Power, Not Pity: How to Take Control of a Suboptimal Life

Bryon Powell writes about the changes he’s making toward his preferred lifestyle.

By on January 12, 2022 | Comments

The other night, I shared on social media that I’d had a rough 2021, that it was largely my fault, and that I hoped to actively change that in 2022. I framed it as a post of power, not pity. Undoubtedly, there are many types of misfortune that we’re powerless to prevent or change, but, in many instances and ways, we have more agency than we give ourselves credit for.

Indeed, plenty of human reactions to “misfortune” are to accept it, to encourage it or, heck, even to wallow in it. It happens. We do it. We’re human. But barring a devolution into an epistemological debate on free will,* we can make changes, we can shake off ennui, and we can power forward in a positive direction through our own actions.

I’ll spare you the details, but in 2021, I prioritized work far too much above living my own life. I’ve made this decision before with similar results. It wasn’t a situation of things being a little out of balance — that’d be me on my best behavior! — but a work-above-all-at-all-costs scenario. Again, it was completely my choice.

Below, I share some examples of steps I have or am taking to change my situation in hopes of a better 2022. They are purely illustrative rather than prescriptive for others.

Arrastra Gulch and Orion

Arrastra Gulch, Colorado, and Orion from a zero degrees Fahrenheit night walk last Sunday night. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Create a Spark

I almost titled this section “Find a Spark,” but that’s too passive. In early December, a race lottery came and went, and I still had a blank race calendar for 2022. I looked around for races that (1) excited me, (2) would be a big challenge to finish, and (3) fit my schedule. I was briefly in despair as race coverage plans made all my top candidate events less than ideal. But, I needed this — a big, hairy, audacious goal — on my calendar.

I settled on an event that I am really excited about and for which I might at least minimize work-related detriments. No more details on this yet, but I’ll bring you into the loop soon enough. Once this event was on my calendar, I used that spark to quickly up my running volume and long-run distance. It’s felt pretty miraculous, but the math of goal + prerequisites of goal = motivation is straightforward enough.

Spread Embers

Whether a fatass run created in my head, a runner-friendly hometown snowbike race, a possible Navajo Nation ultramarathon reunion with a college teammate, or a far-off destination race, I’ve got plenty of ideas for events that will keep me striving to be prepared in the interim, while having fun along the way.

While both the destination event in April and my goal event over the summer motivate me to be adequately prepared, each also offers the prospect of actually taking real breaks from work to explore the areas where the races take place. I know I won’t take a week off at a time, but I can see hints of some downtime to help me recharge my mental batteries along the way. Looking back at 2021, I know I need that, too.

Create Space

So, “living the dream” looks a lot like getting up, walking to my computer, and sitting in front of it until it’s time to go back to bed … seven days a week. Meals are dry cereal or a simple meal — likely reheated — eaten at my desk.

It’s true that I carved out at least 10 minutes to run every day in 2021, but all too often I let the looming pile of work cascade down to fill in any semblance of me time, of training time. Last year, having a flexible schedule was a bug, not a feature.

Over the winter here in Silverton, Colorado, the mornings tend to be cold as [insert insult of choice] and the temperatures drop quickly again once the sun falls behind two westward peaks, the Sultan and the Turk, around 3:30 p.m., such that there’s a pretty clear window of when it’s most enjoyable to run.

So, for the rest of the winter, I’ve blocked out 2 to 4 p.m. daily on my work calendar to give me space to run. Heck, I’ve blocked out Wednesday afternoon in full! No, I have no plans to run two hours every afternoon and to head out for five hours most Wednesdays (and, if a meeting really is necessary at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday, I’ll be there). But, I’m giving myself some space, and I’m giving myself a chance to run.

Portion Control

After coming back from The Running Event trade show in early December, I topped out at my highest ever weight. It wasn’t a surprise, as I’d been near there months earlier and my running and lifestyle suggested this would be the case, such that I chose not to confirm it for a long while. I actually like putting on some extra pounds in the off-season looking toward my long-term health and wellness, but this was a bit much.

The extra weight also made getting back in shape while living at 9,300 feet and running on snow all winter more of an ordeal than it needed to be. So, I’ve simply cut back on my normally unrestrained portion sizes and drank a little less. Along with the below extra exercise, I’ve made some quick and easy losses to make the journey to fitness a little easier and more enjoyable.

Walk the Walk

It’s been a few years since I first tried this, but I’ve added in an evening walk roughly every other day. Some days it’s a speedy two to three miles where I’m pushing the effort a bit, while on others it’s a longer, easier effort, but far from a slow stroll. This won’t directly make me a faster or better runner, but it’s an easy way to help shed some of those early pounds before higher spring mileage takes over on that front.

As a bonus, I really enjoy these walks through the crisp air of Silverton’s night. It’s just me and my thoughts.

Stop Being Such a Miser

Uh, I’m a spendthrift. That’s a nice way to put it. There’s plenty of upside there and I’m generally quite content living a simple life. However, I occasionally overdo it. For example, I’ve got far more running shoes in my office than is right to have, but I consistently wear my shoes well into the tails of their lifespans.

And, voilà, every single time I take out a fresh pair of one of my go-to models, it feels like I’m running on air. I’ve learned this lesson countless times and yet I needed to learn it again.

I admit to having had treadmill trauma in my formative years. Running in a basement facing my neighbor’s cement wall was too much for me as a teenager. It’s left me with no desire to hit our awesome treadmill while facing a blank wall. I just can’t — or won’t — do it.

So, after more than a decade of being a television-less household, we sprang for a cheap TV to put in front of the treadmill. I doubt I’ll run much on the treadmill, but I’ll surely watch some sportsball and binge some TV series while getting my hike on through these winter evenings.

I’ve not pulled the trigger yet, but there’s an area of my ultrarunning and, particularly, my racing that I’d like to improve and I’ll likely look to hire a consultant to address that weakness. Aside from hopefully fixing that issue, putting some scratch in the game is a good way to build accountability.

Wrap Up

Again, these are just a few small steps that I’m taking to improve my life, which I let shift from my preferred path. If you’re not living the life you’d like, I’d encourage you to take an honest look at it and see if there are some small, manageable steps you can actively take to improve it. It can’t hurt to try!

Call for Comments

  • When have you caught yourself thinking that you couldn’t change your situation for the better before later deciding you could take action to improve it?
  • What steps can you take for a more powerful, positive life in 2022?

* Heck, I come down on the side of there being a lack of free will, only the appearance of such. But that’s hard to square with the premise of this article. So, I’ll fully accept a fundamental incongruity and move right along here. ;-)

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.