Learning to Stop Chasing the Miles I Haven’t Run

At the top of 2015, I set the goal of running 1,200 miles in 12 months. I’m not going to make it. As of this writing, I’ve run 1,100.993 miles. It’s conceivable that I run just under four marathons in as many days, and it’s not likely.

It took me a minute to get comfortable with this. At the beginning of December, I had 207 miles to go, and I did the math. Twenty-one runs of 10 miles in one month? Sure!

Except – running isn’t all I do. Enter those character-building life lessons my mom has always been such a fan of. Up until about a week ago, my focus was on all the miles I haven’t run this year. They were all I could see. 

Focusing on all the miles I haven’t run would mean fatigue, injury, missed time with friends and family.

Those miles began to take the joy out of running. Every run was a task to complete, ticking away at the miles still out there waiting for feet on pavement. I’ve already run five times as many miles as I did in 2014. In the past thirty days, I’ve run 88 miles farther than the average for men 30-39. I feel better about my health and fitness than I have since my first few years as a runner. I haven’t been able to appreciate it until now, and if I were to hit 1,200, I probably wouldn’t be any see past 1,200.

This is what I’ve learned from running in 2015. As much as moving toward those 1,200 miles has pulled me into or out of bed early because, “I’ve gotta long run in the morning,” missing the goal has made me see the need to let go of some things to get to others. In November, when work had me reading, re-reading, and reading again to edit the National Ed Tech Plan and October’s marathon had brought a tendon strain to my foot, my mileage fell to 25 miles. That, as it turned out, was what I was mentally and physically capable of, and running forced me to find a way to be okay with that.

Slavishly working toward my goal in these last few days of 2015 could get me there. Focusing on all the miles I haven’t run would mean fatigue, injury, missed time with friends and family. It would mean starting 2016 resenting running rather than appreciating the lessons it continues to teach me.

I’ll run between now and the new year. It won’t be to run toward the realization of an arbitrary goal. It will be to run through whatever is happening in the moment and with appreciation of how far the last 1,100 miles have brought me.

Things I Know 158 of 365: Seven courses brought seven lessons

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.

– Harriet Van Horne

I didn’t know the seven courses of a seven-course meal until today. With just under 20 days left in Philadelphia, the good bye sayings have begun.

Part of that meant joining together with friends to enjoy a meal tonight.

Something about the breaking of bread with others assuages the worries of the day, and puts me in a very real sense of communion.

Even when I make popcorn for my students, it brings about a connectedness that can’t otherwise be achieved.

Tonight’s meal was more than popcorn.

As I said in my toast, tonight’s meal was an attempt to take care of some of those who have so readily taken care of me throughout my time in Philadelphia.

Of course, as an English major, each of the dishes for each of the seven courses was symbolic – as if I’m going to pick something just because it tastes good. Each dish was a lesson I’ve learned.

First Course: Jamie’s Goat Cheese Crostini

As a cook, I’ve a tenuous relationship with roasted red peppers. They can overpower a dish, they can throw off the balance of flavors, and they can go just right. This was about making a choice and hoping it would turn out. As the first course, it was also a reminder that every choice will be followed by many more which will help in the gaining of perspective.

Second Course: Gazpacho Casa Botin

The recipe for this course lives only one place that I know of – a May 2007 page of Men’s Health Best Life magazine. I tore it out when I read that the gazpacho was the same recipe Hemingway ate and wrote about. It was a tie to the words of the past and one of my literary hero’s. When my friend Heidi set out on a cross-country journey to be inspired and writer her novel, I made this soup as well as dishes authentic to other great American writers for her send-off meal. It serves not only as a connection to Hemingway, but of that other great meal of new beginnings.

Third Course: Sicilian Orange Salad

I didn’t choose this dish. My friend Michael did. That was its symbolism – the importance of looking to others for guidance and working to be a thoughtful friend. I’ve made this salad more times than I can remember. It’s a simple and beautiful combination of ingredients. I know everything that goes into the salad, and I’m always surprised by how much more flavor it produces than I expect. I suppose friendship is the same way.

Fourth Course: Spicy Grilled Salmon with Mango, Radish and Lime Salsa (I added blueberries)

I’m a vegetarian. I have been for about 15 years. Tonight, I cooked fish. I cooked it because the recipe sounded awesome and I liked the challenge of the salsa. Once the salsa was done, though, the lime overpowered all the other flavors. Rather than tossing the whole thing or serving something I wasn’t proud of, I grabbed a pint of blueberries, mushed them up and added them to the salsa. The result was a sweetness that complimented the fish well. It also furthered the symbolism of the course. There are, and should be exceptions. Whether it’s eating fish as a vegetarian or being willing to take a chance by modifying a recipe, nothing except stone is set in stone.

Fifth Course: Raspberry Honey and Black Tea Sorbet

If you look up the courses of a seven-course meal, you’ll probably notice two things. One, the sorbet course is fourth, not fifth. Two, there’s a sorbet course.

Now, I love sorbet, sherbet, ice cream and any other frozen treat that falls under that particular umbrella. Making it from scratch, though, worried me as I don’t own an ice cream meeker or have any interest in investing in one. So, I made sorbet from scratch sans machine. And it was wonderful.

It was even more wonderful as the fifth course and not the fourth. In the crazed energy of preparing all this food, I simply forgot.

So there were two symbols.

1) Beautiful, wonderful things can be made even when you know you don’t have the proper tools.

2) Despite the regimented order of things, sometime its best to change course.

Sixth Course: Crispy and Delicious Asparagus and Potato Tart

Filo dough and I have gone round and round. I’ve had the best of intentions for cooking with this tissue paper-thin pastry, but each time been bested by my own lack of patience. Attempt to unroll filo dough before it’s had a chance to thaw, you’ll break it. Wait too long to separate the sheets, you’ll rip it. Pull two sheets apart too quickly, you’ll rip it. In my cooking psyche, filo dough has a uniquely querulous nature, intent on thwarting any attempts I might make to ply it into tasty submission.

Tonight was different. I kept the dough thawing from the time it came home from the store until the time I needed it in the recipe. When I needed to unroll and separate the sheets, I took my time, paying the patience it needed. As one or two tears occurred, I chalked them up as Persian flaws. I could have chosen another recipe. History taught me filo dough would be more trouble than it was worth. Still, I wanted the challenge.

Seventh Course: Tiramisu Cupcakes

I didn’t make these. I selected the recipe and gave guidance where asked, but I spent no time baking these amazingly rich cupcakes. If seven courses were to be prepared by the time guests arrived, I needed to hand off responsibility for one of them to someone else. Michael made the cupcakes. It meant I needed to share a kitchen. It meant I needed to pay attention to what I was cooking and not what Michael was cooking.

The first batch wasn’t to Michael’s liking. A little light, the cupcakes stuck to the pan and ripped apart when they were removed. It’s the kind of thing you can fix with creative icing, but Michael wasn’t satisfied.

He made a second batch from scratch because he wanted to serve something he was proud of. They were amazing.

Aside from the possible exception of the filo dough, I learned no new lessons tonight. I did re-learn many lessons. Sometimes, it’s the re-learning that means the most.