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How I finally started running
Plus: an iPhone trick that will save your ass, and the death of America.
Until a few months ago, I thought running fucking sucked.
It reminded me of torturous elementary school soccer practices. Endless stupid running drills that went on for hours. Some sadist dreamed up a million ways to make children sprint between traffic cones, and we cycled through those variations for hours without a moment to catch our breath, not even stopping when the sweat stung our eyes—all over the sonic backdrop of some out-of-shape coach shrieking about our inadequacies and blasting on his whistle until our ears rang.
Childhood memories aside, there’s plenty to dislike about the raw experience of going for a run in the modern world.
I mean look at treadmills. They are the perfect physical metaphor for the way it feels to be depressed. There’s a reason they were used to punish prisoners—and a reason the practice was eventually abolished for being too cruel.
It's not that I hate exercise. I’ve spent a lot of time at the gym, but I always preferred things like weightlifting, cycling, martial arts. Call me crazy, but there's just something profoundly unfun about that drowning-on-land, shins-about-to-explode, I-think-my-heart-is-giving-out feeling you only really get from trying to run for the first time in a while.
And yet, even so, my inability to run has been a consistent point of insecurity. How can I really say I’m in shape if I can’t even run a mile?
A few months back, something changed for me when I read How to run without all the pesky agonizing pain by Dynomight—one of the most underrated writers online. That article triggered a dormant memory, reminded me that there was a time when I ran regularly and actively enjoyed it.
In middle school, I was on the cross-country team. One of the few things I remember about that experience is that sometimes I would wake up at 5:30 am to run for fun. That's how much I didn't hate it!
Sure, the first few practices of a cross-country season were tough, but then something about the experience of running changed fundamentally as I got into shape. Here’s how Dynomight explains that transformation:
Untrained runners typically have this experience: You resolve to start running. The first session, you take off at a fast pace. After a minute or two, your heart and lungs are struggling to keep up, and soon your entire body is in pain. This is terrible. You don’t have the willpower to run through that suffering day after day, so you quit after a few sessions.
For some reason, people don’t tell you an important fact: That horrible feeling almost completely disappears within a few weeks of training. Your cardiovascular system develops quickly. Instead, you run until your legs get tired — an infinitely more pleasurable experience. The secret of all those “crazy people” on the street is that they aren’t suffering (or at least, not much).
Reading this took me back and made me realize that if I could just find a less painful way to rebuild my cardiovascular fitness, I could perhaps derive joy from running once more.
Dynamite’s solution is to jog until it gets hard, then stop running and walk until you feel ready to run again. Perfectly reasonable but a little too informal for my taste. Fortunately, they also mention a free and more structured program called Couch To 5k, in which you build up to running a 5k gradually over eight weeks by alternating between timed periods of running and walking.
It seemed like a good fit, and I gave it a try. For the first time in recent memory, I actually enjoyed running, and it was weirdly easy to keep doing these short workouts three times per week. However, after about five weeks the rate of progression proved too fast for my body, and my knees began to hurt.
Luckily, I stumbled upon something called Low Heart Rate Training via this ridiculous video, in which a runner named Floris Gierman explains the benefits of intentionally training at a lower-than-normal heart rate.
He recommends structuring workouts so that you accumulate time at a personalized target heart rate, even if it means running slower, walking more, or going a shorter distance. He explains all of this calmly while running an entire marathon in less than 3 hours. That is a feat so over-the-top that it should absolutely leave him out of breath, yet he seems totally unfazed as he chats on and on about the value of intentionally running slow.
His level of fitness inspired me, and this style of training seemed like a great way to progress in my running without pushing my body beyond its limits to the point of getting injured. Intrigued, I decided to give it a shot
Using this formula, I calculated my target heart rate to be 146 bpm. With that, I had everything I needed to start my new program. Now whenever I run, I monitor my heart rate on my Apple Watch and aim to keep it at or below 146 bpm. If my heart rate rises above that level (which happens very easily), I slow down or switch to walking until it drops back down to an acceptable range.
While following this approach for the last month, I have seen consistent improvement without any pains or problems. As a bonus, I’ve found it freeing to no longer worry about how fast or far I’m running, or even how many minutes I’m running for between bouts of walking. Rather than focus on external measures of my performance, I simply strive to collect 30-45 minutes at my target heart rate per session and trust that, over time, my fitness will improve. So far, that has actually been the case.
This style of training is so enjoyable that I now crave it and feel independently motivated to run. Case in point: recently I was traveling for five days, most of that at a bachelor party, and yet I somehow found time to go for three runs.
I never thought I would be such a fitness person, but here I am! Never would have happened without Dynomight’s article, so definitely check it out and subscribe to their incredible newsletter while you’re at it.
An iPhone trick that will save your ass
Nothing hurts quite like writing a long text and accidentally deleting it before you hit send. I have endured this pain more times than I can count.
On a computer, most of us know we can undo a mistake by hitting Cmd+Z. However, on a phone, there’s no obvious “undo” button, so for years I assumed there was just no way to reverse my mistakes and that once text was deleted, it was gone forever.
Turns out, iPhones actually do have an undo feature that works basically anywhere you can write text. The problem is that it’s what we in the industry call a “hidden affordance,” meaning the feature is invisible until you take some specific action.
So let it be known: if you ever want to undo a change you made, simply tap the screen with three fingers, and an undo button will appear. And if you accidentally undo too far, there’s a redo button as well!
An article I can’t stop thinking about
Did you know that in China, children are only able to use TikTok for 40 minutes a day? Or that during those 40 minutes, they see educational content about museum exhibits, patriotism, and science experiments they can do at home, rather than the clips of dancing and “challenges” that define TikTok in America?
(Meanwhile, in the United States, one of those challenges inspired at least three car thefts in the span of just a few weeks on the block where I used to live.)
It is impossible to imagine the United States government putting up guardrails like the ones that exist in China, even though doing so would likely benefit us all. Americans love freedom and hate being told what to do. There is no shared American value for the government to lean on that could enable it to protect us from our own pleasure-seeking behavior online.
TikTok is a Time Bomb is a long but powerful read about the ways in which TikTok and other social media apps wear away at our minds and, over time, have the potential to damage society. More interestingly, it analyzes the cultural and governmental differences between the United States and China that make Americans especially susceptible to these risks.
At times the article’s tone can be overly sensational and even melodramatic. But the second section, “Seven Mouths, Eight Tongues,” is so good that I want everyone I know to read it. Its concise explanation of the problems with American culture and American democracy is spot-on and has haunted me for weeks since I first read it.
Shout out to Mallory for first sharing this article with me, and for performing in my GIF!
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