Running to stand still
The beauty of using your body to save your brain
Today, I was having lunch with a new friend and we both ended up sharing just how much we both loved running — but not just for the exercise, but also as a way to turn off our brains.
Here’s my average day.
Wake up at 6:45, go potty, run 3 miles, brush teeth, shower, cloth myself, take my dog out for potty and feed him and my cat, drive myself and my wife to work, get coffee (and a cupcake if I’ve feeling slim) get to work at 8:30, and then
Go home whenever I’m done. Play 15 minutes of video games, eat, watch something brainless on tv, go to bed at 11pm, read (I’m reading Night Circus if you must know) then sleep, then wake up at 4am — either as a result of being worried about failing or because I needed to practice my acceptance speech for the Nobel Startup Prize which I know doesn’t exist but also doesn’t stop me, then drink some water, pee, then sleep, then
rinse and repeat.
Of all of those things that I do everyday the only one that keeps me sane is running. I love running. I suck at it by the way. As a sportsball challenged nerd, I’m pretty sure I look like an octopus falling out of tree when I run, but I love it because it does the one thing that it seems nothing else can do.
It helps me turn off.
As a founder, I’m constantly hyper-focused on the mission, the product, and the people in my startup. There is never a moment where I’m not running every possible scenario of success or failure while simultaneously designing, managing, or going to the bathroom. I have a pattern designed to optimize every possible moment of every day and I love it. But there’s a problem.
My brain apparently doesn’t.
At Powerset, my last startup, I didn’t run. In fact, I didn’t exercise at all. Instead, I optimized on a diet of 2 packs of cigarettes per day, a 12 pack of coca-cola, and 2 or 3 cheeseburgers — preferably these horrible cheeseburgers from this hole in the ground called 3rd Street Grill where I decided to all my recruiting meetings. After two years of this brilliant set of lifestyle choices, I ended up becoming completely burnt out and for the first time in my life ended up with a bit of a pooch. I’d come home with nothing in the tank and my wife, who calls me Stev’ when I get in this state, even started writing a book called “My husband started a company — have you seen him?”
I felt liked I was doomed to be a constantly semi-burnt out founder/poor husband in need of wearing spanks (possible a double set).
So when I started Famous, I made some minor changes. I stopped smoking, stopped coca-cola (and all sodas for that matter), stopped most of the hamburgers (but not all of them, I’m not superman) and frankly decided to drink better wine. And all of that really did help, but the thing that really moved the needle for me was a random decision to start running.
Not that I wanted to get fit. I wanted to meditate.
I had heard of runners getting into the runner’s high and read that some people saw it as a form of meditation. So I tried it. I bought an elliptical (did think I was going to actually run in the cold) and began my journey.
The first time I ran, I frankly thought I was going to die. I actually ran, got really scared and almost called the hospital. I later found out, what I had mistaken as my first potential runner’s high was actually a panic attack. So I went back at it. And then I finally got into a serious groove and before I knew it I was running for a full 5 minutes. Victory!
That’s when I found out running for 5 minutes was not impressive at all.
My friends said you had to really run for a couple of miles to get into the real runner’s high. So I dialed 9–1 on my phone (just a precaution) and set a goal to run for 20 minutes. After the 2 minute mark I had another panic attack, but I powered through. At 6 minutes I was in Hell. At 10 minutes I deeply considered yoga as an alternative, but at 12 minutes something happened.
I forgot to think.
Before I knew it I hit 19 minutes. Unfortunately when I saw my accomplishment I had another panic attack and barely made it to the end. But regardless of what ended up being a pretty bad dismount, I had experience the very real, and very meditative, runner’s high.
I was hooked.
Being able to turn off, even if it’s only for 5 minutes, is an eternity for someone like me. The energy I got from running, both physical and mental, was so massive that I couldn’t deny the impacts from running. At work I was way more creative, way less critical, and had a calmness to me that I’m sure was palpable to everyone at work.
For the first time in my life, I had tamed Captain Asshole.
That’s what I call myself when I’m not proud of my day’s work. Sometimes I can be incredibly intense. I’m the type of person that notices a pixel out of place from across the building (just ask Greg if you don’t believe me). And sometimes the combination of my natural intensity, my job title, and my lack of being mindful of those two things can put me in situations where Captain Asshole comes out to play.
Today, it’s different.
Now, I easily run 3 miles every morning and I don’t dial 9–1, I attack those three miles with everything I’ve got doing high intensity intervals every 45 seconds. Even with all this effort, I still only get 5, maybe 10 minutes in of off-ness. But those 5–10 minutes are golden for me. Give me an inch and I’ll turn it into a mile. Give me 10 minutes of off and I’ll give you a full day of on like you’ve never seen.
Plus my pants fit better.
For all those people who’s day looks anything like mine and are looking for a small bit of solstice, this post is for you. For all of those nerd founders that don’t have an athletic bone in their body— and believe me that’s me, running can be something of a godsend. It doesn’t require hand-eye coordination like all of the sportsball events. It doesn’t require any sportsball skill at all — except the first few revolutions on the elliptical (I do have to admit I’ve fallen off a few times, so be careful). It’s the first time I felt a deeper understanding of why sports people are happy, why they seem better able to handle stress, and why they look better.
I may not be a great runner, but running is great for me.