My job writing for The Simpsons doesn’t demand a lot of physical activity. If pressed, I’d confess I move around a little less than someone working in a tollbooth. My colleagues and I are usually sitting while working, but more often, we are sitting, trying to avoid working. I don’t know how much I contribute to the working part, but when it’s time to goof off, that’s when I really shine.
Recently, my colleague Rob LaZebnik suggested all of us writers try to complete a triathlon—running 26.2 miles, swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles. Not all in one day like actual athletes, but totaling those distances over a month. Since I complete a triathlon every day (sitting, snacking, and procrastinating), I assumed this one couldn’t be that much harder. Spoiler alert: it was.
Nine of us agreed to participate and instead of training or stretching, we started by creating a spreadsheet to track everyone’s progress. How else would we shame, mock and ridicule each other? Then, even before we began, some people claimed they were injured and unable to run, so we adjusted the rules to let walking count as running distance. Not just any walking however. You couldn’t count the walk to your car or a walk to our snack room to get an ice cream sandwich (too bad, I racked up some serious miles doing that). What would count was a “dedicated walk” where the intent was solely for exercise. With a spreadsheet and excuses out of the way, the race was on!
I am a big fan of Runkeeper and looked to it again now to track and record my activity. I started with cycling, and immediately failed. On my first ride, I blew a tire and had to walk my bike six miles home, the whole way praying this would count as a “dedicated walk.” Relating this story to my fellow competitors launched yet more heated discussion. Someone, let’s say Stuart Burns (I mention his name only because it was him), said cycling outside and getting a flat like that was “real cycling.” In his mind, “impure” cycling was riding a stationary bike while watching a reality TV show about feuding Seattle dental hygienists (NOTE: not a real show, but I write this hoping it becomes one). By this argument, swimming in a pool wasn’t as pure as open water swimming and a treadmill wasn’t the same as actual running, or even “dedicated walking.” Negotiations ended with us tracking both “real” and “fake” exercise on our spreadsheet. With that final detail, there was nothing left to do, except of course, to actually do everything.
I did my 26.2 miles of running outside, slow yet “pure.” I swam 2.4 “fake” miles in a pool, but the cycling proved to be my downfall. It turns out that 112 miles of cycling requires well, 112 miles of cycling. That’s a lot, especially to me, the proud product of four generations of laziness. I did my best but by month’s end, I was still 60 miles short. I had not only let myself down but also Runkeeper and of course, the spreadsheet.
I wasn’t alone in my failure; only five of nine entrants actually finished the entire triathlon, with one us dropping out altogether (I can’t remember the exact reason why, but let’s assume cowardice). Still, looking back, I offer congratulations to us all. We tried something new, got in some much needed exercise, and even better, all that discussing, negotiating and mocking helped us avoid a lot of work. And by that standard, I’d call us all winners.