A couple weeks before Christmas, I was standing backstage with Zeke Hampton, killing time before the two of us went on for the Charleston Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker.”
The both of us were shirtless and wearing powder-blue harem pants and gold turbans — looking a little ridiculous.
I was nervously chatting about the Spartan Race I’d run in August and talking about what I thought I wanted to do in 2020.
I had some ideas. I had a list of things I was interested in knowing more about. They were things like beekeeping, mountain biking and running, caving, ultra-marathons and skiing.
A definite theme was emerging.
The list seemed kind of woodsy and outdoorsy, which made sense. I have a long history of avoiding the woods. I am the least outdoorsy person I know. My idea of roughing it is camping out in a Red Roof Inn with only HBO.
Or at least, it used to be.
Last year, I changed. I got healthier. I lost weight and became just so much more active than I’d ever been. Because of the exercise, being outdoors stopped being as much of chore for me.
When I finally got to the Spartan Race, I enjoyed the course. The Summit Bechtel Reserve was beautiful, even with all the jumping over walls and climbing ropes.
I wondered if I could maybe do something like that again, find another crazy race. What if I did something even bigger?
Then Zeke told me about something called “The West Virginia Trilogy.”
“It’s three days in the fall sometime — on a weekend,” he said. “You do, like, a 50k trail run and then a 50-mile run and then run a half marathon on Sunday.”
On Monday, I presumed, they buried you.
It sounded horrible. I was in no shape for that.
In October, I stepped into a pothole or something and badly sprained my knee. I had to wear a knee brace for weeks afterward and limped around like a peg-legged pirate.
Because the metric system still confuses me, I went to a website and converted the kilometers to miles and then added up the numbers.
It was more than 94 miles, longer than three 26-mile marathons. The longest race I’d tried was the Charleston Distance Run, which was only 15 miles.
I needed to think that over.
In the meantime, I needed to find some way to start the year. In past seasons of “One Month at a Time,” I’d started January by becoming a vegan, taking up self defense classes, learning ice hockey or joining CrossFit.
This time, I went in a completely different direction.
Several months ago, I launched a solo, side project called “Happy, WV,” a blog about looking for and learning about happiness in West Virginia, a part of the world that routinely is at the top of all the bad lists and the bottom for most of the good lists.
In all honesty, the blog has been hit or miss. I hope to do more with it in 2020. But even if the blog is still a work in progress, I did learn a few things, which led to this month’s project.
In September, I had a conversation with Derek Roberts, the pastor at Hope Church in Charleston about happiness and the search for happiness. Somehow, we ended up on the topic of asceticism, self-discipline and fasting.
Derek (and others) had embraced a religion-based austerity for 90 days to sort jump-start their lives. He described it as a kind of mental, spiritual boot camp meant to help men connect better with their faith and also shrug off nagging modern distractions and compulsions — like video game addiction, overeating and being a football-obsessed slob, among others.
Some of the program sounded weird at first — like giving up hot showers — but that wasn’t unheard of in fitness and alternative health circles. I’d also been hearing a lot about the benefits of fasting. I had friends who recommended it or practiced intermittent fasting, but what really interested me was the fast from social media and the internet.
Truth: If ever there was someone who needed to find a way to put down his stupid phone, it was me.
Things had gotten bad and I knew it.
I routinely check Facebook and my email as I get into my car. I also check when I get to wherever I’m going, even if the destination is only a couple of miles away.
I’ve regularly scrolled through social media while at home, on my couch, while watching Netflix.
My phone is the first thing I pick up in the morning, even before I turn on the lamp. It is the last thing I look at before I turn out the light — and this was all wearing on me.
I used to read a lot of books in the evening, now I don’t.
My days feel shorter. But I knew I’d crossed a line when I found myself looking at Facebook on my phone, while it was open on the laptop in front of me.
In the past, I’ve taken social media sabbaticals. The longest, almost four years ago, lasted for a couple of weeks — sort of.
So, just before the start of the year, I contacted Derek and asked him about that program he’d tried.
Derek sent me the website for Exodus 90, which didn’t really seem to be intended for someone like me (a baptized, kind-of-liberal, probably backsliding, non-denominational Christian whose last church experience was maybe not so great).
The program was originally designed for Catholic priests but had been used some among more conservative protestant faiths, too.
Exodus 90 was broken into three parts — a prayer side, an ascetic side and a fraternity side.
For prayer, Exodus 90 wanted you to set aside 20 minutes to an hour a day for prayer and reading scripture, specifically the Book of Exodus, which was maybe the basis for the movie “The Ten Commandments”?
I honestly couldn’t say for sure.
The ascetic side asked that you do a bunch of things to sort of reset — take short, cold showers; practice regular, intense exercise; get seven hours of sleep per night; and abstain from alcohol, sweets (including soda) and eating between meals.
Plus, there was to be no video games, no television, no movies and no internet use, except for work or school.
You were only supposed to use your phone for essential communications and not for scrolling Facebook.
Along with that (and more), there were fasting days, where you only took one full meal and ate no meat, but I figured I could use that to ease into more intense fasting — presuming there was time not to eat with everything else I was supposed to do.
Through the website you could buddy up with others doing the same thing (fraternity), lean on each other for support and encouragement and then, in 90 days, well ... who knows?
Derek said if I wanted to give it a try he’d jump in with me, and I said, OK.
Not everything applied to me, of course.
I don’t have a problem with sweets, alcohol or getting enough sleep (generally), but in for a penny, in for a pound.
I looked at the Exodus 90 program as a reboot, like a different kind of CrossFit.
I’d gone to CrossFit WV in 2019 because I thought it might jump-start my training for the Spartan Race.
It helped a lot and did more than I ever expected. It helped me press the reset button on my flabby, out of shape body and achieve very real goals.
Maybe Exodus 90 could help me shore up with my crumbling attention span and regain some of the time I was quietly squandering looking for “likes.” And who knows? Maybe I’ll feel a little closer to God.
I wasn’t against the idea. What did I have to lose?
Honestly, only about $30 to cover the cost of the app.
So I told Derek I’d give it a shot — for a month, at least. That was all I could legitimately give to the column, but I said if it seemed to be working, I might continue with updates on my blog.
That was fine by him, he said.
In the meantime, I decided to bite the bullet about the West Virginia Trilogy. Barring some unforeseen calamity, I’ll sign up when registration opens in about a month.
Now, all I have to do is learn out how you train to run 94 miles of trails in three days.
I have 10 months to get ready.