What our Golden Retriever taught me
Plus races in the Andorra Mountains, California wine country, Sandia Mountains of New Mexico, PA Grand Canyon, Texas state parks + the streets of Addis Ababa
When we first brought home our golden retriever Twix — that’s her, with the slightly quizzical look on her face above 😃 — about a year and a half ago, we couldn’t yet know all that was ahead of us.
We had no idea that a global pandemic was about to start, that everything would be shut down for the better part of a year, and that we’d be home-schooling our kids plus “working” at home all at the same time.
One thing we did find out pretty quickly is that she loves to make circles. Take her out for a run or a walk around the block, she’ll make circles around you pretty much the whole way. Open the back door to let her out, she’ll make a few circles before she goes outside. When it’s time to eat, she makes a few circles as you’re bringing her food bowl to her.
I have no idea why she does this. I am genuinely intrigued, though; how did she pick up this habit, and what purpose could it possibly serve? I wonder every time I see her do it.
The thing I try to remember — and not lose patience with — is that if I’m taking her anywhere and I’m in a hurry, it’s my approach that’s going to need adjusting, not hers. Because come what we may, she’s going to make her circles. My schedule, whatever it is I have in mind that I want to get done, is just going to take longer than I planned.
Strange as it may seem, I thought about Twix when I read this article yesterday by Adam Grant, the famed psychologist and author, on a phenomenon that I’d bet many, many of us have been experiencing this past year: languishing, or just feeling blah.
What Grant emphasizes is that it’s somewhere in the vast middle ground between flourishing — when everything feels good, you’re firing on all cylinders — and depression, which I imagine we all know well enough to identify on our own.
It can manifest itself in any part of your life, but I’ve found I feel it most in the parts of my own life oriented toward achievement, whether it’s my running, my work, or just small personal goals.
All those things have started to feel just a little less urgent, a little less meaningful. Especially when you consider them against the backdrop of the profound loss that so many of our friends and loved ones have gone through over the past year.
I might run five miles today, I might run three. Or I might run none. (I must confess, when I choose the third option from this list, I feel a pretty massive amount of impostor syndrome, considering the newsletter I write that you’re reading right now!)
As Grant points out, the cause of this feeling isn’t only due to what’s happening in the larger world. Rather, it’s that this set of circumstances has led all of us to fragment our attention much more than we’re used to. We’ve lost so much control over our own personal worlds that our minds can become dulled by it all. (As a good friend of mine put it, “lately, I feel as sharp as a bowling ball.”)
In some ways, that’s totally okay. One of my personal heroes, the comedian Jerry Seinfeld, said in a recent interview that he realized this year how “survival is the new success.” And this post, by a writer I stumbled across on Twitter over the past year, resonates with me in a big way:
Amen, sister. Yes, yes yes.
It’s hard for me to point to anything “big” I did over the past year. No big running accomplishment — other than running itself! — and no big professional accomplishment. (I can slip into feeling a little like John Candy’s Del Griffith in Planes, Trains & Automobiles: “all I'm gonna have around here to prove that I was here are some shower curtain rings that didn't fall down. Great legacy, huh?”)
I think — I hope — the way out is how Grant describes in the piece. Just bit by bit, little by little, one interesting goal or project (or meaningful conversation) at a time. As he writes, “sometimes it’s a small step toward rediscovering some of the energy and enthusiasm that you’ve missed during all these months.”
Or, as the writer Anne Lamott would say, “bird by bird”:
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”
I just love that.
Now, I think I’m going to (try) going for a walk/run with Twix, and remember to be patient with her circling. As always, I hope you are well and having some great runs this week — keep in touch, and don’t forget to let me know how your running is going.
Races you might love running
Vallecito, Calif. | Monday, July 5, 2021
A tour of the historic California wine country in and around Vallecito and Murphys, Calif., along a hilly and challenging course through town centers and neighborhoods as well as rolling country roads. Each of the three race distances offered — 5K, 10K and 13.1-mile — start and finish at Twisted Oak Winery, and will take runners through the winery’s “cardiac cave,” a wine barrel cave used for storing and aging their wines.
$65 and up | Sign up here
Wellsboro, Pa. | Saturday, July 24, 2021
Stretching more than 60 miles along the creek that bears its name in the wilds of central northern Pennsylvania, the Pine Creek Rail Trail takes runners through the Pine Creek Gorge, commonly referred to here as the PA Grand Canyon — hence the name of the race. Organizers say that at the time the race is run, you’ll enjoy plentiful shade along the route — it’ll be “extremely scenic,” they say, with the half marathon and full marathon run entirely inside the canyon.
$65 and up | Sign up here
La Massana, Andorra | Sunday, July 25, 2021
Nestled in the eastern Pyrenees Mountains between France to the north and Spain to the south, the tiny country of Andorra plays host to this “skyrunning” race every summer, a very challenging run with more than 7,500 feet of elevation change over a pair of big climbs inside Valls del Comapedrosa Nature Park. The views from the tops of the Andorra Mountains, however, are absolutely spectacular; there’s a reason they call it “skyrunning.” That said, don’t underestimate the challenge of this race — organizers say it is “very technical” and “very demanding.”
39€ and up | Sign up here
Tyler, Texas | Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021
A run through the forests of Tyler State Park, whose 13 miles of single-track trails are shaded by woodlands filled with 100-ft.-tall pine trees, and where you can go for a swim in the spring-fed lake after you cross the finish line. Part of a race series (known as the Eco Series) in state parks and beaches around Texas, the event will also a host a 100K, 50K, 10K and 5K in addition to its half marathon-ish distance, a 25K (which actually works out to just over 15 miles).
$50 and up | Sign up here
Albuquerque, N.M. | Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021
Follow an all-downhill route that descends more than 1,400 feet over the course of your 13.1 miles as you make your way through the canyons of the Sandia Mountains, just outside Albuquerque. Most of the second half of the half marathon unfolds along the historic Route 66 as it winds its way west through the canyons toward the city, and the race is run at the time of year when the trees are turning brilliant shades of red, yellow and orange, so the scenery as you run should be breathtaking.
$115 and up | Sign up here
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia | Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021
Started some 20 years ago by the legendary Ethiopian runner and Olympic gold medalist Haile Gebrselassie, this “delightfully chaotic” fun run takes you through the streets of this East African capital city, a dusty metropolis that sits atop a lush, verdant plateau, along wide roads and overpasses (at just over 7,700 feet above sea level, by the way). It’s a combination street race and carnival, past runners say, as participants can often be seen dancing under makeshift sprinklers and drinking Malta Guinness along the way, before heading under the arch at Jan Meda, the racing ground where the finish line lies — and the party begins.
TBA | Sign up here
Words to run by
“Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself.”
— Robert Pirsig