The Anti-Marathon

Anti-Marathon Check In: The “Commitment Is Hard” Edition

It’s not easy to prioritize training—particularly without the looming threat of public humiliation. 

How are the marathoners and anti-marathoners staying motivated?

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So, we’re one month into the Anti-Marathon, and by every indication, it’s been a bit of a slow start! Turns out it’s kind of hard to commit to something that requires finding several extra hours every week and turning them into something productive. Who would have guessed? This might count double in the first weeks of summer when all anyone really wants to do is hang out in the sunshine.

I checked in with some of the Slate staffers who are completing their own Anti-Marathons—what follows is a lightly edited version of our conversation. —Susan Matthews, Slate’s science editor

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Susan Matthews: Hi, everyone! Thanks for chatting with me about your Anti-Marathon projects. Can we start off with a quick roll call from people here about what your project is, along with an emoji that explains how you think it’s going so far? I am actual-marathon training! 🏃🙅

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L.V. Anderson: I am practicing piano. 🤕

Jeffrey Bloomer: I purchased a chess board and set it up. 🤔

Heather Schwedel: I’m crocheting and knitting. 👵

Seth Maxon: I am supposed to be learning how to play “Clair de Lune” on piano. 😭

Megan Wiegand: I am supposed to be learning to code 😔

Dawnthea Price: I am building upper and lower body strength to keep myself aloft in scary circus toys 😖 🎪 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Abby McIntyre: I’m writing a novel and I’m two chapters in 😁

Dan Kois: I’m trying to learn basic conversational Spanish. 😐

Matthews: So, by the looks of our spreadsheet and a general feeling from your emojis, only some of us are meticulously checking off our hours. How are you guys keeping up when it comes to hours spent—and by this I think I mean both: Are you keeping up, and has anyone got a good system for tracking how well they’re sticking to the hours per week?

Schwedel: Since it’s been three-ish hours so far, I’ve mostly just squeezed it into Friday/Saturday. When I realize I haven’t anti-marathoned at all during the week and need to, I just crochet for several hours straight. I sneakily picked a project that can be done while watching TV.

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Anderson: I wish I could do my project while watching TV. I’ve been very, very behind on hours. I think I only did the prescribed number of hours the first week; since then I’ve averaged maybe one to two hours per week? Let’s say I’m preparing for a piano half-marathon.

McIntyre: Yeah, like Heather said, the time commitment hasn’t been so much so far that it’s un-accomplishable. I’m really into tracking things in Google spreadsheets (which is what I also do for marathon-marathon training) so I’ve been putting down how many words a day I write and am keeping a running total each week of how many hours. It’s working really well for me.

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Kois: I have been tracking my hours in my head, which is the same place I yell at myself for way underperforming thus far.

Price: I am mostly keeping up, but I fell off a bit between some big moving hauls and the holiday weekend, and didn’t hit time for the past two weeks. To keep track of the time, I’ve been using music playlists.

Matthews: How are you guys feeling about how tangible and specific your final goals are? Is five months out just too far away?

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I know that for me, this is the longest race I’ve ever trained for. November feels extremely far away right now. I have definitely been slacking off a little bit when it comes to my Saturday distance runs, and there was a week when I was traveling where I missed a couple of workouts. It was actually only this past weekend when I was pushing through an uphill that for the first time I told myself, “Hey, you actually need to be able to run a marathon in November, so sack up.” What’s been motivating for you guys?

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Schwedel: My project of just getting better is pretty nonspecific. I do really want to finish the current blanket I’m working on, which I started before the Anti-Marathon and was supposed to be a baby shower gift in … February. That baby was born in April, and I still wasn’t finished. So I want to finish the blanket while the baby is still a baby. I’m missing another occasion because I can’t go to her christening at the end of the month … maybe I do need a specific deadline.

Price: November feels pretty far, but I’m really enjoying this project. I need something to do that’s physically challenging, and I’ve been keeping myself in check mostly through fear and self-pressure because it can be difficult to get stuff done after work.

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Kois: My whole family is also trying to learn Spanish with me, which has definitely helped. We’re competitive.

Matthews: I feel like there’s some element of public performance in running an actual marathon that I have found quite useful … like, I will be in front of all these strangers, trying to run a marathon. Also, everyone I know knows that I am trying to run a marathon. It is weird. And also motivating.

Kois: That is how I feel about the notion of trying to speak Spanish to actual Costa Ricans.

Matthews: Abby, do you think that your past experience of marathon-marathon training has informed your current Anti-Marathon training?

McIntyre: I definitely think my marathon training experience has helped me as far as planning out my day/schedule and fitting writing in. (I’m used to fitting runs and workouts in so it’s just another thing I need to squeeze into my day.) And it’s a big plus that unlike marathon training, for Anti-Marathon training, I can always make up hours if I’m behind by just tacking extras on the next week. (With marathon training, you can run the risk of injury by doing that.)

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But it’s also harder in some ways because the task I picked (writing) is a creative one. And even if you don’t want to run, you can still put one foot in front of the other and just do it. But if you don’t want to write and a blank page is staring at you and you have no ideas, it’s hard.

Wiegand: I expected my previous marathon training experience to help me, for the same reasons Abby mentioned. But it’s totally backfired—I haven’t kept to my schedule at all. For me, running or other workouts aren’t a chore but something I deeply enjoy doing, something that helps me get ready for the day or relax at the end of one. Learning to code hasn’t been that at all, especially when I’m trying to squeeze in an hour after a long day at work. This past weekend I retooled my “training” schedule so most of my hours would be on the weekends, because I just can’t find the brainpower to do Anti-Marathon during the week.

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McIntyre: Good point, Meg! I think depending on the project that you’ve picked, Anti-Marathon training can feel less like a stress release (the way running does for me) and more like a stressor.

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Anderson: I totally agree. I do find it enjoyable and even relaxing to play piano because it’s rare time away from a screen … but I find it stressful to know that I am behind on hours, as I usually am.

Matthews: A marathon is an interesting goal because it is somewhat mindless (or at least, not requiring creative output), and something you can will yourself to do. A lot of other projects are not. I can will myself to get out of bed to run before work. I cannot imagine choosing to code for an hour before work.

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Kois: Haha, whereas I can will myself to study Spanish but under no circumstances would I get out of bed to run.

Valerie Woolard: And marathon training is much more about putting in the time. I can pretty much guarantee that 20 hours of running will make you a better runner. Twenty hours of writing may not get you any closer to finishing a novel.

Wiegand: Yeah, the snooze button has won every time I scheduled a pre-work lesson, but I’ll happily get out of bed before dawn to put in some miles. Well, maybe not happily, but it’ll happen.

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McIntyre: Valerie’s point is what scares me. By biggest fear is that I write the prescribed amount of hours, but never get anywhere!

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Schwedel: I love that idea that 20 hours will definitely make you a better runner! But I think 20 hours WILL make you a better writer, too. A better anything, right? Or if not better … you will have more to work with than you did with no hours.

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Matthews: Has anyone felt like they’ve actually improved at the thing they’re trying to do? I never time myself when I run so I don’t know. I think I’ve gotten slower because it’s gotten hotter.

Price: I feel a little bit stronger, but I also feel like the amount of time the anti-marathon has me doing these things is not actually enough time to accomplish my goal.

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McIntyre: Susan, I definitely think I have gotten better at writing. It’s still hard, but it’s coming a little easier (especially the characters).

Wiegand: Has anyone else found that the social pressures of this project haven’t been enough motivation to stick to a schedule? I thought for sure these chats and check-ins would keep me from slacking, but I way underestimated my powers of procrastination.

Matthews: Shall we go with more, subtle shaming?

Wiegand:

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Matthews: I will try to use both my own progress and the above icon to assist in this endeavor. I also think that next check-in, we should have a more public demonstration of our skills.

McIntyre: I can shame you all with my writing hours if that helps too. 😉

Matthews: Who volunteers to quiz Dan in Spanish? Let’s pre-emptively pit Laura and Seth against each other with a sight-reading quiz. Heather, I am going to come up with an animal silhouette that you have to knit on demand.

Kois: ¡Ay caramba!

Anderson: I welcome a sight-reading quiz! I definitely need more sheet music (and, like, exercises) to keep me interested.

Maxon: I second Dan’s ay caramba.

Matthews: We’ll meet again on the battlefield.

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