation. Expectation is the prescription for disappointment and failure, in relationships, and in life. In relationships, if you like the person enough to share your time and happiness with them, that is fine. If you have any expectation that the object of your desire will perform, or change, or provide you with something you desire or feel is missing, you will be sad, sorry, disappointed and the relationship will not be sustainable. The only thing you should “expect” in a relationship is integrity, love, and to not be abused or neglected, which, I think falls within the umbrella of “love”, but I like to break out, because not everyone grasps that important little bit. Simple. And simplicity is sustainable.

In our competitive, expensive, capitalist society, the topic of a sustainable career is a tough one to broach. We have watched generation after generation work their lives away to sustain a certain level of comfort, a lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed to. For each of us, this may be a different level of “comfortable”, and that may even be the catalyst for some of us to work even harder, to break out, to elevate our level of comfort, to eclipse what our parents and grandparents achieved. For others of us, it’s just to “get by”. For whatever reason we decide we must work, and work hard, we have to, again, consider sustainability. Are our careers sustainable? We cannot be happy, joyful people if what we do for a living contradicts our values or is in any way unsustainable. Truth.

This I have struggled with in the past. This I am currently struggling with. I do not like what I do. I like the people, I like that I’m good at it, I like the compensation, I like the benefits, but it isn’t what I’m passionate about, which violates my values, my beliefs, and it is absolutely, positively, not sustainable. I was able to renegotiate my position, earlier this year, to temporarily, not have to travel. I am now working 100% of the time, over the internet and telephone, glued to my chair. My days begin at different times every day, but usually very, very, very early in the morning. The reason I stated I could no longer travel was that it was interfering in the needs of my family, in my friendships, in my relationships, in my pursuit of health and fitness, all of which are the focus of my core, personal, values. My ability to focus on my family, friendships, relationship, creativity, and pursuit of health and fitness has actually worsened since I stopped traveling. Oh, and I really don’t like what I do, whether I’m good at it, or not.

If our livelihood, our career, for the sake of happiness and fulfillment, is to be something passion driven, is it realistic to expect to have the same career throughout life? Are careers as unsustainable as long-term relationships? I think so. As we evolve, perhaps what was once a match is no longer. Career, then, ought to follow the same criteria; a sustained enjoyment of what we do. Passion. Passion driven. Lest we are miserable. We do what we love for as long as we love it, then, if necessary, we move on. That, I believe is the pathway to a more fulfilled, joyful life. Simple. And simplicity is sustainable.

But. Money.

We have an appetite for money and will do anything to get it. Do anything to get more of it. Even compromise our values and deny our passions. And yet, money has never, does not now, nor will it ever, buy happiness. This, a lesson I’ve learned, not that I was ever wealthy, according to popular measures. But, there was always a thirst for more and values and passions were compromised to achieve that. Now that I earn a comfortable amount, I am enslaved by that denomination. My earnings sustain my lifestyle. But, again, is my lifestyle sustainable? As a society, and especially my generation, we have learned we can have more than we can actually pay for. We live well beyond our means, and, this, is most definitely not sustainable. My financial world came crashing down around me with the real estate fiasco of 2009. Very hard lessons were almost learned, and, yet, I still find I live a life that is financially not sustainable. I’ve made great strides, and can now manage to pay my debts and obligations, and feed and clothes myself, and even have a little left over to spend recklessly. But, I am a slave to my income, to my regular paycheck, which is tied to that unsustainable career.

Simplicity, again. If what I consumed, financially speaking, were based only on my simplest of needs, I’d need less. If I had less stuff, I’d require less space, which costs less money. If I spent my money only where my passions lie, less would be wasted on that which I find less fulfilling and nurturing. If I spent money only on that which is supported by my values, I’d be more at peace, more in alignment with my values, and spend less, too. Like all things, if we can break it all down into the simplest of terms, we can find a more sustainable and rewarding path to the joy we seek. I can spend less by simplifying and have more sustainable financial needs, so I can earn less and follow a passion based, sustainable career path, which will support more sustainable family, friendship, relationship, health and fitness spheres. Simple. Simplicity is sustainable.

We, generally speaking, don’t think in terms of sustainability often, or easily. The crisis our environment is in is irrefutable evidence. If we begin to look at everything in our realm in terms of sustainability, we can reform our lives, and our world.

For example, look at how most of us approach fitness. Why, it is almost that time of year, once again! January of every year, you will not find me at the gym. You will find many, many, many people at the gym, I will not be one of them. Classes will be full to capacity, there will be lines for weight racks, weight machines, and all the cardio equipment. By about February first, normalcy reigns. The swell of people in attendance in January I refer to as “resolutionists”. With the New Year, they’ve decided to reform their lives and embark on a totally unsustainable routine, some for a day or two, some for a week or two, and for the rare, it becomes a sustainable habit. I just avoid the gym in January and am grateful for the infusion of capital from all those new, unused memberships for new equipment.

Incorporating exercise into our lifestyles is a matter of changing our habits, or, as I like to say; exchanging our habits, bad for good. We must decide what it is we really like to do. Just because you can burn a shit ton of calories running doesn’t mean running will make you happy, though I could argue. We are not all runners. Find what it is you like to do, simply enough, and do it as often as you can. If you do it enough, with some frequency, it becomes a habit, and something you begin to prioritize in your life. You’ll replace other, lower priority activities with your new fitness habit, and, you’ll become more fit and happy as a result. Simple. And simplicity is sustainable.

Our health habits are unsustainable. We are seeing, for the first time in recorded history, life expectancies shorter for us than for our parents. We live and work in toxic environments, eat more chemicals than food, and lead far more sedentary lives than the human being was ever designed to endure. To rectify our collective obesity, we try one highly restrictive fad diet after the next, decreasing our caloric and nutrient intake to the point where our bodies are certain famine has hit. Food, what little we eat, is stored as fat and the weight we manage to lose is mostly muscle. Since muscle burns more calories than fat, when we can no longer stand the restrictive diet and we return to our “usual” eating habits, our body composition is now higher in fat and lower than muscle than when we went on the diet. We get fatter. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Our diets should not be a series of “rapid results” diets. How we eat, what we eat, even when and where we eat, if approached from the perspective of sustainability and of lifestyle, rather than rapid results, will provide us a far greater level of health, success, quality of life and longevity, even self-respect and self-esteem. Eating is completely out of habit; how, what, when and where. If we can exchange a habit here and there, bad for good, we can overcome all of lifelong, deplorable, dietary indiscretions.

With food, I’ve found, the simpler the better. Simple is sustainable in how food is grown, how it is processed, how it is prepared, and even how it is consumed. Keeping it simple is the habit to strive for and fosters sustainability on a personal and global level. Simple. And simplicity is sustainable.

I find even my creativity suffers from unsustainability. I simply do not have enough time in the day to write. I find my creative time tends to be early morning, with coffee, and, sometimes early afternoon, perhaps with a beer. With the rigors and hours of my current job, my family, relationship, friendship and fitness needs are all compromised, as is my creativity. I am usually working during my creative window, and, if not, work is imminent that day and I cannot clear my head enough to allow the flow. There was a time when I wrote every single day, and, I was traveling a great deal at the time, I was even traveling to sustain a relationship, and maintaining an impressive level of fitness and health. That I haven’t been able to sustain a writing practice, I think, speaks not only to sustainability, but to my level of fulfillment and joy. Creativity flows when joy is sustained. For me, my level of creativity is the canary in the coal mine. The fact that writing has become a struggle, a chore, and has become infrequent and a near insurmountable task, at times, is an indication that things aren’t as simple as they could be.

"The Process"
“The Process”

I recently went through a practice, which I exercise at least once a year, sometimes more frequently. I call it “the process”, and I have developed it by gleaning certain prescribed methods from a dozen or more authors of self-improvement, authors on efficiency, authors on self-actualization, and authors on business management. I think for each of us, this practice may vary, but I think for all of us, it should be based on our passions, our values, our roles in life, our goals, and, most of all, sustainability. It is with the recent completion of “the process” that I am, again, examining everything in my life, from my marathon next week to the fact that my alarm is set for 4:30 AM tomorrow and I want to spend some time with someone who I am happy to spend time with tonight. Some aspects of my life are far more sustainable than others. I need to align the rest. Simple. Simplicity is sustainable.

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