My Big Decade: The first 4 years

Big Decade years

I’ve been on this Earth a bit over 64 years. Four years ago, I launched a Big Decade of goal-oriented daily obsession. I’ve run 11 Big Years since. Were they worthwhile?

As discussed a few days ago, my four grandiose writing-related Big Years packed a punch but were not unqualified successes. In contrast, as trumpeted yesterday, the three very different Big Years that targeted my body rather than my mind succeeded brilliantly.

At age 60, I envisaged some nutty cultural blitzes. “Read a book every day, Andres,” I promised, for example. Well, I’ve only tried one such Big Year, listening to a rock music every day over 2017. Although that habit hasn’t maintained much momentum, the Big Year was a hoot and hugely enriching. That said, I can’t see myself trying any other cultural extravaganzas for the next couple of year at least.

Something I did not imagine in 2015 was the idea of doing some interesting study each day, but I’ve tried the concept twice in recent years, with satisfying results. In 2018, my Tractor Big Year saw me committed to researching, each and every day, the vista of self publishing. Two mystery novels in late 2018 and early this year were the heart-warming result. And this year my Wings Big Year, covering the generalities of birds, has given my knowledge a fillip it wouldn’t otherwise have had. I don’t think 2020 will see any such “new knowledge” Big Year, but surely I’ll try something else in future years.

Weirdly, my 2018 Stillness Year, which involved only ten minutes a day of Headspace-app-based meditation, was a spectacular triumph. Who would have thought allocating so little daily time would add so much? Enriching my days with tiny stabs at something new will probably be a feature of the next six years.

Overall, the Big Decade idea rocks! I’ve worked harder, stayed healthier, learnt more, and added variety. Bring on the next six years, I say.

I need an exercise-related Big Year!

My exercise history

In each of the first three Big Years since I turned 60, I employed something to do with exercise. I then decided this year to drop exercise from my daily obsessions. Now I reckon I should add physical effort onto the 2020 roster. Why?

You can see from the handwritten chart that my 2016 Jogging Big Year saw a massive increase in running kilometers, from around 1,000 kms to 1,700 kms. I’ve never been as fit and trim and physically energised as towards the end of 2016. With the 2017 Fitness Big Year, I added cycling (a move that was probably a good idea, though it hasn’t panned out as anticipated), and notched up 4,000 kms on the bike while winding back jogging to 1,000 kms again. I still felt fit. The 2018 Freshness Big Year was a more holistic concept. Although it did some good, my legs broke down twice and both my jogging and cycling diminished (although they never ceased). I put on some weight.

There is no exercise-related Big Year this year. I’ve succeeded and failed again on the weight front, and I’ve reduced my distance horizons to 5 kms on foot and 10 kms on the bike (that’s puny!). I’ll end up with a more consistent year than last year but no improvement.

What has become clear is how central physical movement and effort are to my overall energy, emotions, and sense of well-being. I’m now thinking of a renewed vigorous push in 2020. I’ll announce on that front in a few days.

Jogging Big Year: Does it consume too much time?

Can I offer some numbers, please. This year I jogged 170 times, adding up to 177 hours. Unfortunately I only commenced monitoring my gym visits on Strava late in the year, so this next number is approximate, but add 112 hours (at home I hit the gym on every non-jogging day, but when traveling, that’s not possible). Even more time consuming, this year I’ve instilled daily stretching, probably only missing a handful of days, so go ahead, slap on another 350 hours.

We end up with 539 hours committed to the Big Year. Assuming 18 waking hours a day, 30 days or a full month of the year was spent in the service of an obsession.

Whoa, I hear you say, how stupidly wasteful. Andres, I hear you chortle, have you added a month onto your life and if not, aren’t you crazy?

All I can say is that the sums are correct but your conclusion isn’t. If you watch the TV news every night, plus another hour afterwards, you’re in the same ball park. If you read The Age newspaper for an hour a day, you’ve “wasted” three weeks. Anything worth doing is going put a dent in your year. And shouldn’t your year be filled with activities of value?

Jogging Big Year: Success

At the beginning of 2016 I feared I’d break down or give up on the goal of 1,500 kms (later upped to 1,700 kms) over the calendar year. There have been tough periods, including a strange, emotional last three weeks, but today I stretched and headed off in the early Christmas Day light, before the big heat, on my West & Back route. Strava told me I had 1,690 kms. We’re hiking up in the mountains from Tuesday the 27th, and tomorrow involves a big party and drive, so I had to run my final 10 kms today or fall short of the goal. In Big Year terms, today was December 31.

The first thing I noticed was how exquisite the morning was. Often I huff and puff so much that I barely register the world, but today it glistened. A cormorant aired its wings on the lazy Yarra. A coot cackled. The second thing I noticed was how many others were out, exercising before turkey and bonbons and afternoon napping and simmering feuds. Emotions coursed through my body and my mind, at its worst, made matters tough for me. I turned back at the halfway point with a decent average pace of 6:05 but from then on I struggled, slowing and slowing again. Up the rise under the freeway . . . along the flat . . . under the gums . . . discomfort seguing into longing for the finish, then into the regularity of physicality . . . the familiar wrench of the final hill . . . and I was done.

2016: 1,700 kilometres.

Jogging Big Year: Why is too far still too far?

After 170 runs this year, each of ten kilometers, wouldn’t you expect that activity to regularize, to turn routine, to feel free and easy? But no. Each and every jog finds me thinking, “this is too frickin’ far.” I can step back and point to gains – stronger, a tad faster, less prone to injury, much quicker recovering – but moments of mastery are too rare to count. Even now, running hurts.

I’m in Bawa, an airy, efficient barn of a cafe. Today is not a running day but I did hit the gym. Outside the streets are torrid with Christmas shoppers, leaving me proud of my outsider stance. I slow breathing and ease into a more reflective mode: if running hurts, as I wrote above, why the heck do it? Has this Big Year been a chafing exercise in masochism?

And I realize my attitude – asked right after a run, I reflexively sigh, “man, that was slow and tough” – is just a habit, a shitty leftover from pre-Big-Year struggles. Looking at myself from on high, a scientist analyzing an insect, guess what I see? I observe someone who can’t miss a run, who mixes joy with anxiety, who can be caught smiling at least once every outing, who waves support to oncoming runners, who experiences triumph after each sixty-one minutes. Watch this habitual striver put his body through its paces, watch the body do what it should. Even from above I can discern happiness, a palpable joy.

What’s wrong is not the run, not its distance, nor its hills. It turns out that ten kilometers is the optimal magnitude for this non-athlete. No, the fault lies not with the run but with the mode of thought. Yes, I must heave, muscles must pit themselves against gravity, organs must cohere to battle fatigue, but my mind should relax into purring acceptance.

Can I cut the grizzling habit? Not easily. The upcoming Fitness Big Year offers a tremendous opportunity to try. If 2016 was physical training and exertion, perhaps 2017 should tackle the mental, the emotional.

So too far isn’t too far after all. Less far is not far enough.

Jogging Big Year: So close yet . . .

A gorgeous breezy Melbourne day along the Yarra. 30 kms remaining to hit my 2016 target of 1,700 kms. I’m jogging, four kilometres in, hugging the side of the path after being passed by cyclists, when I hear a parrot call in a nearby tree. I spot a guy peering upwards. I crane my head to look and fail to notice how the path’s verge dips into a slight ditch here, and suddenly my left ankle turns and I’m stumbling and I hear a little snick . . .

I run on and none of my immediate fears are borne out, for the next 6 kms flash by without more than a slight tightness across the ankle. 1,680 kms, 20 to go.

Now the foot is sore and hot across the top. Time for the ice pack . . .



Jogging Big Year: Try something new

Desperate to restore motivation, today I jogged East without a plan, taking random streets, keeping away from main roads, plodding along until Strava told me I’d gone 5 kms, then returning a slightly different way. This worked a treat: the run was slow but unusually enjoyable. Best of all, that insistent inner chatter – “haven’t you done this enough times, give us a break” – vanished, for the mind had to work at not getting lost.

So . . . back on track. 60 kms to go.