Monday, June 12, 2017

Onebagging Minibreak Successes & Failures

Photo Credit: Stefan Kunze

My wife, the Frugal Croissant, and I recently took a four-day, three-night mini-break to a seaside town. As vacations go, it wasn't the most frugal, but it wasn't the worst. Here's what we could have done to make it cheaper:

  • Drive, instead of taking the cruiselike passenger ferry. But we don't have a car, which is probably a larger savings in the long run.
  • Crash with friends. This would have required us to limit our destination choices to places where we already had friends. Friends of ours (from our own town) who visit this location often have, over time, made friends here and now crash with them, so that's another option, but it's a long game!
  • Make our own meals. We ate out for lunch and dinner each day, because we stayed in a bed-and-breakfast where we didn't have kitchen access. Had we researched places where we could have lived more dorm-like and less hotel-like, we might have saved on food. But most of those places probably require you to stay for longer.
  • Camp. This would have allowed us to stay for cheap AND make our own meals, and there's a campground in the area! But we would have had to bring a tent, sleeping bags, cookware, and other camping gear, so again it's something that would be a lot easier to do with a car. People do backpack with a tent, though; I know it's not impossible. And it's a relatively low-difficulty backpacking trip, since the campground is walking/biking distance from grocery stores and other amenities. So, maybe an option for the future.
  • Come in the off season. Which we might do at some point - but it's a different experience.

Here's what we did do to curb expenses:

  • Come in the "shoulder season," that transition period between off season and high season. This is cheaper than high season, and while some events and amenities aren't up and running yet, there's still a lot to see and do.
  • Book accommodations months in advance. Croissant set a calendar reminder to book in late winter, when people are still thinking about fireside hot cocoa, not beachside margaritas.
  • Get up in time for breakfast at the bed-and-breakfast. Something we have failed to do in the past.

An Experiment in One Bagging

You wouldn't think it would be hard to one-bag (well, two, if you count my purse) for three nights, but I found it challenging. At times, I felt I'd overpacked because my bag was overstuffed and heavy and there was no room to add souvenirs. But I also found that I didn't have enough clothes. So, I guess having problems in both directions means I struck an okay balance??

Here's what I think I did right:
  • I planned my luggage around what bags I would want at my destination. I correctly predicted that my days would be divided into two segments: a morning/early afternoon adventure in nature, and an evening stroll around town. For the adventure segment, I'd want my hiking daypack. For the evening, I'd want my purse. So I made it my personal challenge to use those bags and those alone as my luggage.
  • I brought a range of clothing options for different weather scenarios. The forecast predicted cold and rainy, so I brought my rain jacket, hat, sweater, and hoodie… but in the spirit of optimism, I also brought shorts, sunglasses, and lots of sunscreen. I was glad to have them when the weather miraculously turned out warm and sunny all weekend! But the cool weather gear was still nice to have for the ferry.
  • I wore my most unwieldy things while traveling. This was my jeans, jacket, sweater, and hiking boots. (Luckily it was also coldest the first day.) I'd considered wearing my sneakers and not bringing a second pair of shoes at all, but I was glad to have the boots when I got there - they were definitely the right shoe type for tramping through the woods.

Here's what I might have done differently.
  • Don't double up on pants. For such a short trip, it's probably fine to only have one pair of long pants. I could have worn my stretch nylon hiking pants as my main/only pair of pants, instead of packing them and wearing jeans on the trip and most of the time at night. With that said, I'd be singing a different tune if I'd really messed them up (falling in mud, say, or getting them full of thorns, both of which I very nearly did). If the forecast had been right I would not have been able to wear my shorts comfortably. So, maybe this was the right call after all.
  • Don't double up on layers. Even if it had been cold, a sweater or hoodie would probably have been fine, no need for both.
  • Do double up on T-shirts. I brought exactly three shirts for three days (in addition to the camisole/button-down combo I was wearing on the trip over). I didn't count on the fact that I'd get dirty and sweaty and want to change shirts between the Adventure Segment and the Evening Segment of the day. I ended up designating one shirt as my Evening Shirt and rewearing it each night because it was the only one that didn't get too dirty.

    I did bring an extra camisole, thinking I could mix-and-match it with the button-down, but after a day of travel the button-down was too sweaty to reuse, and I didn't feel comfortable wearing just the camisole. An extra standalone T-shirt would have been much more useful and taken up hardly more space.
  • Maximize differences between shoe types. I should probably have brought my sandals instead of sneakers as my second pair of shoes. I definitely would have preferred sandals to sneakers on the beach. If I were only going to bring one pair of shoes, my sneakers would be the ones to bring, but if I'm bringing two, then sandals and hiking boots together give the most variable range of footwear options.

Overall I think we did fine for packing, but there's definitely room for improvement. I'm looking forward to honing my one-bagging skills in future trips. It's fun to try to get things as small as possible, and I love not having a wheeled suitcase to bounce around.

Friday, June 9, 2017

One Year Purchase Review: June 2016

Now's the time where I look back on my purchases from this month one year ago to see what kind of lessons I can apply to current day.

In June 2016, I seem to have been mainly concerned with getting my cool-summer-weather wardrobe together for an upcoming trip to Maine. I don't have immediate plans to travel this June, although I did just get back from a weekend in Provincetown, and I had similar wild hairs that I needed such and such an item before I went (a swimsuit, hiking boots, etc. - I was successful in getting the latter but not the former.)

I also spruced up my summer work wardrobe a little. I bought very little other than clothes.

Wool Hoodie: $100
A lightweight wool hoodie is the perfect thing for summer because it's warm when you want it to be warm, but it doesn't stifle you like a cotton jacket or flannel. It can also be folded into a purse when you don't need it. I wear a wool hoodie all the time in the summer, but I now wear a different instance. Somehow, last fall I ended up giving my wife this one and getting another one almost identical for myself. I think I lent it to her once and she wore it so much that I decided to just get another one "so we have two between us" (but I now think of this one as hers and the new one as mine.) So I guess retroactively this is spending for my wife's wardrobe?? But she never would have spent $100 on a hoodie for herself.
Worth It (for THE FAMILY)

Goodwill clothes: $11
I don't usually have a problem with my Goodwill clothing habit. A notable purchase this month was yet another hoodie - I was worried the wool hoodie wouldn't come in time for my vacation, so I got a backup. It was a pretty good basic cotton hoodie, but since I did get the wool one and wore that all time time, I ended up redonating the backup without wearing it much. Still, $5 or so for a clothing rental is fine with me.
Worth It (even though I don't have any of these clothes anymore)

Very Discounted Wool Sweaters (2): $60
These were on super-sale because they were the wrong season. (Something to keep in mind for this year: will I be tempted by off-season winter clothes?) One of these sweaters turned out to be great, one I wear a lot. One turned out to be just bad in expected ways - the fit was weirdly off, it was like a factory second. QA problems, I guess. The problem was that I didn't even try these on until fall. I just got them, assumed they'd fit because I knew the brand, and put them away for next winter. If I do buy off-season clothes for an upcoming season due to sales, I should still be sure to subject them to the same scrutiny I would if I were planning to wear them tomorrow.
Worth It: $30
Not Worth It: $30

Work Dresses (2): $46
I got these from ThredUp, so they were used and lower price. Again, this is a half-and-half situation. One of these dresses was an exact copy of a dress I wear all the time for work in the summer. This was a great purchase because it basically just doubled the amount of times I could wear my favorite dress. The other dress was from the same brand but it was a different model I just didn't look as good in, and it took me awhile to realize that I was never happy to wear it.
Worth it: $23
Not Worth It: $23

Chiffon Infinity Scarf: $12
I got this at an upscale used clothing store. At first I wasn't convinced I'd wear a decorative scarf (I've never figured out how), but I fell in love with it. It's a great way to accessorize a basic work dress, and it has a place outdoors too, even in summer: it keeps the sun off my neck.
Worth It! (and introduced me to the magic of the work scarf)

Flannel Scarf: $15
I guess I had in my head the idea that I needed a different type of scarf for casual/outdoor use than workplace use, but this one didn't end up getting worn.
Not Worth It

Slouchy Cotton/Tencel Top: $35
This shirt was comfy, which is why I kept it, but it didn't wear well. After a few washes it looked pilled and sloppy. Buying new clothes is a fool's game. (When they're not wool.)
Not Worth It

LL Bean Clutch: $16
I have an obsession with small bags to put inside larger bags. I think I still have this somewhere, but I don't use it often because it doesn't have any organizer pockets.
Not (Really) Worth It, Alas

Digital Media: $11
$6 worth of ebooks and $5 for a podcast special download.
Worth It I Guess Fine Probably

Craft Fair Necklace: $25
I don't have to worry about spending at the craft fair this year, since we already missed it. On the downside, it occurs to me that I didn't wear this necklace once in the year I've had it.
Not Worth It

Total Spend: $354
Total Worth It: $210 (59%)
Total Not Worth It: $144 (41%)

Wow, not a bad total spend… I think I've overspent that already in June 2017, sigh. The percentages could be better in terms of worth it. Like I said, I think my main problems were not being judgmental enough about new clothes. I did well with the used clothes that I got, and the one major purchase (the wool hoodie) which I did a fair amount of research on.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

May 2017 Month in Review (The Month of Bras)

May was a disaster, but if I subtract out the bras, it's normal to good. I think the problem is that I basically acted like I have a separate budget for bras unrelated to my normal personal budget, only I don't. There's no, like, extra bra money. But I need bras!

Why I Need Bras
My bra size keeps changing. This is my third size change since I found "my true bra size," which is making me think that there's no such thing as my true bra size - it's always going to fluctuate. I had been blithely wearing ill-fitting bras for some time now, but it reached a tipping point in the last couple of months because the cups were so ill-sized on me that it was making the band uncomfortably tight. I'd come home from work and have angry red lines on my chest from bands that used to fit. This actually impacts my life because I didn't want to wear my bras and I'm not comfortable going out without a bra, so I was actually tempted to spend more time at home (going home right away from work and then taking off my bra and not leaving, for example). Just because of my bra-related discomfort!

As soon as I started noticing it, I realized that all my bras were unacceptable. My everyday bras were all the same model and size and had been bought at the same time (in fall 2015), so this wasn't surprising, but it was also true of my sport bras and my only swim top, which I could no longer even fit into.

WIth gradual problems, I have a tendency to deal with problems up to a certain point then suddenly need them fixed RIGHT NOW. Had I noticed it sooner, I could have taken my time with this bra search, but by the time I got started, it really felt like I needed bras yesterday. So I went a little nuts.

Instead of re-ordering from my usual Polish company, I decided to start from scratch and see if there were any new UK bras on ordinary e-retail sites to try. That was my second mistake. I went on a loooong, wild goose chase and ended up back with Poland anyway. But, I did end up ordering slightly different sizes than I otherwise would have, so I guess I learned something… I hope! (I just made the Poland order and won't receive them for more than a month.)

The State of the Bras
Here's the damage after one full month of bra shopping.

  • Ordered, not yet received: $316 (4 bras, 2 swim tops; this is from June money, to be fair)
  • Current bradrobe, but the jury is out on all of them: $389 (7 everyday bras, 2 sport bras; I will almost certainly sell at least 4 of these "everyday" bras and maybe one of the sport when I find better ones to replace them with)
  • Bras I bought, wore briefly, then listed for sale within the same month: $146 (3 everyday bras, 1 sport bra; I already sold one of these for $30 so the net spend is $116 and may be less if I sell the others)
  • Bras I returned: I'm not going to list the purchase price since I was able to recover the sale price on these (or I have every expectation that I will.) But I should let you know that this accounts for 19 bras, for which 11 ($407) have yet to be repaid. Of the 18, 1 was sport bra, 6 were swim tops, and the rest were everyday bras.
  • Bras I already had before this bra blitz, and kept, and plan to keep: Zero. Zero bras. But I sold 4 of them for $15 each, so I made $60 here.

Total spend this bra blitz (net spend in every category except returns): $761
Total bra spend in May (net spend in every category except returns & June orders): $445

Other Stuff (Not Bras)

  • Work Clothes - $93
    I picked up a cheap sweater at Goodwill for $5.50, a work dress for $53, and a pair of Brooks Brothers pants from eBay for $34… but I still might return these, if I can. The fit isn't perfect but I was anxious to grab some more work pants, as they are also disintegrating at an alarming rate, but one thing at a time.
  • Hiking stuff - $158
    Prior to a vacation which involved some hiking (and could potentially have involved swimming but I didn't have a swim top), I bought a pair of hiking boots and 3 pairs of wool crew socks. I also got some boot waterproofing spray. (In a previous month, I talked about buying a pair of boots which were too small and trying to stretch them. This didn't work, so I sold the boots for $60. So you can arguably subtract that from this total.)
  • Travel Toiletry Organizer - $28
    This was totally unnecessary because I have like two others, but I love this kind of stuff.
  • Hand lens - $25
    This is botany supplies for my plant class.
  • Running clothes - $26
    A pair of running shorts. This was a remarkably non-dramatic purchase, mainly because it's an exact copy of a pair I'd gotten in a previous month.

Total May spend (non-bras): $330
Total May spend (with bras): $775 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Millennials are killing avocado toast

These avocados think they're so special.

I didn't mention the avocado toast debacle when it happened a few weeks ago - it just seemed like another rehash of the old Latte Factor argument, with the added insult-to-injury of having personal finance advice shoved down your throat by a Little Lord Fauntleroy who inherited all his money and never had to choose between nice food and real estate in all his life; truths underscored by his Lucille Bluthian understanding of the value of a dollar ("How much could avocado toast cost? $22?")

As with the Latte Factor, there's a grain of good advice, but you have to peel back several layers to find it. But you don't make headlines by saying something vague and general, like, "Make sure you keep your big goals in mind, and don't fritter away your money on things that don't really matter to you in the grand scheme." Instead, you evoke outrage by making a swipe at Millennials, and by presuming to tell us what our values are or should be. We must value home ownership. We must not value healthful, delicious fruits.

Lots of articles presume to tell Millennials what our values should be - specifically, how to spend our money. It's always super contradictory. Recently a friend-of-a-friend on Facebook made a good point by contrasting the infamous avocado toast article with a fluff piece decrying Millennials for the demise of the "casual dining" industry. It seems Millennials just aren't eating at Applebee's enough. So which is it: we're eating out too much, or not enough?

It's a tired trope that Millennials get blamed for everything in fluff pieces, but the ones that criticize our spending habits are particularly ludicrous. We don't save enough; we don't spend enough; we don't spend on the right things. The "right things" are different in each article. It's become a meme that Millennials are killing" various industries by not spending enough dollars on just about everything you could think of from houses ("the American dream") to paper napkins.

Millennial-blaming is such an overdone rhetorical move that it's become almost easier to find an article making fun of it than one honestly doing it, but it's still a pervasive trope, and the fact that it took hold so easily - to the point of becoming cliche - speaks to a lot of bizarre assumptions about the duties of people - specifically young people - to industry.

Here's what I'd like the millennial-blaming champions of industry to consider:

Do businesses exist to serve people, or do people exist to serve businesses? Why is it the responsibility of the consumer to prop up industry, not the responsibility of the industry to meet the needs of the consumer?

Why is it only that way when the consumers are Millennials?

What factors, aside from pure Millennial stubbornness, might cause people's spending habits to change over generations/time? Consider: availability of disposable income (how are wages now compared to the 1970s? how are education costs?) Consider: relative prices compared to the past. (How much did homes used to cost, and how much do they cost now?) Consider: technology advances. (Can you really expect people to go shopping at Macy's when they have Amazon?) Consider: awareness of global climate change. (We should be using fewer paper napkins, dammit.) Consider: the actual shittiness of the thing stubbornly not being purchased. (Come on: Would you voluntarily go to Applebee's?)

Who are Millennials, even? Who is and is not a Millennial? How might this definition be altered to make any kind of damn point you want?

What happens when a new business comes along and does better than an existing business? Who is "to blame" for the failure of the old business?

What is the value of saving an industry nobody wants?

What even is the point of capitalism?

Is not an avocado delicious, though?

Friday, May 5, 2017

April 2017 Month in Review

Here's what I bought for myself in April 2017.

Crossword puzzle subscription - $40
This is for a year of puzzle access. It's expensive for an app, but I guess it's about the price of four puzzle books per year, and it's a lot easier to grab my phone than to remember to carry my puzzle book around. I did the daily puzzle every day this month. We'll see if my enthusiasm continues. I really enjoy doing them on my phone, especially on the commute.

Summer running clothes - $50
This is a pair of shorts and a pair of socks.

I've been running in long pants for the last year, and last summer, I simply did not running on warmer days. I'm not sure I want to stick with this defeatist plan. Plus, I feel like the more I run, the less tolerant of heat I become. (And more tolerant of cold. I didn't use my wool-lined running tights at all, all winter. I ran in ordinary yoga pants.)

It's been a cool April overall, but the first day I ran after my near-month of sickness, it was hot and sunny. So I was really glad to have the shorts. I like them so much I want to get a second pair, so I can run twice between laundry days.

Shoes - $206
Why did I buy so many shoes this month? This is three pairs: minimalist-style casual sneakers, a pair of minimalist-style running sandals, and a pair of hiking boots I got barely-used for like half the regular price. The original seller was passing them on because they were too small. They are also too small for me. Just by the teeniest amount, but enough to be uncomfortable if I were to actually use them to hike. But I REFUSE TO GIVE UP. I am looking into how to stretch leather! A project!

The running sandals broke immediately, but customer service has been good and is replacing them - hopefully, it was just a defect, and the second pair is better.

Overall, the jury's out.

Summer Casual Clothes - $100
This is a lightweight throw-over-a-tank-top type button-down, and a simple knit sheath dress which could be worn out, around the house, or even as a nightgown. I feel like both of these are verstaile handy items, but time will tell, since they're intended for warmer weather than we've gotten so far this spring.

Bras - $58
This is only one bra, a sport bra, but I'm proposing it as a category as it's already going to be my biggest category in May, I can tell you now. I'm having another "bra-naissance" after realizing my size and shape has gradually shifted and my old bras aren't working as well as they used to. I also need a new swim top badly, as I don't trust my old one to not fall off.

Anyway, this sport bra is okay. I liked it a lot after I tried it on; it has a good reputation, and it was a lot better than the other ones I'd tried on in the same session. But the more I wear it, the more uncomfortable it becomes. Branaissance, help!

Water bottle - $37
A 17-ounce cute green one I PROMISE THIS IS MY LAST ONE FOR AWHILE


Purse organizer - $11
I became obsessed with organizing my "everyday carry," probably because my summer kit has more pieces than winter - sunscreen, sunglasses, tweezers in case of ticks, etc.

Stuff For Next Winter - $10
This is just one thing, a wool headband-type earwarmer to be worn in combination with a hat when it's really cold, or instead of a hat while running in under 40-degree-F weather. In past months, I've learned the lesson that stocking up for next season is usually a bad idea, because by the time next season comes around, you're invariably not excited about digging it out; maybe the styles have changed, or you realize some fatal flaw in the item but it's too late to return it. But I didn't make a huge investment in this, and it's actually almost still cold enough for this due to weird spring temperature fluctuations!

Total: $560
I'm consistently above my desired outflow, especially since I want to be reducing these days. New resolution: no more water bottles, no more casual summer clothes (I have plenty to wear on the few casual days I have in the week). Unfortunately, I don't think these resolutions will make much difference in May, the Month of Bras.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"Easy, light, smooth, and fast": Lessons from Born to Run

Full disclosure: I wrote this about 3 weeks ago, before a brutal and tenacious cold/flu type virus took me down, giving me a persistent cough and breathing problems. I haven't been running since. Jinx, I guess. Luckily, I'm feeling better these days, and hoping to hit the trails this week.

Recently, I read Christopher McDougall's 2009 book Born to Run, a journalist's investigation into running. McDougall gets involved in the sport of ultrarunning (super-long races in punishing terrain); travels to Mexico to meet the Tarahumara, a reclusive Indian tribe who run as a way of life and have produced some of the finest ultrarunners; examines what type of shoe is best (and concludes it's no shoe at all); and considers anthropological evidence that humans evolved to run long distances as part of persistence hunting strategy. While I'm not sure I totally buy everything in the book - part of it read like a yarn or tall tale - it's an entertaining and thought-provoking book, and it definitely inspired me to get out and run more.

There are a few pieces of running advice in the book that I wanted to remember later, and what better way than to write them up in a post?

Try running barefoot

One of the memorable characters in Born to Run is Barefoot Ted, a distance runner who insists on running barefoot even in difficult terrain. The Tarahumara, too, wear only light huarache sandals, cut from rubber tires. In a memorable scene, a group of Tarahumara runners who are sponsored by a sneaker company only wear the high-end shoes for the first mile or so of a race, stopping to remove them as soon as they're away from the starting line cameras.

When you're barefoot, you don't run the same way you do in shoes. I can confirm this from experience. As soon as you take off on your bare feet, your body adjusts to a different running style, as if of its own accord. You quickly learn to land on the ball of your foot or the mid-foot, not the heel. You may land on the outside of the foot and then roll inward as you push off. According to the book, the barefoot running style is more efficient and less effortful, so you can run for longer without feeling as tired, and it's also less injury-prone.

McDougall spends some time investigating the history of running shoes as we know them. It seems that a wacky personal trainer had the idea that we could run faster if we took longer strides, landing on our heels, so he designed a shoe that made this possible by putting a lot of padding in the heel. This inventor went on to co-found Nike.

The problem is that the thick heel absorbs enough shock so that you don't feel immediate pain, but it doesn't actually protect you from the kind of injuries that result from this high-impact running style, which stresses your knees and joints more than necessary. And these shoes "protect" you from making use of all the specialized engineering that has evolved in the human foot. One of the most convincing arguments that I read in the book involved the foot's arch. The arch is the strongest shape in architecture. What you don't want to do to an arch is put anything under it. That actually weakens it, and puts all the stress on the support beam. So why are we putting padding under our foot's arch?

This book seems to have spurred a bit of a cult of barefootism. I've heard people claim that all running injuries come from shoes, and anyone can cure themselves if they simply run barefoot. I don't believe that it's that simple. I don't think barefoot running is a cure-all. I think there are some people whose particular body shapes, injury history, or other conditions mean that they do need special shoes, who can't or shouldn't run barefoot, or at all. I think you can still mess yourself up if you run barefoot.

But I've experimented with running barefoot now, and I can tell you that it has helped my style and posture a lot. I do feel like I'm expending less energy, and running in a more light, "springy" style. And it's fun! I like the feel of the ground under my feet, when the pavement is just beginning to warm in the morning sun. Even once I put my shoes back on again, I continue to run on the balls of my feet, just letting the heels touch down as I push off again, and it feels right. I plan to continue training barefoot and with light, uncushioned shoes or sandals. It may not work for everyone, but it's working for me and I want to continue.

So, I have the book to thank for inspiring me to try something new.

Posture matters

I'm not always running barefoot (look, I live near a poorly maintained urban park, there is a lot of broken glass on the ground!). It can hard for me to ensure that I'm maintaining that good barefoot running posture when I'm wearing shoes, even minimalist ones. I know that I should be landing on my forefoot, but your foot moves pretty fast when you run, so it's not always easy to tell which part is touching down first. Some of the other posture tips in the book help me make sure I'm on the right track as I go.
  • Back straight! Just straightening up can help me get rid of neck and back pain from my sport bra as I run.
  • Knees lined up under hips
  • Take tiny, bird steps (the opposite of those long strides that force you onto your heels)
  • Kick off behind you - this is where that extra energy goes when you take small steps.

Self check

While we're on the subject of checking in with yourself, McDougall describes a check-in technique that can save your life if you are a long-distance runner. (I'm definitely not there, but it's still a generalizable technique.) It can be easy to get "in the zone" when you're running and not notice danger signs, so a good technique is to check in with yourself every so often and ask yourself: how am I doing? Am I hurt? Exhausted? Thirsty? Hungry? Make sure you attend to your basic needs before they become emergencies.

Keep a little in reserve

Similar is the idea of always keeping a little energy in reserve in case you need it, not going "all out." This advice is also probably most relevant in an ultrarunning scenario when you may actually need that extra bit of energy to save your life. But I find it useful to remember even on a simple jog near my house. It keeps me from getting so drained by the end of my run that I swear off running forever. It makes me feel like I can do more the next time.

Running is social

Some of the most exhilarating moments of the book are when McDougal, or the other racers, find just a little bit of extra energy and spring in their step when they run into another racer or have company on the trail. Running doesn't have to be solitary - it can be social! Besides, as one doctor tells him, you're running at a good pace for you if you can still carry on a conversation.

"Easy, light, smooth, and fast"

This is a great quote, so I'll just give it to you. It's from McDougal's running mentor, known in the book as Caballo Blanco.
The problem with most people is they only care about getting fast, and think that once they get fast, running will get easy. They got it backwards. First focus on getting easy, because if that's all you get, that ain't so bad. Once you can run easy, focus on light. Once you get light, focus on smooth. By the time you're easy, light and smooth, you won't have to worry about getting fast--you will be.
Each of these ideas is interesting. Being smooth means "taking what the trail gives you," as water along a creek bed: don't fight it. Being light, as in light on the earth, as in leave no trace, is a nice reminder not to take heavy steps, and has a neat sort of environmental ring to it. But I want to focus on the idea of easy.

This is probably the most revelatory ideas in this book, for me: running shouldn't be work.

So far in my life, I've run because I feel I have to - because it's a frugal and easy way to get in shape - but every step has felt effortful. I've accepted the idea that it needs to be, that fitness is all about trading punishment for health / muscle / lung capacity / weight loss / virtue points. The idea that it shouldn't feel like work is totally alien to me. But, sure enough, when I feel pain or exhaustion (after an amount of running I know I can handle), taking it easy on myself has helped. Trading speed for "easy," finding another way to move so that I can keep going for longer, really works. Pushing past it, "no pain no gain" style, leads to burnout and stopping. Easing up lets me keep going.

"If it feels like work, you're working too hard," another mentor, Eric, reminds McDougal before the big race, knowing that he'll need every bit of energy to finish.

Pain isn't a badge of honor or a test of will, it's a sign you're doing something wrong. Whoa.

My goal for this summer is to keep running regularly, not to get to a certain pace or time, but just to enjoy it.