The Dirty Good 5 / 2 Theory

The Dirty Good 5 / 2 Theory

Paul and I have what we call our, “5 / 2” theory. It’s kind of like the “80%” rule most diet plans profess, or the endurance training principle of making hard days hard and easy days easy, or even the “work hard, play hard” mantra. But we try to remember to let the idea permeate and guide us through many of our life decisions.

Often we fail and allow monotony and complacency to take over for long stretches of days, or weeks but luckily one of us eventually has the sense to remind the other to bite the bullet and deal with the “2s” or the initiative to fire up a “5.” The last couple weeks have been a mishmash of extremes: tiring and thrilling, tedious and satisfying.

Basically, experiences can be scaled from 1 (painfully boring) to 5 (hella rad!). 1s can be useful for rest and healing, but we reserve them for that. 2s are the daily ins and outs of life, the “bread and butter” runs of a marathoner, the consistent habits that are sustainable and necessary but far from epic. 5s are hard. 5s are fun and heart pounding and anaerobic. 5s also inevitably lead to burnout if attempted daily. Endurance athletes often call the middle efforts, the 3s and 4s, junk miles. Both Paul and I have spent far too many years grinding away, living paycheck to paycheck, not really experiencing a whole lot of anything because we were stuck in the 3s and 4s limbo.

Sometimes I’m afraid that people think I gave up a permanent residence to live on the road because I just want to play all day, every day and that I think I can have an “epic” life without responsibility. In fact it’s all about having more 5s, for sure, but accepting the crap load of 2s that make the epic days possible. It’s about recognizing what kind of suffering I can put up with for the privilege of enjoying what’s most important. My suffering and my epic is different from anyone else’s. It’s different by far from the family I grew up with, it’s even different than Paul’s in lots of ways.

Last week I worked sixty hours over five days in the desert as part of Javelina Jundred’s race crew. On Monday I woke up feeling like I’d run the 100 miles. I won’t say it totally sucked: I met cool people, I felt productive, the sunsets were amazing and I got a free pair of Hokas(!). But I didn’t get my own training in, Paul had to spend a lot of time sitting in the car or sweating in the sun waiting around for me, and the constant noisy crowds wore hard on my inner introvert. Work level: 5. Fun Level: 2.

Ten days of sleeping in the car along highways and in the desert is okay though, because we are now just wrapping up 4 days of surfing and beach runs and tacos, which we spontaneously decided to do for Paul’s birthday celebration. We have spent enough nights in borderline grungy motels to save up free nights for an oceanfront view on Pacific Beach, CA. Fun level: 5. We’ve also eaten enough rice noodle ramen and cold refried beans and half cooked meat/veggie tacos when the propane ran out to enjoy a night of ceviche and overpriced chips and guac.

And, as part of our Level 5 week I got myself into a rented wetsuit and out on a board in the surf. My panic and almost phobia, really, of water is well known amongst childhood friends and anyone who lined up at a triathlon start with me. The waves knocked me around and unsurprisingly I never even came close to getting upright on the board, but Level 5 experiences don’t have to be about mastery or victory, although I did feel rather triumphant just for letting the waves knock me around a bit without panicking.

We can make mistakes, change our mind, fail, take wrong turns and even suffer a bit but reserving some resources to live outside our common space is mandatory in our quest for a full, vital life.