Blue Collar Work Ethic

Like basically every other entrepreneur and self-improvement nerd in the world, I rolled into 2017 reading Tim Ferriss’ excellent new book, Tools of Titans, a collection of bite-sized insights and lessons from 200 podcast interviews with top achievers in a slew of areas.

In his first episode on the podcast, elite gymnastics coach Christopher Sommer talked with Tim about the first seminar that he held for adults, back in 2007: an all-day training for top CrossFit athletes and coaches.

We tried to do entry level plyometric work. The stronger the athlete, the faster they went down. […] We had 15 minutes on the schedule to stretch. [That] stretch took an hour and a half to complete. There were bodies lying everywhere; it was like we were in Vietnam. [And I said to my staff,] “what the fuck am I supposed to do now? They failed warmup. They failed warm-up.”

Funny enough, I was at that seminar, and I always remember, just before the lunch break, Sommer rounding us all up to say, “I’ve never seen such strong people do such terrible gymnastics.”

Today, gymnastics-based training is a much bigger part of my (and Composite’s) approach, and I’d like to think Sommer would be (at least a bit) less appalled by my technique. But gymnastics training – like so much of fitness – is often slow, frustrating going. So I hugely appreciated the email he sent to Tim, when Tim was similarly struggling with learning a challenging new gymnastic movement:

Hi Tim,

Patience. Far too soon to expect strength improvements. Strength improvements [for a movement like this] take a minimum of 6 weeks. Any perceived improvements prior to that are simply the result of improved synaptic facilitation. In plain English, the central nervous system simply became more efficient at that particular movement with practice. This is, however, not to be confused with actual strength gains.

Dealing with the temporary frustration of not making progress is an integral part of the path towards excellence. In fact, it is essential and something that every single elite athlete has had to learn to deal with. If the pursuit of excellence was easy, everyone would do it. In fact, this impatience in dealing with frustration is the primary reason that most people fail to achieve their goals. Unreasonable expectations timewise, resulting in unnecessary frustration, due to a perceived feeling of failure. Achieving the extraordinary is not a linear process.

The secret is to show up, do the work, and go home.

A blue collar work ethic married to indomitable will. It is literally that simple. Nothing interferes. Nothing can sway you from your purpose. Once the decision is made, simply refuse to budge. Refuse to compromise.

And accept that quality long-term results require quality long-term focus. No emotion. No drama. No beating yourself up over small bumps in the road. Learn to enjoy and appreciate the process. This is especially important because you are going to spend far more time on the actual journey than with those all too brief moments of triumph at the end.

Certainly celebrate the moments of triumph when they occur. More importantly, learn from defeats when they happen. In fact, if you are not encountering defeat on a fairly regular basis, you are not trying hard enough. And absolutely refuse to accept less than your best.

Throw out a timeline. It will take what it takes.

If the commitment is to a long-term goal and not to a series of smaller intermediate goals, then only one decision needs to be made and adhered to. Clear, simple, straightforward. Much easier to maintain than having to make small decision after small decision to stay the course when dealing with each step along the way. This provides far too many opportunities to inadvertently drift from your chosen goal. The single decision is one of the most powerful tools in the toolbox.

Tools of Titans, definitely worth the read.

Booting Up


We kicked off 2017 in high style, so I’m operating today on perilously little sleep. Nonetheless, I’m aiming to build my days this year around a small number of core habits, and blogging is one of them. See you here.

Mr. Flood’s Party

by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Old Eben Flood, climbing alone one night
Over the hill between the town below
And the forsaken upland hermitage
That held as much as he should ever know
On earth again of home, paused warily.
The road was his with not a native near;
And Eben, having leisure, said aloud,
For no man else in Tilbury Town to hear:

“Well, Mr. Flood, we have the harvest moon
Again, and we may not have many more;
The bird is on the wing, the poet says,
And you and I have said it here before.
Drink to the bird.” He raised up to the light
The jug that he had gone so far to fill,
And answered huskily: “Well, Mr. Flood,
Since you propose it, I believe I will.”

Alone, as if enduring to the end
A valiant armor of scarred hopes outworn,
He stood there in the middle of the road
Like Roland’s ghost winding a silent horn.
Below him, in the town among the trees,
Where friends of other days had honored him,
A phantom salutation of the dead
Rang thinly till old Eben’s eyes were dim.

Then, as a mother lays her sleeping child
Down tenderly, fearing it may awake,
He set the jug down slowly at his feet
With trembling care, knowing that most things break;
And only when assured that on firm earth
It stood, as the uncertain lives of men
Assuredly did not, he paced away,
And with his hand extended paused again:

“Well, Mr. Flood, we have not met like this
In a long time; and many a change has come
To both of us, I fear, since last it was
We had a drop together. Welcome home!”
Convivially returning with himself,
Again he raised the jug up to the light;
And with an acquiescent quaver said:
“Well, Mr. Flood, if you insist, I might.

“Only a very little, Mr. Flood—
For auld lang syne. No more, sir; that will do.”
So, for the time, apparently it did,
And Eben evidently thought so too;
For soon amid the silver loneliness
Of night he lifted up his voice and sang,
Secure, with only two moons listening,
Until the whole harmonious landscape rang—

“For auld lang syne.” The weary throat gave out,
The last word wavered; and the song being done,
He raised again the jug regretfully
And shook his head, and was again alone.
There was not much that was ahead of him,
And there was nothing in the town below—
Where strangers would have shut the many doors
That many friends had opened long ago.

For auld lang syne, a happy New Years to all, and best wishes for a better 2017!

On Making Potato Latkes, Redux

I wrote this 13 years (or, one bar mitzvah) ago, but I stand by it still today. Happy Chanukah – chag urim sameach – to all, and to all a good night. [And, in other news, if you’re actually going to make latkes, definitely don’t follow my pre-culinary school process below. Washing off the starch? Oy vey. Here’s what you need to know to get them right.]


It is the fourth night of Chanukah and my apartment is empty, my roommates having gone off to their respective families for Christmas. The block of 51st Street outside my front window is oddly quiet as well, as if my neighbors have left to make room for the holiday inflow of tourists that swarms our little island, packs Times Square and Rockefeller Plaza, both a few blocks away.

It is nearly 7:00, and though the sun has set two and a half hours ago, I am only now getting ready to light the menorah. It is a traditional one – wrought brass, burning oil rather than candles. I fill the four rightmost cups, then the shamash, the taller ‘helper’ flame, placing a floating wick in each. I recite the prayers, rote, in Hebrew: Blessed are you, Hashem our God, king of the universe, who has sanctified us with his commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the light of Chanukah. Blessed are You, Hashem our God, king of the universe, who wrought miracles for our forefathers in those days at this season.

Carefully, I lift the menorah from the stovetop and carry it over to the kitchen window, placing it facing outward, so that passersby on the street below can see it. I turn off the overhead lights, and stand for several minutes in the dark, watching the five smalls flames flicker, leap, and dance for their reflections in the pane of window glass.


I sit down at my desk, intending to slog away at a pile of work, but instead drift into thought about Chanukah – or, more accurately, about Chanukahs past. About, as a child, standing in the kitchen with my family, crowded around several lit menorot, singing. About laughing and clowning in the living room as we exchange gifts – my mother, every year without fail, affixing all the bows pulled from any of our gifts to her hair. About sitting around the table, eating the traditional Chanukah latkes – potato pancakes cooked in oil.

And, unexpectedly, I’m swept by a wave of homesickness, a sudden welling burst of holiday loneliness. I decide the only thing I can do is to create some Chanukah joy in my own home. I decide, in fact, that I’ll make a batch of latkes myself.


It occurs to me, however, that I’ve never actually made latkes. Certainly, in years past, I’d always helped my mother prepare them, but my assistance was solely limited to peeling potatoes. Still, I reason, latkes certainly aren’t a complicated dish: coarsely grated potato, onion and egg, pan-fried in lots of oil. I should be able to handle it. I call my parents’ home to inquire about the proportions – how many eggs exactly? – but as they’re out, I decide to simply fake it.


Walking to the Food Emporium, I realize the unfolding latke misadventure might make for good reading. And, at first, the idea gives me pause. I wrote online for years before even obliquely referring to Judaism. Posting about the topic still makes me vaguely uncomfortable, as if it’s something I shouldn’t share, or at least shouldn’t advertise, about myself. We Jews are a culturally paranoid people – it’s easy to think everyone’s out to get you when, for centuries, they were. These days, bludgeoned as children by hundreds of Holocaust documentaries, we grow up with the message that, sometimes, being publicly Jewish can be rather bad for your health.

With a bit of thought, however, I conclude my tacit ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy simply supports anti-semitism. Instead, I decide to push for understanding through openness; if Chanukah is something I’m thinking about, a part of who I am, certainly, I should be willing to share that.


I return from Food Emporium with five exceedingly large potatoes, one large onion and a dozen eggs. Setting them out on the counter, I wash my hands, then scrub down each potato thoroughly. The peeler isn’t in the drawer where it should be, and I spend several minutes searching for where my roommates might have placed it. Eventually, I find it – an OXO Good Grip, courtesy of my father, who is obsessed with kitchen gadgetry.

I peel the potatoes over the sink, thinking about the years of potatoes peeled in my parents house. Perversely, I miss the old, less-effective peelers we owned when I was still very young – sparely built metal ones, with orange plastic handles. I have a sudden flashbulb memory of rummaging through the drawer to find them, looking for one of the two right-handed peelers rather than the left-handed one. Which, it occurs to me, was a rather odd possession, considering that my entire family is right handed.


Quartering the peeled potatoes, I place them into a bowl of water to keep the air from turning them brown. Then, without the Cuisinart we always used in my parents’ house, I pull out a metal hand-grater, and begin coarsely grating the first potato quarter. I’m careful with my strokes, watching out to keep my knuckles from dragging across the sharp edges, but it is still repetitive, vaguely meditative work.

In the quiet, I begin to think about the story of Chanukah. Or, rather, about the stark difference between the version we Jews learn as children, and the full, historically accurate one that some of us discover as adults. Observe:

The kid version: An evil Greek ruler, Antiochus, tries to destroy the Jewish people. He takes over the Jew’s holy temple and turns it into a shrine to himself. The brave Maccabees, led by Judah “The Hammer”, revolt, fight back, and eventually win, reclaiming the temple. The ner tamid – the temple’s eternal, holy light – has been extinguished, and all the vessels of oil (used to fuel the light) have been shattered. After much search, a single intact vessel is found; though it should last only one night, it miraculously burns for eight, long enough to harvest and press enough olive oil to keep the light burning.

The adult version: The majority of Jews are – much like today – highly integrated into Hellenic Greek culture. They make major contributions to the arts, science and philosophy, and are increasingly involved in sports and popular culture. The Maccabees belong to a violent fundamentalist minority group, the Hasmoneans; they travel around, using violence and murder to coerce integrated Hellenistic Jews back to a segregated, traditionalist lifestyle. Antiochus comes to power, and people recognize him as basically a nut-job – I mean, the guy renames himself Epiphanes (meaning, literally, ”god made manifest’), believing he is a human incarnation of the god Zeus. As a result, he takes stupid military risks, which, combined with the fact that everybody is out to kill him, leads the Hellenistic Jews to figure he won’t last long. Further, while he does ask the Jews to bring him offerings recognizing his divinity and put his picture up in their temple, he’s otherwise fairly tolerant, and certainly never violent towards the Jewish people. They therefore decide to simply ignore Antiochus for a couple of years and wait for him to get himself killed, letting things return to their previous, unharried state. The Hasmoneans, however, have other ideas. They organize a military revolt and take Jerusalem by military force (causing Antiochus’ troops to defile the temple in retreat). The victorious Hasmoneans then secede from Greece and revert the country into a fundamentalist state, cutting off outside communication, outlawing much of the intellectual progress made by Greek Jews, and more or less setting the Jewish people back a couple hundred years.

In other words, if the Chanukah story played itself out again today, I doubt I’d be rooting for the Maccabees. And I certainly wouldn’t be frying up potato pancakes in their honor.


I grate as I think, and after several minutes I’ve made it through the first two potato quarters, knuckles unscathed. Still, I regard the bowl of potato quarters skeptically, trying to avoid estimating how long all that grating is likely to take. Suddenly, it occurs to me that perhaps I do own a Cuisinart. I seem to vaguely recall my parents shipping me their old one a few years back when they replaced it with a newer model. While I’ve never before used it, I can sort of picture unpacking it from a box full of styrofoam peanuts, and so begin diving through the back of less used cabinets.

To my delight, I find the Cuisinart wedged between an unused toaster and a coffee maker (the result of three roommates worth of appliances moving into one kitchen). I dust off the body, wash out the top, then plug it in. Gaining a whole new appreciation for the miracles of technology, I polish off grating the remaining eighteen potato quarters in less time than it took me to hand-grate the first two.

Pouring the grated potatoes into a strainer, I wash off the starch, then dump them into a large bowl. I’m amazed by the amount of grated potato generated from the five potatoes I started with – the bowl is nearly overflowing. I can’t help but laugh, thinking my mother would be thrilled, serving waaaay too much food being the hallmark of Jewish-motherhood.

Once I’ve peeled and Cuisinart-ed the onion, I decide to dump everything across to a soup pot – the largest container I own – lest I spill over the edge while mixing. I crack in one egg, then another, stirring them through with my bare hands. The mix looks about right, so I pull out a pan, fill it with olive oil, and put it over a burner at high heat.


As the oil begins to sputter and sizzle, I start to reconsider my Chanukah objections. Certainly, I appreciate any number of other Jewish holidays whose origins seem a bit dodgy to me. Consider the holiday of Yom Kippur, the ‘day of atonement’: while I do believe in some sort of underlying ‘force’ in the universe, I certainly don’t believe some old guy with a long beard is sitting up there in a chair, judging on that holiday whether I’ll be smote in the coming year because I’ve eaten too much shrimp. Still, come Yom Kippur, I pray and I mean it. I’m pleading for forgiveness – perhaps not from ‘God’, but certainly from the best, most Godly part of myself. Which is to say that, though I don’t take the Torah literally, I do take it seriously. I never cease to find value in Jewish tradition, in Jewish practice, no matter the underlying motivation that brings me to it.

Which, frankly, isn’t too unusual. After all, Judaism is a religion that values action over faith, sort of a “feel the doubt and do it anyway” kind of deal. Even the word ‘Israel’ itself means ”he who wrestles with God’. In other words, questioning, considering, doubting – they’re all at the heart of what it means to celebrate a holiday as a Jew.


With the oil bubbling, I pack the first latke – balling a small handful of the potato mix, flattening it out, then tossing it into the pan. Though it sizzles and browns nicely, when I try to flip it, it disintegrates, turning from latke to hash brown. I figure the mixture needs a few more eggs, and crack in another two.

The next pass works a bit better – the latke stays together through flipping – though I seem to have packed it a bit too thick, as the outside singes before the center is cooked through. I toss three thinner latkes in, pour in a bit more oil and let them cook. They come out golden brown, not quite crisp. I lay them on a paper-towel-covered plate to soak up excess oil, then break off a piece of one. It’s still hot from the pan, and I burn my mouth slightly on the first bite, but don’t mind at all. It’s absolutely delicious.


Once I get the hang of it, I fall into latke autopilot, quickly browning up the rest of the batch. I realize I’ve neglected to buy sour cream or applesauce, and so am left to down a plateful straight, no chaser.

Still, I enjoy them, in part because they’ve come out much better than I’d have expected, in part because they taste like Chanukah to me, because they taste like home.

Beyond the Monkey Stomp

With the year coming to a close, many people are starting to think about new year's resolutions. If 2017 aligns with decades of years previously researched, 'getting in shape' is likely to remain high on those resolution lists.

The fact that the same resolution tends to crop up, year after year, points to an ugly truth: the vast majority of people fall short of their annual get-in-shape goal. There are lot of reasons why they do, and I’ll try to look at a few of them in the days and weeks to come. But one problem that’s increasingly prevalent is that most people focus on ‘working out’ in stead of on ‘training.’

Training is something you do to achieve a specific performance goal or a physiological adaptation. To train, you start with that goal or adaptation in mind, then work backwards to construct a carefully-designed, science-backed plan that will take you, step by step, to where you want to end up.

Whereas working out is an end in and of itself, something you do regularly with a vague sense that it will get you to a nebulously-defined better place. And because you’re not clear on your plan, nor on metrics that will let you measure the effectiveness of your efforts along the way, you default to more subjective evaluations of your gym session. Did it seem super hard? Where you lying on the ground after in a pool of sweat? Are you painfully sore for days to come?

All of those seem like reasonable heuristics. If you’re sore, then certainly the workout did something. And if you toss your cookies midway through, then clearly the workout must have pushed you to the max.

But, in fact, neither of those are reliable signposts. Your sore muscles (or DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness) simply mean you exceeded your current capacity for safe eccentric contraction. Your mid-workout cookie toss? Just a sign that you built up lactic acid systemically faster than your body could flush it out. Neither necessarily means your fitness level is improving. And it’s perfectly possible to get fitter, faster, without doing either one.

Elite coaches refer to this kind of pointless destruction as ‘monkey stomping’ their trainees. And, indeed, a lot of the GloboGym personal trainers I see seem to design workouts specifically to hit that sort of monkey stomp, knowing that clients want to feel like they left it all in the gym, are more likely to come back for a second session if they just got pushed to their limits in their first. CrossFitters, SoulCyclers, Barry’s Bootcampers, and others thrive on the monkey-stomped feeling. It’s the unspoken core selling point of most group exercise classes: we can kick your ass harder than anyone else.

But, it turns out, getting monkey stomped repeatedly is pretty unpleasant. And once the start-of-year drive towards righteous self-flagellation peters out, people tend to abandon those sorts of ‘take it to 11’ approaches in droves. Whereas people following an actual training approach, who don’t hate every single session, who can start to see meaningful progress from checkpoint to checkpoint and milestone to milestone, tend to increasingly build their commitment over the course of time, intrinsically motivated to further cement the training habit.

So, in short, if your plan for 2017 involves getting into shape, consider searching out professional advice from someone who can help you figure out a training plan rather than just a series of workouts. Ask them what the big picture of their approach for you would be, and how you’ll know if an individual session is pushing you forward. If they can’t answer that – or, worse, if their answer involves some variation of the monkey stomp – then turn and run (or, depending on Thanksgiving-to-Christmas binge eating, waddle) the other way. Make 2017 the year you cross ‘get in shape’ off your resolutions list for good.

[Obligatory deeply self-interested plug: after a bit of scaling up, Composite now has room for a handful of new clients, in NYC and elsewhere; shoot me an email if you’d like our take on what training – rather than just workout out – could mean for you.]

Change Your World

“Life can be much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call ‘life’ was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
— Steve Jobs

Monkeying Around

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon. I had nearly all of the action figures, as well as a plastic Castle Grayskull. My best friend Phillip, conversely, had Skeletor's Lair, and our parents would often kindly help us drag those back and forth whenever we went to each other's houses to play.

At that point in the early 1980's, He-Man figures were about as stereotypically 'boy' as toys got – enough so that He-Man creator Filmation subsequently spun out the parallel She-Ra: Princess of Power to drive similar sales of toys to little girls.

Some of my other toy choices – from GI Joes to Tonka trucks and Matchbox cars – were similarly gendered. Yet I also often carried them around the house in my mother's old patent-leather purse, perhaps a bit less of a gender-normative choice. As my parents were good Baby Boomer Bay Area liberals, they did everything they could to avoid reinforcing sexist or gendered ideas about toys, or careers, or anything else.

Thirty-some years later, it seems that concern has spread well beyond the Palo Alto "quiche & Volvo" set. I see most of my parent friends around the country – and, indeed, even my own brother a few blocks away from me with his 18-month-old son Dylan – similarly trying to be thoughtful about the potentially sexist messages they send to their children. (You can spot a similar national-level concern in the plot of the last half-dozen Disney films: “the princess doesn't need to wait for a prince to rescue her; she can rescue herself!”) Yet, unavoidably, nearly all of those kids seem to eventually begin to steer themselves towards certain stereotypical toy-sets nonetheless.

Obviously, there's a large role for culture here – and even for the messages parents unconsciously send to their children. But there is, at the same time, a reasonable 'nature plus nurture' question: are there ways in which some aspects of things like gendered toy-choice might be more deeply biologically engrained?

I was thinking about that recently, in the holiday toy-buying run-up, and was therefore glad to discover two great studies in the world of our close primate relatives.

First, in 2009, a research team led by Janice Hassett of the Yerkes National Primate Center at Emory reported on experiments in which they followed toy preferences in a group of 34 juvenile rhesus monkeys. One by one, they let the monkeys go into an outdoor play area that had both a “masculine” toy (eg., a truck, a car, a construction vehicle) and a “feminine” toy (eg., a Raggedy-Ann doll, a koala bear hand puppet, a teddy bear), and camera-tracked the behaviors exhibited.

Long story short, the monkeys closely paralleled human children, with male rhesus monkeys clearly preferring wheeled toys over plush toys (using them more frequently, and for longer duration), and with female rhesus monkeys spending more time with the plush toys (though also, like human girls, spending substantial time with the wheeled ones; research has long shown girls are more open to ‘cross-gender’ toys than boys are).

Hassett’s team concludes there appear to be “hormonally organized preferences for specific activities that shape preference for toys.”

That lines up well with a parallel paper from Sonya Kahlenberg of Bates and Richard Wrangham of Harvard, which followed the Kanyawara chimpanzee community in Uganda for 14 years, cataloguing how they interacted with play objects. They observed that juvenile female chimps would carry around small sticks for hours at a time while they engaged in other daily activities (like eating, sleeping, and walking) in a manager suggestive of rudimentary doll play. While the same chimps used sticks as tools for specific purposes, the researchers were unable to discern any practical reason for the doll-stick carrying.

Ultimately, and after observing a bunch of related behavioral changes (i.e., females stopped stick-carrying when they had real babies), they concluded that “sex differences in stick-carrying are related to a greater female interest in infant care, with stick-carrying being a form of play-mothering (i.e. carrying sticks like mother chimpanzees carrying infants).”

So, there you go. As with any other topic involving gender, genetic disposition, etc., this one’s fraught with caveats, dangers in over-generalization, etc.

But, if nothing else, I do feel a little less guilty about buying Dylan an awesome Chanukah-gift truck set.

(Though, if they can find it somewhere in a box in their garage, I’d also suggest my parents dig out that old purse. It would be totally perfect for carrying around those trucks.)

Save Christmas

Way back in 1998, the Cacophony Society, an anarchic group of neo-dadaist pranksters (slogan: “you may already be a member!”), brought their annual December event to NYC.

They called it SantaCon, and billed it as a "not-for-profit, nonpolitical, non-religious demented Santa Claus convention.”

I attended that first NYC SantaCon, wherein about two hundred of us in cheap Santa suits walked Fifth Avenue, caroling badly, and handing out candy canes and good cheer to the children (and adults) who were inevitably thrilled to stumble across a giant roving pack of jovial Clauses.

But somewhere in the nearly two decades since, things went badly wrong. What started as cheeky performance art metastasized into, as the Village Voice described it, "a day-long spectacle of public inebriation somewhere between a low-rent Mardi Gras and a drunken fraternity party.”

Or, as Gothamist summarized, “SantaCon steadily devolved from cleverly subversive to barely tolerable to 'time to lock yourself in your apartment for the day.'"

This past weekend, when Jess and I popped out of a subway in Union Square, inadvertently deep in the midst of SantaCon 2016, I couldn’t help but cringe. While I’d been proud to attend that first event, the drunken mayhem going on all around us just made me embarrassed for everyone involved.

What happened? In short, New Jersey and Long Island. Per the LA Times, "some see SantaCon as a way for people who live in the suburbs to come to the city and ruin the weekend.” Indeed, at least by visual stereotype, this year’s SantaCon crowd was about as bridge-and-tunnel as you could possibly get.

In short, this is why we can’t have nice things. Though the weekend experience does lead me to a small proposal for fellow snotty New Yorkers: perhaps, instead of fighting against Trump’s wall, we should just be lobbying him to build one a little closer to home.

Tortoise, Redux

Earlier today, I re-stumbled across the excellent and exceedingly timely “The True History Of The Hare And The Tortoise,” Lord Dunsany’s 1915 retelling of the well-worn story.

In Dunsany’s version, the race between the two is organized by the other animals, equally split in their beliefs that the Hare (“the swifter of the two because he had such long ears”) or the Tortoise (“anyone whose shell was so hard as that should be able to run hard too”) might prevail.

The Tortoise, in particular, draws an enthusiastically supportive crowd:

And “run hard” became a kind of catch-phrase which everybody repeated to one another. “Hard shell and hard living. That’s what the country wants. Run hard,” they said.

Indeed, run hard the Tortoise does. Whereas the Hare, struck by the overwhelming idiocy of the entire competition, simply bows out:

The Hare ran on for nearly three hundred yards, nearly in fact as far as the winning-post, when it suddenly struck him what a fool he looked running races with a Tortoise who was nowhere in sight, and he sat down again and scratched.

“Run hard. Run hard,” said the crowd, and “Let him rest.”

“Whatever is the use of it?” said the Hare, and this time he stopped for good. Some say he slept.

There was desperate excitement for an hour or two, and then the Tortoise won.

Which, of course, is exactly the vindication the Tortoise’s vigorous supporters had hoped for:

“Hard shell and hard living: that’s what has done it.” And then they asked the Tortoise what his achievement signified, and he went and asked the Turtle. And the Turtle said, “It is a glorious victory for the forces of swiftness.” And then the Tortoise repeated it to his friends. And all the beasts said nothing else for years. And even to this day, “a glorious victory for the forces of swiftness” is a catch-phrase in the house of the snail.


Though, as Dunsany concludes, this true version of the tale isn’t widely known, because “very few of those that witnessed it survived the great forest-fire that happened shortly after.”

It came up over the weald by night with a great wind. The Hare and the Tortoise and a very few of the beasts saw it far off from a high bare hill that was at the edge of the trees, and they hurriedly called a meeting to decide what messenger they should send to warn the beasts in the forest.

They sent the Tortoise.

It could be a long four years.