Sunday, December 29, 2013

“I don't even have to think about it, I just do it”: An interview with runner David Haase

My cousin David Haase has run at least one mile a day every day since February 8, 2009. This past spring he began farming corn, soybeans, and sugar beets near Willmar, Minnesota, after a nine-year career as a medical device sales representative in the Twin Cities and Eau Claire, Wisconsin. I often saw David run when I lived with him and his family in the summer of 2012, but we didn’t talk about it much at the time. Here he shares some thoughts about his running streak. 

What do you think about when you’re running?

It depends on what else is going on in my life at the time. When the weather's halfway decent, I run outside. Usually on these days it's on a five-mile route on mostly gravel roads outside my small town. I think about the weather, the crops coming in, and what we need to do next out on the farm. If it's an evening run it can get really pretty out there, and I'll see deer or pheasants, or a thunderstorm on the horizon. It's a peaceful time with a lot of reflection. I don't solve all the world’s problems, but I get a chance to chew some of them over pretty good.

In the winter, I run mainly on my treadmill, because I'm lazy. It's much, much easier to throw on a pair of shorts and just run, rather than suit up for the cold, though I think the dark gets to me more than the cold. Also, I prefer not to take the risk of twisting an ankle, if I can avoid it. So most of the time it's a treadmill run, accompanied by Netflix with subtitles. I get more entertainment, but less reflection.
David Haase, 2012

If you had to pick a different exercise besides running to do every day, what would it be?

If they were all equally feasible, I would probably pick swimming or road biking. I prefer individual activities, ones that have a decent intensity or are repetitive. I have never been a very consistent or strong swimmer, but I enjoy it whenever I do make it to the pool. I like that it's zero impact and a great workout. I think it's ironic that if you want to go faster, the worst thing you can do is work harder—you just thrash around. Instead, form matters so much, and your fastest swims are often also the easiest.

I also really like road biking. Eau Claire was a great place to bike—so many hills and great routes to explore. Here in west-central Minnesota it's a lot flatter. You have to go further to get to interesting features like the Minnesota River valley or the lake country. In July 2008 I did a long-distance bike trip with my friend Bill. We flew to Seattle and assembled our bikes within view of the Pacific. Then we headed east, for 10 days and 900 miles, through the Cascades and Rockies, and Glacier National Park. It was an amazing trip. If I had the chance, I could imagine myself just biking like that all over, every day.

Both swimming and biking have their attractions, but they are also limiting when you consider an every-day activity. If you're committed to never missing, ever, then you better pick a sport that you can do pretty much anywhere, any time. I am a member of the U.S. Running Streak Association (, and my nearly five-year streak is still pretty new compared to a lot of these people. Imagine running every single day for 40 years. I am friends with guys who have done it. They have run on 60 or 70 percent of the days they have been alive, overcoming so many obstacles to keep running. They have run through injuries, in airport terminals, through hurricanes and blizzards, in extreme temperatures, barefoot and shoed, at all hours, in all sorts of clothing. Most impressive to me are the guys who average 10 to 12 miles a day, for years. I don't think I could do that, both because I would probably injure myself, and because I can't imagine having that kind of time. I have enough of a challenge finding an hour a day. And I'll tell you right now, I could never do an every-day biking or swimming streak. It's just not logistically possible. So, in the absence of running, I guess I would have to walk every day or something dumb like that.  

What has surprised you about this pursuit?

Here is a list of things I have realized through running every day:

  • It's amazing how automatic and ingrained it becomes. It's actually so easy. I don't even have to think about it, I just do it.
  • I am just as dependent on my wife as I am on myself for my streak's continued success. She takes the kids, she lets me have the time, and I can never thank her enough.
  • Habits are so powerful. Make it every day, make it automatic, and you can accomplish just about anything. I think about the person I want to be. What would that person fill his time with? What would he choose to do? And then I try to build habits toward those things. You are what you do every day. (I think that's Aristotle.) I think what I love most about this running thing is this: like most people, I have a lot of goals, dreams, hopes, and aspirations. Most of them, I have come to realize, aren't going to happen. But here is one thing that I decided to do, and I have actually done it. Every day is an accomplishment, a victory. And that feels awesome.
  • I am surprised how robust my immune system is. My colds and illnesses are few and pretty low-intensity compared to many of the people around me.
  • Even though I run off 600-700 calories a day, it's still possible to eat that back and more. I can gain weight as easily as anyone, even though I run.
  • I am surprised at how I am never bored with running. There is always something to think about, something to work on, something to do.

What milestone do you look forward to the most?

There are many, many milestones to celebrate along the way. I'm about six weeks away from my five-year anniversary. I think the big ones for me will be 10 years, 20 years, and ultimately my 30-year “streakiversary,” as I call it. Also, mileage goals can be fun. I'm at about 8,800 miles so far. It will be fun when I reach 10,000. Some guys have 100,000, 140,000, and over 200,000 miles. I can't image reaching those levels. When and if I do, that will be pretty special.
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What can other people—those who would be able to try what you are doing and those who wouldn’t—learn from your experience?

The central lesson I keep coming back to is about the importance of habits in achieving your goals. Life is made up of a series of moments, a series of choices. So much of the time, we do things automatically, out of habit. An examined life—a life lived on purpose—is one where you choose your habits purposefully. And when you do that, you can achieve amazing things.

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Non-Gift Guide

(Author's Note: A shorter version of this post appears in the Dec. 2013 issue of Fargo-Moorhead Stride magazine.)

Virtually every magazine has holiday gift guides this time of year, and health and fitness magazines are no exception. “The runner on your list will love this fleece pullover!” “For your friend obsessed with bling, there’s a new line of Swarovski resistance bands.” (No, that is not a real product—probably.) Stocking stuffers, fitness gifts for pets, gifts for you, too, because you deserve it—there are products galore to give and receive, whomever you’re shopping for.

I sound cynical, I’m sure. The truth is, I love reading gift guides. I love to give and receive presents, and there are several fitness-related gifts I covet. But I also grow weary of consumerism, even when it is a means to an end like getting in shape. I am not against buying frivolous items from time to time, and I’m certainly not against buying basics. I consider things like a gym membership and quality footwear to be basics, at least for people of a certain income level. Still, the “buy, buy, buy” message we hear every day, in forms blatant and subtle, is a cause of much misery. You’re unhappy if you can’t have that shiny new toy. If you do get the toy, you realize more often than not that it really doesn’t make you happy. But there’s that other shiny new toy...

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To say that you can’t buy intangible things like health, strength, and flexibility is putting things too simplistically, I suppose. You can buy a set of dumbbells that will make you stronger if you use them. You can hire a personal trainer. You can pay a heart surgeon to give you a heart transplant. And so on. You can give these things to others as gifts, too. But there are some things money really can’t buy, things that will never be on anyone’s Ultimate Gift Guide or list of 10 Frugal but Fabulous Secret Santa Presents. For the sake of fitting in, let’s give them their own list.

The Little Mouse Non-Gift Guide: Four Fitness Benefits You Just Can’t Buy

1. Muscle tone. It is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve overall muscle tone without exercise. Taking anabolic steroids might help a bit, but they provide negligible benefits if you don’t also exercise while taking them. Also, the side effects are horrifying. Also, they’re illegal. Then there’s the Shake Weight. Though I’m unqualified to evaluate the company’s claim of “scientifically proven results,” I can point out that it’s designed to tone the upper body only. Exercise is the clear winner here.

2. Resting heart rate. The Mayo Clinic website points out that in addition to fitness level, several other factors can affect your heart rate, including medications and body position. Stress reduction techniques and weight loss through diet can improve your resting heart weight, too, so exercise is not the only solution. But many sources agree that cardiovascular exercise is the best way to lower your resting heart rate. Even if you achieve this by adding meditation and dropping medications, for instance, you can’t buy any of these other methods either.

3. A sense of accomplishment. I am in the mood to keep playing devil’s advocate, so let’s acknowledge that some people can buy something like a sense of accomplishment relating to fitness. For instance, you could feel like you’ve accomplished something after a shopping spree of workout gear and clothing. Or you could vicariously feel achievement by watching an exercise class or sporting event. But we all know these “accomplishments” pale in comparison to the real thing, that glowy good feeling you get after a workout.

4. Holistic physical and mental health benefits. For weight loss, you can buy liposuction. For a better sex life, you can buy sex toys. For more energy, you can buy colorful little bottles of fruit-flavored taurine. In fact, there aren’t many single benefits of exercise that can’t be replicated in one way or another by buying something. However, cobbling together a suite of products is a poor proxy for the holistic health and well-being that exercise provides. Panaceas may not exist in this world, but exercise sure seems a lot like one. During the holiday season and every other time of year, it may be the best gift you can give yourself.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

How is practicing an instrument like working out?

Shows like Glee convey the impression that music nerds and jocks don't have a lot in common. Despite what Sue Sylvester thinks, music and fitness are actually not dissimilar pursuits. If you enjoy one but don't believe you could do well at the other, consider these things that working out and practicing an instrument have in common.

Both can be painful in the short term, but they pay off in the long term.
At a certain point, it becomes clear to both musicians and athletes that there are no shortcuts. You just have to do the work, day after day, inching towards your goal, and that's it. [.....]

Read the full article on the Classical MPR website.

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Guide to Fitness Volunteering

(Note: A slightly different version of this post appears in the November 2013 issue of Stride magazine.)
What do you give back to your community—money, goods, professional services? These are worthy gifts, but there is something else most of us can give: our physical resources, our bodily strength and vitality. In some respects, this is the easiest way to give of yourself. It can be simply showing up at someone’s home, picking up a shovel, and throwing snow into piles. It can be walking around with a dog. It can be rock wall climbing with a child in a Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

Like monetary charity and general volunteerism, though, volunteering with your body—let’s call it fitness volunteering—often benefits from careful planning. Sometimes urgent need arises without warning, but be smart about fitness volunteering when you can. The limits of your physical energy and strength are even easier to appreciate viscerally than the limits of your bank account or the hours in a day.

There are all-purpose charity evaluators out there, like, but to my knowledge there is no fitness-focused equivalent, no guide to help you decide if a certain organization or cause is an appropriate recipient of your physical resources. So I have developed a brief questionnaire to help you fitness volunteer more thoughtfully.

Fitness Volunteering Questionnaire

1.   Is the organization actually a nonprofit? One of my online searches for volunteer opportunities led me to a Fargo-based retirement community seeking “exercise buddy” volunteers. It turned out that the organization is a corporation, not a nonprofit. You may decide an opportunity like this is still worthwhile, but determining an organization’s 501(c) (3) status will help you make a more informed decision.
2.   Is there a chance to be hardcore? Whether you even care about this question depends on what you want to get out of fitness volunteering. Stocking food bank shelves is a noble activity, and might in some cases provide a real workout, but there are many types of fitness volunteering that could launch you out of your physical comfort zones. Digging ditches for water conservation projects, for example, could be your chance to be a real badass.
3.   Is the timing flexible? Again, this question relates to your priorities. If work needs to be done within a certain time window, it may not align with when you are in top physical form. In that case, you might not be the best candidate for a particular volunteer job—though you’ll still be the best candidate if you are the only candidate. On the other hand, it might be just the challenge you need to exercise when you’re feeling fatigued rather than fresh.

Organization Spotlight (Fargo-Moorhead)

This list of organizations where you can fitness volunteer is a starting point. I limited it to the Fargo-Moorhead area, where I live. If nothing here captures your interest, think of what types of exercise you’re good at (or would like to get better at) and do some research on how you could combine them with volunteering.

1. Humane Society Fargo Moorhead The Humane Society’s volunteering FAQ states, “In extreme conditions, volunteers can pet the dog inside” instead of walking it. Hmm, sounds to me like a challenge to be hardcore (as long as the animal is up for it).

2. YWCA Cass Clay – Volunteer opportunities include child care (which my experience as a preschool teacher taught me can be quite physically demanding if you play certain games with the kids), yard work at the emergency shelter, moving furniture for women transitioning from the shelter to their own homes, and leading fitness classes.

3. Watch the Wild – This program run by the national nonprofit Nature Abounds needs more volunteers in the Fargo area. Record the observations you make on nature hikes for the Nature Abounds database.

4. River Keepers – According to project coordinator Christine Laney, River Keepers organizes canoe trips for on-the-water clean-up of the Red River “anytime river levels allow, preferably for a couple of hours.”

5. Your neighbors or any nonprofit in the winter – My parents still do all their snow removal the old-fashioned way, which I really admire. Occasionally I’m visiting them when it snows, so I know how tough a cardio and back workout shoveling can be. If none of your neighbors need help with snow removal, contact local nonprofits to see if they could use a hand.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Ridiculous Fake Paper Titles: The Fitness Collection

I love academia, but it is not without certain charms that tend to provoke eye-rolling or guffaws. One of these is overwrought paper and article titles. I recently asked some of my friends in academia to “write a ridiculous, over-the-top article/paper title combining fitness/exercise and your discipline.” Here are their responses. (It's hard to choose, but Richard's might be my favorite.)

Getting Medieval on Your Ass: The Socio-Religious Implications of “10-Minute Glutes” in Light of 12th Century Reforms
Amy Nelson, religion

Flexing Our Muscles: Maximizing Courtroom Presence Through Optimal Physique
Amy Urberg, law

(Perhaps taking a cue from buff Lady Justice?)

Pumping Iron for Energy: Characterization of the Biosynthetic Mechanism of Nature’s Prolific Dihydrogen Catalyst, the [FeFe]-Hydrogenase H-Cluster
Ben D., chemistry

The Stereotypical Vision of Our Fitnessed Bodies as a Threat Over the Sovereign Muscle of Our Minds
Caroline Laurent, American Indian studies

Complimentary Distribution between Fat Mass and Muscle Mass
Dan T., linguistics

Ethos, Pathos, and Logos in the Age of the Body, or Mass Building for Context: A Comparative Ethnographic Study in Muscle Group Concentration and Its Communicative Appeal
Eric King, English

Empty sets: Nihilist techniques for the bench
Jez, philosophical theatre

Engaging Muscle Strength Conditioning in an Academic Library: How Book Carts Improve Manual Dexterity & Macular Flexibility
KVTB, library science

Is this the newest, hottest workout?

PhilosoFITness, PhilosoPHATness: Shape and Pimp Both Body and Mind
Richard H., philosophy

Adding an Extra Set: Extending Public Awareness about Musical Spaces
Seth Langreck, English
Do you have the faux bluster and self-deprecation to try this? Leave a comment!