Running & Other Stuff timeline illustration
If you were to think about it as a timeline of the day and color-code it, with running being one color, and all those to-do things as another color, it would look like this. (Illustration: Brendan Leonard)
Semi-Rad

I Made Empanadas While Running the Most Productive Half Marathon of My Life

How much could you get done in a day if you were also trying to cram in a one mile run every hour on the hour?

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Someone once told me that every runner, at some point, confronts the urge to run a half marathon, broken up into smaller segments over the course of an entire day, without leaving their own neighborhood.

OK, that’s not true at all—nobody ever said that. But I did exactly that last weekend, because of a YouTube video, a growing list of things I wanted to get done, a need for exercise, and my curiosity. A bajillion people have told me about Beau Miles’ 2018 video “A Mile an Hour” over the past few years, and I took way too long to finally watch it. But once I did, I became an evangelist for it as well.

If you haven’t seen the film, Miles is a charming character, the story is inspiring in an everyperson kind of way, and the concept is pretty brilliant: the block around Beau’s house (in the country near Jindivick, Australia, about an hour and a half from Melbourne) is exactly one mile, and he decides to run one mile per hour for 24 hours, plus a couple more on the first hour, to make a perfect 26.2-mile marathon, run over the course of an entire day. Running one mile leaves him with about 50 minutes left over during each hour, so in those 50-minute breaks between running, he plans to do things around the house: Build a table, make soup, make a kayak paddle, polish his boots, pick up trash along the road, shave his beard, hang a framed picture, etc. Watching the film got me wondering if I could do my own version of it—but without the sleep deprivation of an entire marathon over 24 hours. More like a half marathon, and more like nine-to-five-ish, instead of nine to nine.

Last Friday night, the weather forecast was quite poor for a trail run where I live: 98 percent chance of rain, up to .42 inches, cloudy all day. And going to bed, I had a list of things I wanted to take a crack at on Saturday around our house, so I started listing them on a piece of paper from a planner I use as a journal: edit essay, vacuum cars, tear old siding off backyard shed, make empanadas, get to inbox zero, etc. I knew a route around my neighborhood that I thought was about 1.3 miles, a square loop of four streets, and figured I’d run that 10 times, starting at about 7:30, and see how much stuff I could get done in between laps. I thought running a half marathon on a rainy day would take me about two hours, and two hours of getting rained on would kind of suck—but if I broke it up into 1.3-mile increments, I’d only be getting rained on for 12 or 13 minutes at a time, and maybe that would be better?

If you were to think about it as a timeline of the day and color-code it, with running being one color, and all those to-do things as another color, it would look like this:

Running & Other Stuff timeline illustration
(All illustrations: Brendan Leonard)

LAP 1: 7:30 A.M.

I get straight out of bed, put my running shorts, shirt, and shoes on, and am out the door at exactly 7:29 A.M. I have decided to run a three-block by five-block rectangle from the front door, the same four streets each lap.

It’s raining lightly, just enough that my shirt is damp by the time I’m halfway through my lap, and running 11 and a half minutes is just enough to get me warmed up so that when I walk in the front door of the house, I start sweating. I finish my lap at 7:43 A.M. and make myself some toast and a pot of coffee. I think I should have enough time to finish editing the story I’m working on. I also have an idea for this film project I’m working on, and reminded myself to write a two-line email and send it to myself when I get back to the house.

I eat breakfast, drink a cup of coffee, and by the time 8:27 rolls around and my phone alarm goes off to alert me that it’s time to get ready for my second lap, I am partway through editing the story, but typing, deleting, and rewriting a sentence, then rewriting a paragraph. Oh well, running 1.3 miles will give me some time to think about this paragraph.

LAP 2: 8:30 A.M.

According to my watch, Lap 1 was only 1.28 miles, so I might have to run on the opposite side of the street on every section of this lap, to see if I can widen my loop just a little bit and get it to exactly 1.3 miles. (I don’t want to be finishing Lap 10 later this afternoon and have to run an extra half mile at the end just to get to 13.1 miles) I decide to go counter-clockwise this time to switch it up. I wear a hat to keep some of the light rain off of my face.

As I roll into our driveway, I decide to keep running all the way to our front door, to try to get to exactly 2.60 miles. It works. I take off my synthetic running shirt and hang it up to dry a little bit, putting on a cotton t-shirt and a pair of shorts.  I sit down for a quick 15 minutes of writing and a second cup of coffee, hoping I can wrap up this story, but again, I don’t.

It’s started to really rain now, and I start to second-guess the idea of running 13.1 miles over the course of a day with such a shitty weather forecast. But I have extra clothes and shoes to change into if anything gets too wet during my 12-minute jaunts outside in the rain.

LAP 3: 9:30 A.M.

I take off clockwise again, deciding I’ll just alternate directions of my loops the whole day. I have a couple revelations:

  • Why am I still double-knotting my running shoes every time I tie them to go out for another loop? I am going to stop doing that, and will save time every lap when I don’t have to untie double-knots.
  • I should be taking notes about this little experiment. When I get home, I’ll type up a few quick notes about each lap I’ve done so far. As soon as I finish editing that other story.
  • It’s warm enough today that when I get home, this light rain jacket is going to be wet on the outside with rain, and wet on the inside with sweat and condensation.
  • I wonder if I should try to get a snowberry bush planted in the front yard today?

A kid a couple blocks away, who is also goofing around outside despite the weather, yells “way to go” as I jog by, and something else about being out in the rain. I guess he’s happy to see someone else out enjoying the weather, and I say “you too” back. I should have high-fived him, but running back to high-five him now would be awkward/creepy. I finish with a soaked jacket, and my watch reads 3.89 miles. I sit down for my last cup of coffee and spend 25 minutes writing notes about my first three laps. I finish editing my story, or at least I think I’m finished.

I start to think about the timing of making the empanadas—make dough, put dough in refrigerator for ten minutes, bake in oven for 30 to 40 minutes—that could get tricky.

LAP 4: 10:30 A.M.

My right shoe comes untied after two blocks of running. I stop, double-knot it, and the other one. That’s why you don’t do that, I think. Double knots, still my vote for MVP of distance running gear inventions.

I sort of slalom my way through this lap, bouncing from one side of the street to the other, trying to increase the distance recorded by my GPS. It works, kind of, and I record a 1.34-mile lap. I decide I like the counter-clockwise laps better than the clockwise ones, as they seem to go by faster or something? More research is needed.

Drinking this much coffee (while putting nothing else in my stomach) is starting to reveal itself to be a bad idea, and I arrive home with a rather urgent need to use the restroom. Better drink some water and eat something before my next lap.

I measure and prep the ingredients for the empanadas. I eat a bowl of granola and almond milk yogurt, hoping it will stay in my stomach, while cutting the vegetables.

LAP 5: 11:30 A.M.

I head out going the opposite direction down our block to go a bit out of my way, hoping to add 0.1 mile or so to this lap. My socks are starting to get pretty wet, so I’m thinking about maybe changing them out after this lap or the next one—and then I step my right foot into a shallow puddle on the sidewalk, splashing water onto my left shoe and feeling the water soak through into the sock. The rain is still coming down, enough to warrant a rain jacket, but I’m soaked inside the jacket anyway.

I get home, realize I’ve forgotten to put the empanada dough in the refrigerator for ten minutes, put it in, mix together the filling, and go out to start cutting wood for the deck repair, wondering how much sawdust I can get on my running clothes before it starts to have a negative effect on the running, i.e. chafing/itching. (does Carhartt make running shorts? I doubt it) I measure the shed window. I try to think through the deck repair, and it’s very complicated because of the position of the gas meter and a sort of jury-rigged downspout that someone decided to route under the deck. Not sure that one is going to get done today either.

I hurriedly roll out the empanada dough, and start stuffing the filling into it. I don’t know why I decided to make empanadas today? I cook, but almost never bake anything, and it’s been at least 15 years since I’ve done this. I’m using someone else’s dough recipe and assembling the filling from memory, and I’m pretty sure I’m missing something.

I get the empanadas filled and in the oven at 12:31, trying to hustle out the door, but I’m late starting my sixth lap, which is fine, because this is just a thing I made up and literally no one else cares or notices besides Hilary.

LAP 6: 12:33 P.M.

The rain has stopped, for the moment, so I head out without a rain jacket for the first time since Lap 2. I am officially halfway through the project, and after this lap I’ll only have a little more than five miles to go. So I think I’ll reward myself with some dry socks. The running feels fine—I’m just taking a leisurely pace with each lap, because what’s the rush? But now I’m not sure I’ll get to everything on the to-do list I made last night. The 48 minutes in between laps really flies by, somehow. And now I’m hungry, so I’ll have to eat again after this lap, taking up valuable time.

I had a bunch of empanada filling left over after I filled the empanadas, so I make an egg scramble with it, pulling the empanadas out of the oven just as I put the scramble into a bowl. They look OK, except some of the cheese has leaked out of probably 80 percent of them. Plus I forgot to brush egg wash over them before I put them in the oven. But I guess they don’t look that bad.

I shovel eggs into my mouth and attack my email inbox, taking it from 12 unread emails to zero unread emails in about 16 minutes. (I love Gmail’s “schedule send” feature, which enables me to forward stuff to Future Me, to do tomorrow or Monday, while still getting the satisfaction of zero unread emails).

LAP 7: 1:30 P.M.

Still no rain, and I head out on my seventh lap wearing sunglasses, perhaps a bit optimistically. I am coming to the realization that my to-do list was quite ambitious, and maybe I should start focusing on tasks that I can finish in 45 minutes, instead of huge tasks that will take a couple hours to complete (like cutting and installing 12 additional 2×4 studs in the shed, or tearing off the couple hundred square feet of old siding. I think my pace is slowing, but maybe I’m just getting tired and it feels slower.

As I approach our house at the end of Lap 7, our neighbor across the street asks, “Is this your second run today?” Instead of saying it’s my seventh, I just tell her I’m running about a mile every hour and doing stuff in between. “It’s kind of ridiculous,” I say, because it is starting to feel a bit ridiculous.

As soon as I get home, I go into the garage and pull out our Shop Vac, to vacuum out both cars, which are, objectively, disgusting. I am not certain that the vacuum is powerful enough to actually remove all the bits of landscaping stones and wood splinters from the seats and floor, and I think maybe I should just drive to the car wash down the street and pay to use their industrial strength vacuum. (Fun running-adjacent fact: Sheridan, Wyoming, is home to the Bighorn Trail Run ultramarathons, as well as Vacutech, a manufacturer of carwash vacuum systems, and the largest private employer in town). Two minutes into vacuuming, I am proven right, but I go through the motions anyway, and the cars are not sparkling clean, but drastically improved. With the ten minutes I have left, I start to measure and inventory leftover wood to build a shelf under our basement staircase.

LAP 8: 2:30 P.M.

I am starting to feel like I want to be done with this whole thing, but at least it’s stopped raining, and with some luck, I’ll stay dry for the rest of my laps. I run counter-clockwise again, and I think I’m right, that these laps feel faster than the ones going the opposite direction. Unless I’m crazy, I think my watch measures them as a little bit longer, too.

I get home and try one of the empanadas, now at room temperature. Not bad. Egg wash would have really brought it up a notch.

I start cutting wood to build the shelf, thinking this might be the last to-do list item I finish within the time limit of my half marathon, as I now only have the break between Laps 8 and 9, and the break between Lap 9 and 10. After I carry a bunch of stuff downstairs, I realize I need more wood than I have at the house, which would necessitate a car trip to the hardware store, so I put this project on hold for now. I go out to the shed and start removing old siding with a pry bar, which is not a task I will finish today, but in a few minutes I can make visible progress.

LAP 9: 3:30 P.M.

I head out wearing sunglasses again, which prove to be unnecessary, again. My legs are starting to feel tired, and my knees are starting to hurt a little bit too. Maybe a half marathon on pavement wasn’t that smart of an idea? I am now starting to get a little self-conscious about how many laps I’ve done, now that I’ve run by our neighbor down the street nine times, and he’s been sitting on the front porch for many of those laps and probably wonders what the hell I’m doing. Me too, I guess.

This is my last clockwise lap, thankfully. I grab the pry bar and tear some more siding off of our shed, plus a decorative old door that was mounted to the wall for a long time. I cut a 2 x 4 and tap it into place, measure to cut the next one, and my timer goes off on my phone for the last lap.

LAP 10: 4:33 P.M.

Somehow I’ve gotten a little ahead, mileage-wise, so I won’t need to add any extra running after this lap. I am not running my fastest half marathon ever, and honestly I’m a little relieved I won’t be running around the neighborhood like some weirdo any more. I finish without getting rained on again, my legs are tired, but maybe not as tired as if I’d run the whole thing all at once, and I can finally change out of these running clothes, which have been in a state I would describe as “clammy” since the first lap.

I finished my Productivity Half Marathon in a time of 9 hours 16 minutes, and 2 seconds—or 1:57:44 total running time, according to Strava.

Some notes:

Was it more productive than running a half marathon first thing in the morning and then going after my to-do list? I don’t think so. I felt like almost every task I did felt like it was getting interrupted by my timer going off. At times, it felt very hectic, but also productive.

Is productivity the only sign of a fulfilling and happy life? I mean, maybe some days. But certainly not every day. I battle daily to drill this lesson through my thick skull.

If I did it again, I would do some things differently, like making a list of things I thought I could finish in my 47 minutes of down time between running segments. Writing down things like “cut and add studs to shed walls,” which took me a big chunk of the next day to complete, was kind of foolish. “Clean bathrooms” would have been much more manageable.

The interruptions in writing/email work definitely gave it a sort of Pomodoro Method feel—“I have 20 minutes to get my inbox to zero, so I will complete it in that time.” And it forced me to walk away from writing work in the middle of it, instead of banging my head against the wall for more than an hour straight, which in my experience, can definitely become unproductive.

It was definitely fun, and a great way to get through a rainy day, instead of slogging through a wet trail run.

One of my favorite moments in Beau Miles’ video is when he hangs a picture frame and says to the camera, “Been meaning to do that for two years. Ten-minute job. Awesome.” I think that might be the key to planning something like this: Making a list of all those little things that have bugged you (because you’ve been procrastinating them for so long) and knock them out in a flurry of activity and running. Maybe that’s what I’ll do next time, if I do a “next time.”

The to-do list ended up looking like this:

Productivity half-marathon to-do list
(Photo: Brendan Leonard)

And the map ended up looking like this:

Map of productivity marathon (many laps of one loop)

Brendan Leonard’s new book, Have Fun Out There or Not: The Semi-Rad Running Essays, is available now.

Lead Illustration: Brendan Leonard

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