My favorites from 2021
Lessons I've learned on how to breathe, be playful, bounce back from disappointment, set new goals, talk with myself + achieve 'perfection' (or something like it)
Last year around this time, I remember writing to you all that the past year was one I had complex feelings about, given all that we’ve all lived through. At the risk of repeating myself, that’s a feeling that persists this year for me, as I’m sure it does for you too.
But before I get too down, I stop to think about what we’ve shared here in The Half Marathoner community over the past year — the discussions we’ve had on Fridays, the back-and-forth we have in the comments of posts, and the replies I receive from you in response to emails, and my heart warms anew.
I don’t know how your running year has been, but mine has been up and down — going great for weeks and months at a time, only to be sidelined by injury for a few weeks. But now I’m finally back to running again — I’ve run twice this week! — and am looking forward to feeling strong, something I haven’t felt in a while.
I hope you enjoy the selections I’ve made of my favorite issues of the year. There’s really no way to pick the “best,” so I’ve chosen ones I felt close to, or ones that seemed to resonate most with you all. (I’ve also included several that went out to paid subscribers only, which are marked by an unlocked symbol (🔓) below.
Have a happy, healthy and wonderful New Year’s Eve, and I look forward to chatting with you much more in 2022 — keep a lookout for a new Friday live discussion this Friday, too!
Be safe and be well — see you next year! 🎉🍾🥳
“How do you keep yourself alive in the face of adversity?” This post I wrote about feeling hopeful — really hopeful — for the first time in a while about the end of the pandemic, just as vaccinations were rolling out in a big way back in the spring. It’s about acknowledging the weighty things we have to deal with, while also knowing that we need to cast those weights off sometimes — and just enjoy play and adventure again. (And I still feel that way, even today!)
From May 13, 2021
Kara Goucher is one of my running heroes, so it’s been heartwarming for me to learn that she struggles with many of the same internal battles I do — with confidence, with the inner voice, and with believing in myself. This look at how she’s learned to handle those challenges was eye-opening.
From January 31, 2021
This essay, about the book by Pappas, an Olympic runner, actor, writer, podcaster and film director, also meant a lot to me. She doesn’t offer up a lot of detailed descriptions of races or long recollections of time she spent training. Rather, she gives us a personal story of how she has interpreted all the things that happened in her life and her running career — including her mother’s suicide when Alexi was just 4 years old.
From January 24, 2021
I loved writing this one, because I got to dig into the history of our sport — and learned that roughly 100 years ago, walking was bigger than running. The Last Great Walk explores what the U.S. looked like before the advent of interstate highways, when walking long distances across the entire North American continent was like the Super Bowl is for us.
From February 28, 2021
What does the 1984 movie “The Natural” have to do with running? The connection popped in my head earlier this year as I was reading a book by Bruce Feiler called Life Is In the Transitions, about the inner conflict we feel when we’re blocked from achieving the goals we aim for.
From February 10, 2021
This little-noticed book, published last year by Mackenzie L. Havey, spoke to me in a big way. Not because it tells you how to actually achieve perfection — whatever that is! No, it’s because Havey shares with us how we can experience moments of perfection — whether they last only a few seconds, or an entire run. (And that they don’t have to be accidental. We can practice approaching them, and train our minds to welcome them in more often.)
From February 7, 2021
One of the things I’m fascinated with is aging, especially stories about people who reach their eighth and ninth decades. When we get there, and if we’re lucky enough to reach that age with our wits and bodies in good health, how do we spend our time in meaningful ways, and how do we find our purpose? (Strong social networks, keeping physically fit, and an active mind appear to play big roles.)
From May 19, 2021
This one is about our dog, but also about letting ourselves feel contentment vs. feeling like we have to strive all the time. The spark came from something one of my professors in college said to me a long time ago: that “virtue is its own reward.” What I think he meant was that it’s not something we reach for outside ourselves — it’s something we already have inside, like a seed waiting to be watered.
From June 10, 2021
Meb Keflezhigi, the Eritrean-born Olympic runner and winner of the New York and Boston marathons, is another of my running heroes. But I hadn’t thought about him in a while until a reader here named “Ordinary Bob” shared his experience of running into Keflezhigi on the streets of Tampa, Fla., and getting to run with him for a bit.
From June 21, 2021
It took me a long, long time to understand that the little voice in the back of my head — the voice that cautions me not to dream too big, or attempt to step too far outside my comfort zone — might not be a reliable narrator. This post is about learning how to have a conversation with it, so we’re not captive to it all the time.
From September 22, 2021
This summer and early fall, I became captivated by what I learned from James Nestor’s Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, a book about how we breathe — and how we’re likely doing it wrong. In it, Nestor explains how different breathing through our noses is from mouth breathing, why mouth breathing has become the bane of our existence for the past couple hundred years — and how we can train ourselves to breath properly again.
From September and October 2021
Sometimes the simplest things to do are the hardest. And, you never realize how dependent you can become on some things — whether it’s a drug, a person or a behavior. I’ve struggled with being online too much throughout the pandemic — I still struggle with it, to be honest — so writing this was cathartic, about finding the strength to turn it all off.
From October 6, 2021
This was one of my favorites this year, about the Australian potato farmer-turned-champion ultrarunner Cliff Young. It didn’t matter to him how odd he seemed to his fellow competitors when he showed up to run the 544-mile-long Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon back in 1983. All that mattered to him was that he believed he could do it.
From December 1, 2021
Words to run by
“Sometimes the moments that challenge us the most, define us.” — Deena Kastor
“Everything you need is already inside.” — Bill Bowerman