Blank Space

It’s dark. The air is cold. The streets are silent and empty. Nothing but the sound of my own feet shuffling over the asphalt.

It’s been a long day. Up early, loads of work, we all know the way it works for go-getters in middle age. An endless loop of tasks, requests, events and thoughts. My thoughts. Your thoughts, my wife’s thoughts… my kids thoughts. Even my dog’s thoughts are floating around in my head at the end of the day. It’s chaos.

Not here.

Not out here on the road. Out here, in the cold dark evening after every normal person has settled into their warm house, I shuffle slowly down a narrow country road. No headphones. No lights. No company. No music. No podcasts. Nothing.

This is how I spend winter evenings. After all, winter miles make summer smiles.

It’s so much more than that.

I’ve always been a runner. At least as an adult. I found it in my early twenties and started racking up long miles when I lived in New York. It was a way to get away from the screens, break out of my city apartment and work through the day’s thoughts while exploring streets I knew I would soon be leaving. At twenty three, working in a major film studio and living in a city I didn’t know, it gave me a perfect escape. Rain, snow, didn’t matter. If my legs hurt or me knee ached, I’d just start slower.

Now, 15 years later, I still do the same thing. The habit I formed and followed then still forms the structure of my evenings today. Three kids, half a dozen cities and more mistakes than I care to count, I still look forward to that evening run. Rain or shine.


At some point, in the middle, I started eyeing longer distances. It was pre-kids and partly because, if I decided to go for a twenty mile run, I knew I had 3-4 hours on the trail before I would have to decide what else I should do with my Saturday. That and the access of now living in the west, I could see so many great things, think so many great thoughts all from the comfort of my own running shorts. I’ve run Marathons. I’ve run Ultras. My preference…. alone.

It’s always been this way. I hate official races. The chatter, the colors, the people… it’s all too much honestly. A total racket.

That’s just me. Running has never really been athletic for me personally. Yes, I stay in good shape but it’s always been about the mental side. I hardly track miles or times. I track thoughts.

I track dissonance.

I don’t track distance now. I track dissonance.

I didn’t understand this or a long time. I knew there was value but I didn’t know exactly what. All my best ideas have come from these long runs but, also I believe much of who I am today has as well. If you are a runner or spend a fair amount of time on foot, you likely feel the same way. It’s as if you are able to roll back the fog for a moment or two and see land. This land is the land you are sailing towards and the more time spent away from running, the thicker the fog gets. Before you know it, you are packed in heavy grey and not sure why you even started sailing in the first place.

Noise creates clutter and that clutter builds into dissonance.

Dissonance is simply a lack of harmony or a mental conflict of some kind. Perhaps a belief, maybe conflicting goals, perhaps our actions are not fully aligned with our desired outcome. We are ignorant to our logical inconsistency and our minds work hard to solve the problem. This active solving of an unsolvable problem creates inner tension and irritation.

This is a problem.

It’s a problem because, as long as we are existing with two conflicting ideas (often more) we live in a space of dishonesty. These are fairly easy to spot in other people.

The climate change advocate who flies to Cancun on vacation.

The loving father who spends weekend in the office.

It’s far harder to spot it in ourselves. We do a fairly good job covering it up, compartmentalizing, rationalizing or maybe simply ignoring.

Not only that but they are far more bothersome to us than we want to admit. We stifle our fitness goals with compromise in snack choice, we erode real life friendships with a desire to get “followers”, we reduce quality time with our kids by being mentally elsewhere.

It’s hard for most people to be harsh and honest with yourself in the way you need to be in order to sort through this level of personal noise.

Not when we’re running.

When you run or walk for long periods of time, these inner conflicts… they dissipate. We see through our own nonsense, our own false self. Like through a fog, we see land.

You know why? We’re too tired.

When you run distance, you’re just too tired for your own B.S. You can’t support it any longer. It’s extra cargo that needs to be thrown over the side.

We get honest with ourselves. We can clearly identify things that are a waste and things that are of value. We throw our hands up into the air and say “who gives a sh!t!”. Exhausted from our excuses. They seem like such silliness now, alone on the road. Legs aching and shoulders tired.

That is what is looks like to break dissonance.

In that moment, it’s not that we don’t care. It’s that we run out of energy for the things we don’t care about. We are forced to lighten the load. Not because we want to or because it’s easy. Because its required. It’s survival.

"Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony"  - Mahatma Gandhi

That’s a pretty good definition of what produces happiness.

In the end, I think that is what this is all really about. I think why running, even in miserable conditions can be so enjoyable. It’s about alignment. Alignment of purpose. Alignment of intention. It’s about reducing the nag of things we don’t realy care about. In exhaustion, we drop every meaningless thing and focus only on what is paramount. About getting to the point.


When I was younger, I saw the Gandhi quote above as a call to honesty. Perhaps to reduce people pleasing tendency or to stop trying to be something you aren’t. I was focused on the external output of the idea. This surely brought me a lot of happiness and has made my life better however, a whole new world opened up when I realized much of my own stress was caused by simply not making a decision on my own thoughts. This simple ambiguity was causing dissonance.

You have two good thoughts. Both are legitimate. Regardless of their quality, one must be picked and in picking, you must fully commit to the consequences of having picked it.

This is where the real magic is. Distillation. Taking from an endless world of good options, one thing. One thing and being fully committed to that one thing. Rain, wind, sun, doesn’t matter.

As I lace up my shoes

Another dark evening. Kids in bed. I’m exhausted. It’s raining slightly; enough that I will be damp and cold for the next 90 minutes.

I am running the same route I ran last night. Sure, there are better routes I could run, ways I could get exercise and keep feeling in my fingers. It’s not about that.

It’s not about being tough either. Not about grit or some macho-chacho nonsense. I have nothing left to prove, too old for that. It’s simply a commitment to doing what I do, what I love. Reduction in noise. To be exhausted.

I take pain to remove pain.

The physical pain I am taking now is nothing compared to the mental pain of inner conflict and a life half lived. I aim, as you should aim, to live a full life dedicated to only a few most important things. Things that, when it’s all said and done have resonance, have tone.

The end will come. When it does, very little of what we spent our time caring about will matter.