Hold on to good habits formed during lockdown

Cpl. Kyle Daly, left,  stands with 1st. Lt. Sam LaPorte from his unit, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 262, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. In April, the unit participated in a running challenge in which Daly logged over 200 miles. Daly, a southern California native, is a crew chief for VMM-262. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ryan Persinger)
Cpl. Kyle Daly, left, stands with 1st. Lt. Sam LaPorte from his unit, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 262, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. In April, the unit participated in a running challenge in which Daly logged over 200 miles. Daly, a southern California native, is a crew chief for VMM-262. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ryan Persinger)

Hold on to good habits formed during lockdown

by Cpl Kyle Daly
Stripes Okinawa

Editor’s note: At Stripes Okinawa, we love to share your stories and share this space with our community members. Here is an article written by Cpl. Kyle Daly, a Marine stationed at MCAS Futenma. If you have a story or photos to share, let us know at okinawa@stripes.com

A white, dry erase board, about the size of a school notebook, sticks to the side of my wall locker.

For any visitor to my barracks room, the writing on the board is hard to miss. In black marker, at the top of the board, there are three words written in capitalized letters: JUNE RUNNING MILES. Underneath these words is a number.

Almost every day, in clothes drenched with sweat, I walk toward the board, erase the previous number, and write down a new number. On Monday, June 15, I wrote: “91.23.”

Cpl. Kyle Daly logs his overall miles for the month on a whiteboard in his room on MCAS Futenma. (Photo by Kyle Daly)

These are my miles.

In the first half of this humid, summer month, I have run more than 90 miles. The simple joy of logging these miles via a white board began in April, when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the military to place restrictions on the liberty of servicemembers in Japan. Gyms were closed, and the world outside the base gates became off-limits. Base trails began to fill with joggers. At the same time, my unit, VMM-262 on MCAS Futenma, began a running competition that challenged unit members to log as many miles as possible during the month.  I had already been an avid runner, but the habit of logging miles and tracking progress became a new obsession.

As restrictions begin to ease on Okinawa, and the old ways of life begin to return, let us not forget the lessons we learned and the good habits we created during the lockdown.

At the end of April, a University of Southern California study reported “large percentages of Americans said they want to maintain the lasting effects of changes in their lives that began during the pandemic.” This included increased time with family, more work at home, and increased online purchasing, according to the study, titled “The Coronavirus Disruption Project: How We are Living and Coping During the Pandemic.”

The worldwide lockdown caused me to reflect on the nature of my own personal habits – both good and bad – and how they are formed. I don’t need to be a scientist to understand that many habits are situationally dependent, that is, a reaction to my environment. The lockdown – a situation no one expected or wanted -- might have broken a few bad habits: spending money on cab rides (habit broken), filling up on that chai tea latte from Starbucks (habit broken). It may also have formed some: Netflix binge watching (habit created), beer in the fridge (habit created).

For enlisted servicemembers, we all experienced the power of breaking bad habits and forming good ones during boot camp. Do you recall that week after boot camp when you reentered the slow-paced civilian populace?  I remember it well. I woke at 5 a.m. without an alarm. I walked faster than anyone in my family. The first thing I did, every day, was make my bed. Perhaps that was just me. But I had a great desire to maintain the good habits that had been beaten into my head by my drill instructors.

Four years later, some habits remain. Many have, unfortunately, escaped my grasp. That is what happens when you are given options – when you can choose between pleasures and needs. The Marine Corps has taught me – through basic training and deployments – that I can survive without my cell phone, without alcohol, and without Netflix. The Marine Corps also has taught me that I need exercise, clean food, and to stay hydrated.

While this pandemic might not trigger that boot camp or deployment mindset, it might help remind you what you need versus what you want – and that the needs should become habits.

For me, this moment in history has again placed exercise – particularly running – at the top of my “needs list.”

For weeks, during this pandemic, I shared the same anxieties that other Marines, sailors and soldiers shared. We all asked ourselves, and continue to ask ourselves, what will our future look like? Will tomorrow bring us relief or more restrictions? Boot camp had a graduation date. That deployment had an end date. But when will this end?

Running helped me, and continues to help me, relieve those anxieties. That “runner’s high” people often talk about, keeps me sane.

According to a 2015 study published by researchers at the University of Montreal, the runner’s high feeling is caused by having lower leptin levels. Leptin is a hormone that helps us control the feeling of being full after we eat, according to the study. When the levels are low, we are driven to physical activity – instinctively, the desire to find food.

In April, my unit started a run challenge, seeing who could accumulate the most miles during the 30 days of the month. Many of the restrictions that went into place because of the virus outbreak didn’t exist at the start of this challenge. Gyms were still open. Weightlifters were still getting their gains in. But as the layers of restrictions started to build, I’m certain many of us needed that runner’s high to relieve the anxieties that came with them.

The run challenge my unit put on was an additional motivating factor for getting me out the door and on to the trail that circles the outer edges of MCAS Futenma. At the end of the challenge, I accumulated 250 miles.

What was even more rewarding was my obsession to continue to log each distance in the days and weeks that followed, via my white board, a new Garmin watch, and a running app.

A good habit – logging miles – was formed.  

Cpl Kyle Daly is a Marine stationed at MCAS Futenma and a crew chief on the MV-22 Osprey. He holds a degree in journalism from Arizona State University and worked for several publications before joining the Marines in 2016, including the Pacific Daily News in Guam.

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