I don’t mind telling you that in approximately 75% of the situations in which I’ve agreed to run a half marathon I’d been drinking. This time was no exception.
My friend brought it up over beers. Oh and this race was sponsored by a brewery, the promise of bottomless pints, free lobster rolls and an 80s cover band, a mere 13.1 miles away.
Hmmmm that could be interesting, I thought. I was finally feeling good enough for a physical challenge, and it sounded fun. Why not? I bet it would feel like a big accomplishment to complete a half right now. Plus free beer and lobster rolls. I gave my friend a resounding “I’M IN!”
The next day I drew myself a handy little chart to dictate how many miles I’d log and when. I made a new playlist, laced up my sneaks, and set out for the open road.
There was just one little problem: I didn’t actually want to.
At first I was sort of into the idea. I went for a couple runs, and even though I couldn’t lower myself onto the toilet without excruciating pain the next day, the first few miles didn’t feel terrible. Slow, but not terrible.
But after I hit three miles, something changed. My endurance felt fine, but my calves were popping with every step. My knees were in so much pain I had to stop. Feeling defeated, I told myself my body was just getting used to running again. Tomorrow would be better.
But it wasn’t. With each passing day it continued to be painful, and consequently I dreaded each run. This wasn’t enjoyable, nor all that healthy. I’d suffered some joint damage thanks to Lyme and I’d never felt this sort of pain while running. It felt like an injury waiting to happen.
After a few more attempts I decided to call it quits. I felt kinda guilty about losing the registration money, but more than anything I felt relieved. And totally cool with my decision.
Huh? Normally I would have been hard on myself for this.
Over the past couple months, I’ve gotten into a good exercise routine, one that I genuinely enjoy, that doesn’t include pounding the pavement. I’m rotating between yoga, barre and spin, and I’m feeling pretty rad. I do what feels good, only because I want to. So why would I throw a grenade on this little routine I’d come to love and try to make things harder?
Probably because I have advanced degrees in making things harder for myself than they need to be. Pay someone to do my taxes when I can just do them myself even though I literally don’t understand accounting? Nope! Procrastinate on the project that’s due on Thursday until, oh, Thursday? Perfect. White knuckle seven bags of groceries up two flights of stairs like a goddamn ox to avoid multiple trips? You bet.
A half marathon felt like a tough challenge that would make me feel accomplished after what’s been a “stagnant” year. Plus the finish line photo would probably get a lot of likes on Instagram.
I think sometimes we feel like we need to make these bold commitments to show ourselves we’re in control of our lives. Like we’re starring in a remake of Groundhog Day and we can’t escape unless we take on these big declarations of change or hardship.
But what are we trying to prove?
A couple years ago I would have made myself stick to training, despite how much I hated it, because my ego couldn’t handle the thought of quitting or giving up. I’d future trip all over what it would feel like to cross the finish line, and ignore the fact that I actually feel fantastic in my current routine.
And hey, sometimes we need those catalysts. A healthy cleanse can kickstart new eating habits. A cool vacation might open your eyes to a bigger world. I get it.
But the key is to ask yourself why you’re doing it. If you’re really into running and love the way you feel while training, go on with your bad self. But if it’s kinda painful and you kinda dread every mile, know that it’s okay to quit too.
A good litmus test for these things is to imagine yourself in the middle of the process. Not at the finish line, but rather waking up on Sunday morning to run 10 miles. PS, next week you’ve got 11 to look forward to!
Another one is the flat tire test. Imagine you’re going out to your car to drive to the running trail or whatever, and you have a flat tire. Do you feel bummed you won’t be able to go for your run? Or relieved? This applies to other things too, like the gym. If you hate going to the gym and you would welcome an excuse to skip it, it’s a pretty safe bet you won’t stick with it. Maybe you’d feel differently about a yoga class, or a sweet trampoline class or something.
So next time you sign up for a race, or book a trip that you think will change your life, or buy a juice cleanse, think about the intention. Are you making a decision because you truly want to? Are you looking for an escape? Trying to prove something?
You’re the only one who knows the answer, and it just might surprise you.