Just like an ultramarathon, it was both exhilarating and exhausting. There were times when I looked at how far I had left to go before I could sleep again in my own bed, and — feeling completely overwhelmed — I did what dozens of ultras and marathons have taught me to do.
Focus on the next step. And then the next. And then the next.
And, just like that, I went from city to city for a month and a half. Instead of aid stations, they were hotel rooms. Instead of long hikes up hills, they were 8- and 12-hour drives. And instead of downhills, the fun parts that ended too quickly were the events themselves, where I met hundreds and hundreds of No Meat Athletes and felt anything but alone.
I’ve been back home with my wife and kids for two weeks now. I’ll hit the road next week for two more events nearby (Raleigh and Charlotte, NC), but it sure feels like I’m done. And like every ultra I’ve finished, while I’m glad to be done, I’m especially glad to have done it.
Was it Worth It?
I really saw the country, for the first time. I connected in person with so many online friends I’ve made in the four and a half years I’ve been blogging. And I introduced a lot of new people to No Meat Athlete and to my new book, of which I’m extremely proud.
But if I’m honest with myself, the book tour came at a tremendous cost, in four areas that I can think of:
- I was away from my family for more than a month. Not only did this mean missing them; it meant my wife had to watch our toddler and infant all by herself. (Tougher than a book tour, IMO.)
- Financially, it cost a lot more than it earned. Hotels, gas, and food came to $100-$150 per day. And although selling books and shirts at events helped mitigate this cost, I definitely didn’t break even. But more people than I could have imagined paid for my meals when we went out and offered to host me in their homes, which I’m incredibly thankful for, even though I didn’t always take them up on it.
- I didn’t have time to do any other work. So while I was on the road working harder than ever, the appearance online to a casual No Meat Athlete reader was probably that I was slacking off!
- It was more stressful and more uncomfortable than life at home, and I had to give up a lot of healthy habits. I rely on reading every day to keep me sane, and though I brought a huge stack of books with me, I barely found time to crack open one of them.
Despite all that … Yes, it was 100 percent worth it, without a doubt. Here’s why:
The Highlights (in Rough Chronological Order):
- Being a guest on the Rich Roll podcast, mid- DC Vegfest
- Catching up with Jason Fitzgerald and Gena Hamshaw in DC
- Running 39 miles of the 200-mile RAGNAR DC relay, as part of an ultra team with 5 good friends
- Seeing my whole family and lots of friends at the Great Sage event in Clarksville, MD
- The NYC event at JackRabbit and run in Central Park, where the 70 or 80 available tickets went quickly, my first “big” event, and getting a drink with Evan Thomas later on
- Speaking at the Humane Society’s main offices and being introduced by Compassion Over Killing founder Paul Shapiro
- Running with the Crooked River Trail Runners on the same trail system in NE Ohio where I ran the Burning River 100 this summer — and meeting a high school freshman runner named Noah, whose parents drove him 2 hours to the event
- Meeting longtime online friends Joel Runyon and Erin A.M.G., as well as Chicago Diner owners Mickey and Jo at the Chicago Diner event (on the day of the marathon)
- Colorado Springs, where I hiked The Incline on a snowy morning with Dave Burgess, before and after being treated with incredible hospitality by Dave and his wife JL Fields (of JL Goes Vegan)
- Being pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm of Nebraskans at the Omaha and Lincoln events
- Having my wife and kids fly out to spend a few days with me in Seattle (and doing touristy stuff like visiting the first Starbucks in Pike Place Market)
- Herbivore Clothing and two meals in Portland, plus a drink with Mike Pacchione, who helped me prepare my talk before the tour
- The beautiful, solitary drive through the Redwood Forest and along the Pacific coast from Oregon to Mendocino, CA
- Staying at the Stanford Inn by the Sea (and eating at the resort’s all-vegan Ravens Restaurant), where I met author and nutritionist Sid Garza-Hillman, his family, and the Stanfords themselves, and where Sid and I recorded this podcast
- Eating dinner at Millennium in San Francisco with the owners, Ann and Larry Wheat
- The Samovar Tea Lounge event in San Francisco, where Leo Babauta, Samovar owner Jesse Jacobs, and I did a panel discussion about change — I had watched a lot of interviews and discussions that took place here (like this one with Tim Ferriss), so it was very special to be part of one
- Lunch, coffee, and a walking tour of San Francisco’s Mission District with Leo Babauta, a friend and huge personal inspiration and teacher of mine
- Making it to San Diego on Halloween night, just in time to trick-or-treat with my little Ironman (the superhero, not the triathlon) — my family flew from Seattle to San Diego to meet me there
- Being on Osher Gunsberg’s podcast, drinking this delicious kale shake, and riding his tandem bike to get lunch (and another smoothie) along the beach in Venice, CA
- Dinner with Nicole Antoinette in L.A.
- A brutal, verge-of-puking, boot camp workout with Gut Check Fitness in San Diego
- Hanging out with Susan Lacke, Doug Hay, and Matt Ruscigno all at once in Arizona, and having Doug and Matt join me from Phoenix to Austin
- Being interviewed on Tucson’s Morning Blend show
- The food in Austin, TX — including dinner with Christy Morgan, lunch with Rip Esselstyn, and a food truck “bacon cheeseburger” that was the most disgustingly delicious vegan thing I’ve ever eaten.
- Speaking at Whole Foods Headquarters in Austin and playing poker later with Rip and friends
- Meeting two more people with (real!) NMA carrot tattoos
- Closing down a honky-tonk bar in Nashville with Ray Cronise and Steve Kamb, after a fun event at Fleet Feet Nashville and hanging out with Jeff Sanders, Matt Ragland, and Brett and Amber Morgan
- Speaking to family and new friends at Malaprops in Asheville
Of course, I’ve got to mention that there were so many more people and great experiences than these. To keep this highlight list relevant to you, I haven’t listed all the people I met and spent time with who don’t have an online presence and who you probably don’t know, but trust me, there were a lot of them. And the people were the best part of this trip: more than anything else, hearing their stories of the incredible changes they’ve made, due to running and especially eating a plant-based diet, is what kept me going.
How I Ran, Ate, and Slept
Running: There was RAGNAR DC, of course. Then a lot of the events were at running stores, and often we’d go for a 3-5 mile run as part of the event. On a few mornings in some cities, I went for runs with friends. Oddly, all of that happened during the first half of the tour, and I didn’t run at all during the second half, nor since I’ve been home. I’m itching to get back out there, but can’t easily get motivated without a big goal — I’m working on that.
Eating: I wrote a post that describes how I ate for the first half of the tour (the short version: Whole Foods, Chipotle, and lots of raw trail mix and fruit). Once I hit the west coast, I started going out to eat at restaurants a lot more often and had some amazing meals (some healthy, some not) with great people (all healthy).
Sleeping: I rarely booked a hotel more than a few hours in advance. Each afternoon when I got to a new city, I found a hotel on Trip Advisor, Hotwire, or the Hotel Tonight app and booked it. On the second half of the tour, when Matt Ruscigno and Doug were with me, we stayed with friends of Matt’s for a few nights in Phoenix and Austin, which was great. I stayed with relatives occasionally, and although I planned on doing some camping, I never did.
What I Learned
I’m still processing the whirlwind of events, and I suspect that the most valuable things I learned as a result of this expedition will be sub-conscious — improvements to my self-confidence (for planning, undertaking, and completing something so big), to my ability as a public speaker, and to my level of comfort in being the center of attention signing books, meet-and-greeting, and whom people come out to see. As an introvert and pretty shy person, these things do not come naturally to me, but one of the biggest lessons I learned from this book tour is that the way to become comfortable with an uncomfortable situation is simply to put yourself into that uncomfortable situation night after night. Which isn’t so different from the idea of creating accountability when you set big goals — it took only a few minutes to announce on my blog that I was going to do this book tour, and once I hit “Publish,” then I had to speak and mingle and sign books night after night … and after a week of doing these uncomfortable things, they became easy. And fun, even.
I learned also that I absolutely hate having a smartphone. I can’t wait to get rid of it after the remaining two events next week. I resisted the smartphone for a long time, but finally got an iPhone for this tour — for the maps, the hotel apps, the photos and social media updates, and the Square card swiper. I don’t deny that these things were essential for doing a tour like this in the world we now live in, but I think the fact that I resisted for so long gave me a good perspective. I noticed that with the phone I was distracted, frequently checking in on email, Twitter, and Facebook after each “real-world” activity, as if checking in on the phone was my center, my happy place, my set point that I needed to return to after each meal, talk, stop for gas, etc. I noticed that I’d get out my phone with the aim of doing one small task, then lose 20 minutes or even an hour accomplishing next to nothing, when in the past I’d have spent that time thinking and enjoying myself. No, a smartphone is not for me.
I learned that by default I’m an optimizer, when often it’s better to be a satisficer. I first learned about the concept from the Happiness Project, but didn’t apply it until this tour. Example: at first, it took me a really long time to choose hotels. I would find one that seemed decent, then keep looking for a better option, to be sure that I made the best choice possible (optimizing). But after I realized how much time, stress, and second-guessing this required, I started just picking the first one that met my needs (satisficing). Believe it or not, it was hard to get myself to do this, but just seconds after the satisficing decision was made, I felt better for it. I’ve noticed this phenomenon in a lot of other areas of my life (restaurant menus are an obvious example, assuming you’re at a restaurant where there’s more than one option for you), and I’m happier as a result of satisficing more often.
And finally, I learned that all of *this* matters. I met so many people who enthusiastically shared their stories with me — stories that involved dramatic weight loss, health improvements, the discovery of a compassionate side, and the conquering of (or sometimes, the commitment to conquer) an utterly ridiculous, unreasonable goal and all the self-discovery that entails. And as a result, when I have those moments where I ask myself, “Does this silly blogging thing really matter?”, I’ll have this experience to back up the belief that yes, it absolutely does.
Not in any particular order. If you’ve got some good ones from an event you attended, please share it with me on Facebook so I can have a big collection!
Malaprops in Asheville, my “hometown” event.
At Life Alive Cafe in Boston on the day of the book’s release.
At JackRabbit in NYC, wearing my new Rich Roll Plant Power shirt.
Running RAGNAR DC.
With Tom Giammalvo and his cousin Mike in Boston.
Morning Blend in Tucson.
With my little girl in Seattle.
Lincoln Running Company
Red Dirt Running Company in Omaha
At the Ann Arbor District Library
With JL Fields in Colorado Springs!
Anthony in Sugarland, TX
Nikki in Lincoln, NE
Sid Garza-Hillman speaking before me at Whole Foods Oakland.
At the top of The Incline in Colorado Springs with Dave Burgess.
That Pacific coast I mentioned.
With TJ Ernst, who helped make the Omaha event happen
My little guy in the Asheville Barnes and Noble — this text brightened my day from across the country.
With my buddy Erin A.M.G. at the Chicago Diner, post-marathon (for her).
Not exactly the World’s Biggest Ball of Yarn, but …
With co-author Matt Ruscigno and Rip Esselstyn at Whole Foods HQ in Austin.
Fleet Feet Nashville, the last event before getting home to Asheville.
That’s it! Have a happy Thanksgiving, and look for a new podcast next week with a live recording from one of my talks — so that even if you couldn’t make it out to an event, you can hear it.