I quit two workouts this week.
I planned for them, got dressed for them, traveled to the appropriate location, and started them only to quit partway through. This is an anomaly for me and my borderline-obsessive need to follow my training plan.
On Tuesday, I was going to do a speed workout—eight 800s. Since it was a warmer day (40°) and had rained a decent amount the night before, I hoped the snow on the high school tracks in the area would have melted. For some reason, I decided to go by optimism instead of common sense, so after work, I headed to a high school track instead of the local indoor track. After arriving at the school, I walked up to the track and saw it covered in a blanket of pristine snow.
Not one to be deterred by good decision making, I bullheadedly decided to do the workout anyway. After all, there couldn’t be more than an inch or two of snow on the track. So I started jogging my warmup. And the snow was deeper than I expected. It must have been at least four inches deep on the backstretch of the track. I started readjusting my paces in my head. There’s no way I’ll hit 3:20s in this snow, but maybe I can hit 3:30s. During my second warmup lap, I tried to step outside my previous footprints so I could clear pack down as much snow as possible. And then, as I was finishing up my second lap, my thinking changed. This is actually just stupid. I don’t want to be here. I’m going home. So I finished up that lap, packed up my stuff, and drove home. I briefly considered saying “screw it” to any sort of workout, but on the drive home, I decided to do the five mile tempo run I had scheduled that week instead. I ended up having a very successful and encouraging run.
On Friday, I woke up to some wet snow on the ground and more coming down. I drove to the pool, fully prepared to do whatever workout the masters coach had planned for us, despite being somewhat worried about the roads and traffic I’d face on my way to work afterwards. In the locker room, I heard rumors that the roads and snow were worse further south (i.e. where I would be driving to get to work). And then, the coach was a no-show! I felt the already-wavering motivation drain out of my body. My lane-mate and I did the typical warmup and then decided on starting our workout with five 100s. As I was finishing up those 100s, I thought about the snow, the traffic, and the fact that I could get out on the roads 15-30 minutes earlier if I cut the workout short (and those are a big 15-30 minutes, traffic-wise). So after the 100s, I apologized to my lane-mate for quitting on her but explained I wanted to avoid any problems on my commute because of the weather and stupid drivers. And then I hopped out and added another quit-workout to the books for the week.
It wasn’t until the next day that I realize I had quit two workouts in a single week, which is really almost unheard of for me. And yet, despite that, my obsessive self didn’t feel even a tiny bit of guilt for doing so (okay, maybe I felt a teeny-tiny bit for the swimming one). I thought about why I didn’t feel guilt for that when I had to convince myself to have an unplanned rest day when I was struggling with a bad cold just a week before. And I think it’s because of how I quit. I quit right, if I do say so myself.
I should note that I don’t always quit right. A couple months ago during a morning at the pool, I mentally quit on a set. I finished it, but I took it easy for no other reason than mentally giving up. Last winter, I spent a lot of time skipping workouts and never getting around to things I planned on. I just didn’t get out the door. These are the kinds of experiences that I regret, even if it’s just for a day or two. I spent some time thinking about what was different between those two different types of scenarios, and I came up with a “rule” about quitting and skipping workouts.
Make a decision. Know why you are making that decision. Own your decision.
It’s so easy to not make a decision about mentally quitting a workout or skipping a workout. I think that’s why people so often advise you to go start a workout and leave if you aren’t feeling well. Once you are at your workout destination, leaving forces you to actively make a decision instead of just falling into the same situation after answering “yes” to Netflix’s infamous “Are you still watching?” question one too many times. It’s easy to just procrastinate on whatever your workout for that day might be. It gets harder and harder to leave, and then suddenly, it’s dusk and you don’t want to bother finding the lights for your bike. Or you’re doing mile repeats, you’re tired, and on the final repeat, you just cruise through the middle half-mile when your legs start to burn and finish 10 seconds over your goal pace.
Neither of those situations is inherently bad. It’s not bad to skip a workout or miss your pace. It’s not even bad to cruise for the last repeat when you really could have hit the pace if you had run harder. I just think it’s best if those skipped workouts are decisions instead of non-decisions. Know why you are quitting a workout, skipping a workout, or taking it easy. For instance, when I quit my track workout, it was because the track was covered with snow and I wouldn’t have gotten a quality workout. I could have driven to the indoor track and done my repeats there, so I also quit because I was tired and didn’t want to be out that late when I hadn’t been planning on it. And that’s okay. A few weeks ago, I did some 1600 repeats on a treadmill. I did them slower than my previous speed work predicted, and I knew afterwards that I could have managed to run them faster. I decided to set the treadmill pace conservatively because I was still new to treadmill speed work and I knew I’d be racing a 5k two days later.
I also want to add that sickness, injury, and tapering are not the only “right” reasons to take it easy or skip a workout altogether. The right reason is whatever you decide on—just be honest with yourself about those reasons. If you are feeling mentally burned out and you know that taking an easy weekend will help, then, by all means, do it! If a social opportunity comes up and you would rather see that friend or watch that movie than go for your after-work run, then skipping it very well might be the right decision. But after you make that decision, own it.
“I was supposed to do twelve 400s, but I did ten. It was later than I thought, I was tired and hungry, and I wanted to get back in time to watch Supernatural. So now I’m going to sit down and watch TV guilt-free.”
“I was going to go for a run after work, but that cute guy just texted me and asked me out for drinks. So I’m going to do that instead. That is definitely the right decision here.”
I’ve found that actively making a decision (whether it’s related to working out or not) makes it easier to own that decision and deal with the consequences. You can approach whatever path you take with gusto, whether that’s finishing up your last few reps or going home to ice and spend time with your cat. If you do feel like you made the wrong decision later, you know what to do differently when you find yourself facing a similar decision sometime in the future.
I know most of the actual examples I’ve mentioned involve someone quitting or skipping their workout. However, I’ve found that if I practice making the decision instead of just falling into the decision, I typically don’t decide to quit. Several weeks ago, I was sitting around avoiding a bike ride on a Sunday afternoon. I thought about not going and considered why I would be skipping the workout. The truth was, I was feeling more depressed than burned-out (the difference is subtle, but I can generally recognize it). I went out on the ride and felt much better when I came back. Even last week as I prepared to go to the indoor track on Thursday morning to do the speed work I skipped on Tuesday, I didn’t want to go. I did some mental fishing for a good reason to skip, and there wasn’t one other than knowing the workout would be hard and would make me really tired. So I went. And the workout went surprisingly well. When I know in advance that I will need to own the decision I make, I’m much less likely to make a decision I feel bad about later.
One last benefit (for me, anyway) of actively making and owning decisions to skip or quit workouts is that it helps me recognize patterns. After I realized that I had quit two workouts last week, I took a look at my attitude throughout the week and realized that I had wanted to quit more. In fact, I had spent much of the week actively (but reluctantly) deciding to work out when I would have rather spent that time playing ChronoTrigger or watching Netflix. Something felt off because, while I don’t typically look forward to hard runs, I don’t typically have a hard time motivating myself to do them. I felt kind of burned out but didn’t quite know why. It wasn’t a particularly hard week. After I spent some time reflecting, I realized it was likely due to a plain ol’ lack of sleep. The last few weeks have been full of earlier-than-usual mornings, but I haven’t been going to bed as early as I should to make up for that. Sure enough, after sleeping in a bit over the weekend and making sure to get to bed early (like, before 9:00pm) on Sunday, I felt much better and much more motivated starting out this week.
Actively making the decision to work out or not work out kept me on track this week when my motivation was flagging. It also allowed me to give myself a break when I needed it and encouraged me to recognize why I was struggling in the first place. So if you find yourself floating through your schedule without actively making decisions, give it a shot. You may give yourself a break from an overwhelming workout schedule. Or you may end up getting up when you would have hit the snooze one more time. But hopefully, your experience mirrors mine, and whatever decision you end up making will line with what you need much more than if you had made a non-decision instead.