Haz el bien, y no mires a quién. -Spanish Proverb


is the Spanish siesta under siege?

I recently read a New York Time’s article entitled, “Spain, Land of 10pm Dinners, Asks if it’s Time to Reset the Clock.” It outlines the ongoing debate about whether Spain should scrap its long-held tradition known as the siesta: a topic near and dear to my (former) Spanish expat heart. My immediate reaction to this question is a desperate “Nooooo!” as I long for the days I lived in Spain and enjoyed long lunches and “afternoons” that extended well into what we in the US consider evening, making days seem almost endless. But with Spain’s economy still suffering and unemployment at a whopping 26%, people are starting to question whether a move to a more 9-to-5-like schedule would be a good one.

The origin of the siesta

The word “siesta” comes from the Latin “sexta,” which referred to the sixth hour after sunrise, when the sun was at its highest peak. Historically, people in Spain and other hot European countries would take a break from their work at this hour, the hottest point of the day, and return re-energized to their work later in the afternoon. This tradition has persisted through the years, but this is slowly changing. In big Spanish cities, many businesses now stay open through siesta hours, and the idea that the siesta could be hurting Spain’s already broken economy is gaining strength.

The nap myth

In any discussion of the siesta, I feel the need to dispel this myth, as a service to my Spanish friends and “family.” Contrary to popular belief (and contrary even to what this current NYT article says), the afternoon “siesta” does NOT typically include an all-out nap.  I was asked by many of my students if we foreigners actually believe that they nap during siesta. When I told them that yes, most people do believe that, they were practically offended. They strongly reject the notion that the Spanish are lazy people who sleep the afternoon away. It’s not uncommon to see people taking a quick snooze on a hillside or park bench over the extended lunch hour, but almost no one is going home and crawling under the covers. The long break is to allow time to join with other family members and/or friends, have a nice, big meal (there, lunch is the biggest meal of the day) and have a little time to go for a walk or just relax after eating.

“Longer” work days

One point in favor of doing away with the siesta schedule is that it would give families more time together in the evenings. A standard Spanish work timetable is one of two options:

1. La “jornada continua/intensiva” (8:30ish-3:30ish, no lunch break) The people I knew with this schedule were teachers and a few dentists and specialist doctors. They do take a short mid-morning coffee break for a quick snack, but basically these people don’t sit down to a full meal until what we in the US would consider “late afternoon.” This is the less common of the two schedules, but the preferred one for most people. There is a slight pay cut, in most cases, for those who have this schedule, as they are working only  35 hrs/week.

2. La “jornada completa” (8:30ish-2ish, break for “siesta,” 4ish-7ish) The exact hours vary by business/profession, but the moral of the story is that most employed Spanish people don’t return home for the day until around 8pm, and most businesses (except for restaurants/cafes) have both mañana (morning) and tarde (afternoon/evening) hours, but are totally closed for business from 2pm until 4pm or 5pm.

Living on Spanish time

The Spanish timetable really is a striking feature of their culture, unlike any other in the world. A Spanish banker interviewed in the aforementioned article puts it this way: “It is the Spanish identity, to eat in another time, to sleep in another time.” This feature of Spanish identity and culture is something I was absolutely enchanted by living there as an expat. Obviously the midday break was fabulous, and another feature I really enjoyed about their shifted timetable is that they consider it to be “afternoon” until about 9pm. This makes each day seem so much longer, especially in summer. There is no hurry to get home and be in for the night. On the contrary: you’re encouraged to squeeze out every last drop of every day that you possibly can. That is a beautiful thing. On weekends and in summer, this almost endless day slides easily into an extended night, with late dinners that can stretch on past the bewitching hour.


Post-lunch relaxing under the siesta sun

Post-lunch relaxing under the siesta sun


Long lunches: excessive or essential?

Brazil recently released new food-based dietary guidelines, and 3 of the 10 guidelines (#s 4, 5 and 8) talk about the importance of taking your time eating, being with others and being present (i.e. not eating while working, driving, etc.) The siesta allows for this. This stands in stark contrast to the US, where most people race through their lunch break with just 30-minutes allotted, and many just eat at their desks or on the run while still working. All you have to do is compare the overall health of the population in countries where long, drawn-out family meals are the norms and compare it with that of countries where efficiency and convenience rules in all arenas (including dining) and you can see that this need for speed is really detrimental to the population. I would be sad to see Spain pushed over to that side.

The “night owl” culture

A common exercise with lower-level EFL students is to have them tell you their daily routine (I usually get up at ____, then I ____. After that I ___. I go to bed at about ____., etc.) so I became quite familiar with the “norm” of a daily routine for a typical Spaniard. My students were of a variety of professions, from engineers to dentists to teachers, and they almost all reported their “bedtime” as 11:00 or later on work nights. I also lived with two young Spanish professionals–a lawyer and a med student in residency, so I can confirm these norms first-hand. As the NYT article points out, the “prime time” hours for TV are 10pm-1am, and 12 million Spaniards are still watching TV at 1am. Families with young kids do tend to eat dinner earlier, around 8, and put the kids to bed by 9. But on weekends, it’s not unusual to see entire families (young kids and all) out to dinner past 10pm, and keeping kids up that late on weekends is certainly not looked down on like it is in the US.

So I guess my answer is this: they sleep about the same amount that we do, but seem to be much more resilient in flip-flopping their sleep schedule from week to weekend. During the week, they do go to bed later on average than Americans do, and maybe get up slightly later than the average American worker. On weekends, they stay up and out MUCH later than most Americans do, as the bar nightlife doesn’t even really get going until about midnight, and goes strong until as late (early?) as 6am. Those who go out do then, of course, sleep much later than the average American does on the weekend.

An uncertain fate

It’s hard to say whether the siesta will continue to be phased out as it already seems to be in the larger Spanish cities. I can’t even begin to hypothesize on potential solutions to fix Spain’s broken economy, but I’d like to think that getting rid of something so ingrained in Spanish culture isn’t the way to do it. It is these cultural differences that allow us to learn from each other, see things in new ways and reconsider our own way of doing things. Would the world really be a better place if everyone adapted to the model of the 9-5 grind? I think not.

¡Viva la siesta!



sacred sundays


     1. community of interest, activity, feeling or experience
     2. a company of equals or friends
     3. the quality or state of being comradely
(Definition from
I grew up belonging to a fun, friendly church community in which, like in most church communities, there was a social hour following the Sunday morning services called “fellowship time.” It was held in a big gathering space in the church basement appropriately called “Fellowship Hall.” Church members took turns bringing cookies and lemonade, and everyone gathered to get caught up with friends and family. Kids ran around and played while the grownups talked. But fellowship time was understood to be quite finite. After only a half hour or so, families trickled out of Fellowship Hall and off to their separate lives. There were errands to run, sports practices to attend, house chores and yard-work to do.
Spain is a place where fellowship time is understood to be an all-day event. Every Sunday. The idea of Sunday being a sacred day obviously comes from Spain’s very Catholic roots. But while 70% of Spanish people still identify themselves as Catholic, only around 15% attend mass regularly. Nowadays, this tradition of religious origin is so ingrained in Spanish culture that it persists despite having lost much of its religious purpose.
Sunday fellowship time in Plaza Nueva, Bilbao

Sunday fellowship time in Plaza Nueva, Bilbao

One of the main reasons Spain’s Sundays have been able to remain so sacred is that still, in 2013, almost everything is closed on Sundays. Running errands on a Sunday is simply not an option. Apart from a few pharmacies, fruit shops and convenience stores, the only open businesses on Sundays are places of gathering: restaurants, cafes and bars. Like in many European countries, legal restrictions exist in most of Spain that limit businesses’ rights to be open on Sundays. But that’s slowly changing: In 2012, all restrictions were lifted for the entire Madrid metropolitan area and in the most touristic parts of most other Spanish cities. You can read more about European “Sunday shopping” regulations here.

Of course SOME people have to work on Sundays. The people that run the cafes and bars that are open are working, though their work seems mostly enjoyable—many of their clients are long-time friends and neighbors. And obviously some institutions have to run regardless of the day, but many run on a “holiday” schedule every single Sunday. The Bilbao metro system schedule literally lists “domingos y festivos (Sundays and holidays)” as equal. But for now, the majority of Spanish businesses seem to be successfully resisting the Western trend towards making Sunday another day of business and productivity.

So is preserving this tradition a good thing or a bad thing? I’ve been on both sides of this debate. By now, I’ve gotten really used to it and generally think it’s an important and beautiful reflection of the Spanish culture. But I’ve also complained many a time about not being able to get anything productive done on a Sunday, and about the generally unavailability of things on Sundays. I also share the belief of many that, with Spain’s economy suffering as it is, it may do these businesses some good to stay open on Sundays and bring in some extra coin. But to lose the tradition of sacred Sundays would be to lose something at the very heart of Spanish culture.

I try to imagine my life in the US with Sundays as a sacred day, everything closed. What would I do? Go for a long walk with a friend, have coffee with my mom, play piano…sure, these are things I might do on a Sunday in the US anyway, but it would make a huge difference if there weren’t really any other options. If there was a cultural understanding that that’s what Sundays are for.

paseando por la Ría del Nervión, Bilbao

paseando por la Ría del Nervión, Bilbao


notes on Spanish night life

Feliz año nuevo a todos! Happy New Year, everyone!

I hope you’ve all had a wonderful holiday season and are now hard at work on some good propósitos del año nuevo (New Year’s resolutions) for 2013. Between the unseasonably warm temps and a very alternative Christmas dinner (homemade Italian and American dishes, all vegetarian), it didn’t feel a whole lot like the holidays here, but I cherish the experiences I’ve had. Certainly there will never be others quite like them.

I spent New Year’s in Barcelona, a city that truly never sleeps. You see the slogan “the city that never sleeps” given to cities like NYC and Vegas, but I think the most deserving of this title is any of Spain’s cities. While crazy long nights happen occasionally in many cities around the world, I think it’s safe to say that the regularity of such long nights in Spain goes unrivaled. My Barcelona New Year’s experience really solidified this idea for me.

To talk about Spanish night life, you need to first talk about Spanish day life. People get up at pretty normal times on work days; most people have to be at work around 8:30 or 9. A lot of people work straight through until 3 or so (as in, no lunch break) and many others work a split shift from about 9:00-2:00 and then again from about 4-7. The lunch breaks for split-shifters vary, but are never less than an hour and are sometimes almost 3 full hours. This speaks to the priority made of sitting down to enjoy your food, catch up with friends or family, take a walk, etc. Contrary to popular belief, a vast majority of Spanish people do NOT go home and faceplant into bed during the afternoon siesta.

When everyone finishes work around 7 or 8, it’s still not time for dinner. Most commonly, people are out mingling in the streets, having a glass of wine with friends or going for a walk. Dinner is at 9 at the earliest–an exception being if you have really young kids, in which case 8 or 8:30 is acceptable. Restaurants literally do not commonly serve dinner before 9pm.

For Spaniards, eating is much more about the experience and enjoyment with friends and family than the simple act of putting food in your body, so dinners can (and often do) last for hours. I recently sat down to dinner at 9:30 with some Spanish friends in Madrid, and we didn’t leave the restaurant until after 1:00am. This is completely normal.

This makes for a very different New Year’s Eve experience, as you can probably imagine. Most people are just moving onto dessert when midnight strikes, so the most traditional thing to do here is to bring in the New Year at the dinner table. Others, like myself last year in Madrid and this year in Barcelona, gather in the city’s main square with a big clock tower to count down and eat the traditional “12 lucky grapes.”

So now that it’s almost 1:00am, is it time to go home? Maybe for kids or elderly people (although it’s not uncommon to see people of any age out and about well into the wee hours of the morning), but otherwise, heavens no! Bars are packed and overflowing into the streets with people laughing, drinking, digesting, and getting ready for the next stage of Spanish night life: finding a discoteca or salsa hall in which to shake your groove thang. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read in Spain travel guidebooks or websites something along the lines of “don’t even think about going dancing in Spain until at least 2am.” It’s true–the discotecas don’t even open their doors until at least midnight, and they’re empty for the first couple of hours. People are still finishing dinner, after all. The discotecas typically stay open until at least 6, at which point most people head home to try to get started on some z’s before the sun of the new day comes up.

I attended a New Year’s Party at Razzmatazz, Barcelona’s famous indie-fabulous discoteca. Right around 6am, the lights came on, the DJ took a bow, the people cheered and started filtering out into the street. The next day, I was telling my Spanish roommate about my New Year’s Eve in Barcelona. Her shocked reaction could only come from someone who grew up here in the land that never sleeps:

“They closed at 6am?! Why so soon?? It was NEW YEAR’S!!!”


manners matter

As I sat in a small café eating lunch yesterday, a man entered with his dog and headed back toward the bathroom, his dog following him. He nodded to me and said “Que aproveche” (Bon appetit) as he passed, then waved a vague signal in the general direction of his dog, who then promptly sat down about 6 feet from me. The man continued on his way to the back of the café to the bathtroom, and his un-leashed dog waited patiently for him, occasionally glancing over at me, probably envious of my succulent jamón ibérico. I got to thinking about how normal this whole scene was to me: the stranger telling me to enjoy my meal as he passes me on his way to the bathroom, the dog entering the café unleashed and then sitting patiently for his owner to return…where am I? When did these things become so normal to me?

No tying up necessary: a dog waits patiently for his owner outside a bank on my street

**Side note: the manners of the DOGS here is a topic that deserves a post of its own. As I’ve mentioned before, they’re not usually on leashes, and they’re soooo obedient! What kind of dog training programs do they have here that we don’t?!
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about differences in what is considered polite and impolite here in Spain and in the States. I started compiling a list a couple weeks ago when a friend of mine asked me on Twitter whether it was true that Spanish people say goodbye to each other when leaving an elevator. Yes, that is in fact true, and it really struck me how that had become so normal to me I don’t even think twice about it.
So here is my ever-growing list of differences in manners/politeness between the US and Spain:
  • Say goodbye when you leave an elevator. I didn’t find this quite so funny until I was talking about it with my dear friend Jackie the other day and told her that you don’t actually say “Adios” but rather “Hasta luego” (See ya later!), as if you have plans to meet up with these strangers again later in this same awkward, claustrophobia-promoting scenario.
  • Say “Que aproveche/Buen provecho” to tables you pass in nicer restaurants. My roommates also do this at home– if I’m eating and they enter the room, they wish me an enjoyable meal. Adorable, no?
  • Don’t say hi to or smile at strangers on the street. They’ll think you’ve mistaken them for someone you know, or that you’re just crazy. The exceptions to this rule are: 1. When you meet strangers on a hiking trail and 2. When you meet strangers in the hallway or entrance to your own apartment. Then it’s totally cool.
  • Say hello and goodbye; it’s kind of a big deal. After living with a Spanish family this summer and now with Spanish roommates, I’ve concluded that they’re much more intent on saying hello and goodbye whenever they come and go, as well as goodnight before retiring to bed and good morning the first time they see you each morning. And the hellos and goodbyes themselves are a bigger production: when you encounter family or friends in the street/restaurant/bar/etc., you give them “dos besos” (two kisses) which aren’t exactly besos, but rather you pull them in, your right hand on their left arm (and them the same to you), and you touch cheeks with them on each side, making a kiss sound. I guess it’s a pretty intimate greeting/salutation compared to the way most Americans greet each other. It’s amazing, though, how quickly it becomes normal. Even my American friends and I here greet each other in this way.
  • Keep your hands on the table. Last year at a Christmas dinner at the house of some Spanish family friends, I learned that at meals here, it is most polite to keep both hands on the table at all times. This is something I still have to be conscious of almost every time I’m eating a nice meal here. From a young age, I learned that the proper thing was to keep your non-dominant hand in your lap. It turns out that here (also in France and maybe other parts of Europe), if you don’t have both hands on the table it signifies that you’re not really enjoying the meal. But I suspect that, in Spain, it could also have something to do with the fact that you have bread at every meal, and it is to be kept on the table (not the plate) on your non-dominant side. Children are taught that the bread can be used, in the non-dominant hand, like another utensil to soak up the oils or juices from the dish. So in this case you need the dominant hand on the table to be your “bread hand,” so to speak.
  • Get out of the way. In the US, when we bump into someone we pretty much act like we’ve fractured their skull: “Oh my gosh, I’m sorry! I didn’t see you there!!!” The return is often just as dramatic: “No it’s okay! I’m fine! I didn’t see you either!!!” Oh, so you mean you didn’t nearly die from me brushing up against your shoulder? Good good good. Well I have to say that here, it’s the opposite extreme, and I don’t like that either. People rarely apologize for bumping into you, even if it’s a pretty good shove. And I still haven’t figured out who moves aside for who on crowded sidewalks. Younger men will usually move for me, but among women it seems like I always have to be the one to step off the sidewalk onto the street  in a crowd. I guess I get voted off for my foreign-ness.
  • Raise your umbrella. In my 18th non-consecutive month living in rainy Bilbao, I think I’ve figured out the umbrella-raising codes. *Note: I know this may only be a foreign concept to my fellow North-Dakotans–not that it doesn’t rain there, but if it does we just run to our cars or avoid going outside. And in North Dakota you certainly never find yourself in the situation of walking down a crowded street where everyone has an umbrella, so it has been a big learning curve for me. Umbrellas make your space bubble a foot or two wider all the way around, so how do you navigate your much larger diameter through a crowded street? Umbrella-raising. In my experience, there are three simple rules in a head-on umbrella encounter: 1. If you’re a male, raise your umbrella. 2. If you’re younger, raise your umbrella. 3. If you’re taller, raise your umbrella. So being young and tall, I do a lot of umbrella-raising. That’s okay though, it’s good for the biceps.
    Manners are a peculiar thing, and it’s good to be aware of how different they can be from country to country, culture to culture. Even the most culturally-conscious of us are bound to make a faux pas here and there. Laugh it off, learn from it, and move on.
    Buen fin de semana!


honey, I’m home

Greetings from the US of A! Hard to believe it, but my 7 week visit home is more than halfway through. Time has flown. Everyone wants to know: how does it feel to be back? I think the best way to describe it is that it feels exactly the same as it did before. Like I hibernated and dreamed I lived in Spain for a year and then woke up back in the same life I left a year ago. That’s not a bad thing; I just mean to say that it really hasn’t been the shocking experience that some people seem to think it might be. My first few days back I was a little weirded out by being surrounded by English everywhere, and sometimes I still have reflexive “Spanish” moments, like saying “perdona” instead of “excuse me” when I bump into someone. Also, I’ve had a hard time with the American meal schedule (lunch at noon, dinner at 6:00.) I much prefer the late lunch (2:30ish) and much later dinner (10:00pm) that is the norm in Spain. I’ve done everything I can to push back my parents’ dinner time bit by bit as the weeks have gone on. The record so far is 7:00pm… :-\ But apart from these minor adjustments, it is business as usual here in ‘Merica.

That said, I’ve been pondering some US-Spain differences that I had never really thought of or realized were so significant before. This is my second time returning to the US after spending an extended period of time in Spain (the first being in 2010 when I studied abroad in Bilbao for 5 months) and I’ve noticed things this time that I didn’t before. Maybe because I was there twice as long, or maybe because I was more integrated into the culture in a lot of ways. I’m not sure. But here you have it, some ways the US differs from Spain:

Things that are completely out-of-control excessive in the US:

  •  Air conditioning. Turn it OFF, I am freezing! Very few homes, businesses, or buildings of any kind in Spain have A/C. And as you probably know, Spain isn’t a particularly chilly place. I spent the entire month of July living as an au pair in a big, beautiful and very modern home…with no A/C! On the days that the temps soared into the 90s, they just lowered the persianas (Persian blinds: very thick, interlocking blinds that block the outside heat, cold, light and noise) and the house stayed relatively cool. It may have been a few degrees warmer than “room temperature” inside, but it was hardly noticeable, and BONUS: you didn’t enter the preliminary stages of hypothermia from the 30+ degree temp drop upon entering the house after being outside. It seems that the approach in the US is the hotter it gets, the colder we make the insides of the buildings. The result? I have to wear a sweater out to dinner, even when it’s 95 degrees outside. Dumb. It’s no secret that European countries are much more energy-efficient than we are. I think that Persian blinds could single-handedly turn our energy crisis around. When I am a home-owner one day, they will be on every window.
  • Product variety. I recently read an article that said that the number of products carried by the average US supermarket has more than tripled since 1980. In Spanish supermarkets, you usually only have a couple choices for basically identical products (other than the mysterious “digestive cookies” and yogurt, both of which often seem to have their own aisle…) At the Walmart in my home town, there are THIRTEEN varieties of Cheez-Its. How do you choose? I think the excessive product variety can be considered good in some ways but really bad in others. The main problem is that a vast majority of these products are complete junk and often very misleadingly marketed, contributing to the increasing obesity epidemic in the US. On that note:
  • Portion sizes. This is a tired statement, I know. But I don’t think it has struck me as much as it has in the last month. Have they gotten bigger? I’m usually completely satisfied, if not totally stuffed, after eating less than half of a portion in a restaurant here. Luckily “to-go” boxes are a much more widely accepted thing here than they are in Spain 😉

Things that are fabulous in the US:

  • Genuine friendliness. In Spain, strangers never* smile at each other as they pass. It doesn’t mean Spaniards are mean, bad people, it’s just a cultural thing. You make eye contact, you look away. If you smile, the stranger will be puzzled, thinking you recognize them. I’ve gotten really used to that, but I’ve really enjoyed the smiles and small talk I’ve gotten from genuinely nice, well-meaning strangers over this past month.

*I’ve found there are two exceptions to this rule: it is totally normal, expected even, to smile and/or greet strangers when hiking in Spain, or when you are entering or leaving your apartment building and encounter other tenants of your building.

  • Things are open all the time. You can run errands aaaaall day long if you want, even on Sundays! Or for some things, in the middle of the night! Gosh, it’s so convenient! The Spanish practice of businesses being closed from 2p-5p (“siesta”) and all day on Sundays, while being a precious part of their culture and a reflection on their value of spending time with family and friends, is a common source of frustration for most expats.
  • Wide open spaces. This is pretty Midwest specific I guess, but I’ve enjoyed the spaciousness that is my parents’ house, the streets I run on, the open roads I drive on. There’s a lot less chaos. Open space = peacefulness. I love the bustle of city life, but the break has been soothing.

our big ol’ Midwestern backyard

Have any of you made observations of differences like these upon returning to the US after life as an expat? I’d love to hear if you share some of these or have made different ones.

As always, thanks for reading! 😀

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Bilbao BBK Live

A couple weekends ago, I had the opportunity to attend an awesome music festival called BBK Live. Among the headliners were a couple of my favorite bands: Mumford & Sons and Radiohead. The venue was phenomenal: 3 stages on a huge green space nestled up in the mountains overlooking Bilbao.

I’ve never been to such a big music festival (there were almost 110,000 total attendees at BBK Live this year) but from what I do know about music festivals, I know that this one has a few characteristics that make it quite unique, or namely, quite Spanish.

Even though there was ample camping available on the festival site, many attendees stay in Bilbao city center, so there was a free shuttle bus service running every 5 minutes, day and night, from the center of Bilbao up to the festival site on the mountain. The line for the bus wound around San Mamés, Bilbao Athletic Club’s fútbol stadium, and almost everyone in line seemed to have gotten the “botellón” memo. Spanish, British, French, American or otherwise– a vast majority had with them a bit of kalimotxo or San Miguel to uh…quench their thirst during the wait for the bus ride. Upon arrival at the festival, there was another large botellón gathering just outside the entrance (no outside beverages allowed, per usual). Some call it recklessness, some call it an economically sound reason to take advantage of Spain’s extremely laid back public drinking culture.

pre-bus botellón beer art

Another very Spanish characteristic of the festival was the schedule. The music kicked off around 6pm and didn’t stop until after sunrise the next morning–around 8am. It’s not uncommon to see both the sunset and sunrise on a night out in Spain, and the festival attendees seemed to, at least for the weekend, adopt the Spanish tendency to keep the party going in order to watch one day close and another begin. On that note, after almost a whole year here I still haven’t figured out when/if most Spanish people actually get a full night’s sleep.

8:00am – looking towards the Bay of Biscay from the campsite

It was a fantastic experience- well worth the 3-day pass price of just 105€. I’ve thrown together a few clips I took at the concert. They’re not fantastic, as bringing my expensive camera into a rowdy crowd of 100,000+ seemed unwise, but I hope you enjoy nonetheless:

If you’re a Mumford fan like me, check out this vid someone (with a much nicer camera than mine) got of “Little Lion Man.”

If you want to read more about this year’s BBK Live event, check out this great article.

Thanks for reading!


10K every day

With each new year comes the idea of a fresh start: the motivation to start this, quit that, improve this, reduce that…the infamous “Propósitos del Año Nuevo,” or “New Year’s Resolutions” as we say across the pond.

I worked as a fitness instructor at the UND Wellness Center during my college career, and through that experience I gained keen insight into the most notorious of New Year’s trends: the super-swelling of gym attendance during the first month of the year, followed by a sharp drop-off as early February. As someone who maintains a relatively consistent activity level throughout the year, I just see January as the time of year when going to the gym can be more stress-inducing than stress-relieving.

So my “anti-resolution”, for January at least, was to NOT purchase a gym membership (I pay month by month) at the fabulous Gimnasio Alhóndiga, but instead to run outside more (ironically during the coldest and rainiest month of the year) and become more creative and resourceful with home workouts.

To have something more specific to work toward, I rather arbitrarily decided that I want to run 100 miles (or 161 km for those of you from countries which have more sensibly adopted the metric system) by the end of January. I truly don’t consider this a particularly impressive goal, but it will be a PR for me I suppose. If you think I’m just being modest, you need to read Born to Run (hugely inspirational for me), and then my piddly 100 miles will seem trivial to you as well.

I started this venture on January 5th, and since I usually do my longer runs on the weekend, I’ve decided that I will polish off the 100 miles on Sunday the 29th, probably with some sort of epic odyssey run to break my PR of miles run in a day (currently 13.1; a half marathon.) I’ve decided to take two days off each week, so that gives me exactly 19 separate runs to total 100 miles–an average of 5.3 miles per run. As you can see from my low-tech tracking method below, I’ve got some work to do before the 29th:

mileage tracking, low-tech version

*Note: I also use as a more”high-tech” tracking method to ensure distance accuracy and to plan my routes. This calendar simply serves as a visual encouragement (it’s taped to my closet) to get out and hit the pavement so I get to use my über-cool hot pink pen to record my accomplished mileage.

You can also see that I’m tracking hiking miles as well, but that’s just for fun–the only miles that will count toward my 100 mile goal are those that I run. I’ve also recently decided to track the amount that I walk each day for commuting, errands, meeting up with friends, etc. I already know that the average is somewhere around 3 miles per day, but I’m curious to monitor it more closely and get an accurate total.

By a very conservative estimate, after adding up 100 miles run + X miles hiked + X miles walked, I will cover over 200 miles on foot in the month of January. That works out to an average of 6.7 miles (over 10km) every single day.

I’ve run in a few half marathons over the past couple of years, and I’m excited to have another one lined up for this March in Santander, Spain: a coastal city just a bit west of Bilbao. I’m also flirting with the idea of running my first full marathon at the end of April in Madrid.

What goals do you have for staying active in 2012?