Thursday, January 30, 2014

Are You Unable Or Unwilling?

I was talking with a friend yesterday and he mentioned that his daughter, who is on a Division I college athletic scholarship, often called complaining about the new "ache and pain of the day".  He said, it was always something, and the she often tried to use it as an excuse to skip practice.  It seems this is not uncommon with a lot of athletes and a lot of runners.

A high percentage of the time, when someone engages me in the topic of running, the conversation inevitably turns into, "Well ... I used to run, but I've got these bad knees from a football injury!", or "I used to jog all the time, but I have really bad shin-splints ... I mean they're really bad ... doctor said the worst he's ever seen!", or "Oh believe me, I would love to be a runner, but my feet just hurt so bad when I'm done ... I'm pretty sure my feet are extra sensitive!"  So, so many "special cases".

Some of this justification for little or no physical activity can be actually due to injury.  But a large majority of the time, I think it's just a way to try to relate to someone who they have little in common with.  Like a way to put themselves on the same athletic plane ... "if only it weren't for (insert excuse here)".   Or even worse, a way to put you in a box and minimize your accomplishments, because of course they would do it too if not for ... "(insert excuse here)".  I always try to act very concerned and compassionate, but if I'm totally honest ... in the back of mind I the cynic in me sometimes thinks, "Maybe you just need to toughen up a little".

There's always a fine line between being hurt and being injured.  Obviously, we sometimes unfortunately deal with actual injury ... broken bones, torn tendons, ruptured muscles ... things that need time to heal, and at worst, surgery.  But I'm a huge believer that the human body is one of the most remarkable machines on the planet.  It's powerful.  It's resilient.  It can withstand extreme hot & cold.  And a lot of the time, if we can simply get our minds around the physical task at hand, it can amaze us with it's ability to perform.  Our simple "willingness" can push our bodies through a lot of pain, and a lot of resistance.

I'm very fortunate in that I've never really experienced any sort of injury.  I've never had surgery.  I've never torn anything.  And in spite of 6 years of football, 7 years of basketball, almost 20 years of baseball, and a ton of running along the way, I've never broken a bone either.   I'm just wired really well for this.  But I think there's the misconception with a few folks I know that I feel GREAT all the time.  Man, I'm 45 years old!  I've ran almost 10,000  miles over the past three years .... 10,000!  That's a lot!  And also churned out a ton of core and leg conditioning along the way.  Do you honestly think my body doesn't ache a large majority of the time?  Well you'd be wrong if you said "no".  It does.  Some days ... like this morning ... I have to really push  myself to hit the road (or treadmill lately).  It would be easy to skip it.  My body really wants me to skip it.  The bed is warm ... and soft.  And when I'm at home and not on the road, there's a beautiful woman lying beside me!  But I'm driven by always trying to make my running better.  I don't want to settle.  I don't think I'm at my peak yet and I want to find how high exactly, that point is.  And I try ... almost everyday ... not to make physical excuses.  I run through the aches. I run through the pain.  And when it hurts, and I'm tired, and I think about quitting, I say to myself, "Don't be a pussy ... don't quit!"

Now, I don't expect that everyone would choose this path.  You'd kinda be crazy if you did.  A lot of folks simply enjoy a little running here and there to stay in shape - which is absolutely awesome.  Others enjoy races, but aren't that concerned about the clock - and as I've said a hundred times, that's great too.  In fact I probably should be more like that.  But if you are one of those people trying to whittle down your time, and break the finish line faster than you have in the past ... but little nagging aches and pains are holding you back - it might be time to really examine if you're cut out for this.  If it's a legit injury - obviously don't push it.  You need to heal, and maybe get some professional attention.  But, if it's simply pain from sore muscles, or low energy levels ... I suggest you take a long look at whether you're unable or unwilling to accomplish your goals.  And maybe, just maybe, you need to toughen up a little, and ask yourself why other people your age can get it done and you can't.

1980 Boston Marathon champion, Jacqueline Gareau once said, "The body doesn't want you to do this.  As you run, it tells you to stop but the mind must be strong.  You always go too far for your body. You must handle the pain with strategy.  It's not age.  It's not diet.  It's the will to succeed."  You can do this!  You can overcome the pain, and fatigue, and resistance, and accomplish great things!  But are you willing?
... be great today!


  1. I get a little tired of hearing peoples excuses. If you really want to run you will find the time and the energy to pull it off and get it done.

  2. Love, love, LOVE this post!! As a trainer, I spend all day with clients who try to come up with "reasons" why they can't do things, can't find the time, can't...(insert excuse here). I love being the voice that shows them that they CAN do anything and everything they set their heart to!

  3. You either do it or you don't.

    If you can't/don't/shouldn't/wouldn't that is FINE, but I don't want to hear about you being unhealthy or tired all the time or overweight.

    I understand people not liking/wanting to run. It is not the most fun for a lot of people... HOWEVER, there are so many other ways to be active.

  4. I do not understand why you get so upset about this... And you can apply the same attitude to the excuses and justifications we all are making about things that we are failing short. OK, possibly YOU are not failing short at anything, but do you know anyone close to you that you even love truly who is trying but failing to lose weight, e.g.? She really wants to, she really does, but there are things that are stronger than her will. Great that you have great genetics and a great willpower acquired through life, but gosh, have some understanding for those who are less lucky. They might be lying to themselves, totally lacking introspection, but this is the way they see their situation, this is their excuse and their viewpoint. What is yours for getting so upset by something that does not really take away anything from your great greatness?

  5. That "listen to your body" thing is always a fine line for me. Usually it's lying about being hurt, or about what hurts (like at Saturday's race where my hip hurt all morning pre-race but never bothered me while I ran). My tendency is always to ignore aches for a race or training run with friends...can't miss out, and usually it works out fine. And while injury pain is one thing, I love my aches and pains from general training (or falling!) because they mean I've been using my body. :)

    My husband ALWAYS has a reason he can't do something active. It drives me crazy. I know if he got more exercise he'd feel better.

  6. But what can I do if I already know I'm being lazy? At least, I'm admitting it right? :)

    Coming from someone who NEVER imagined running ever, when I start to hear those excuses, I just stop trying and start agreeing. Nothing I say is going to change their minds. They have to want it.

  7. This makes me think about your post a few days ago... THIs attitude is what makes you an accomplished runner. Dusting yourself off day after day even when you're not in the mood to do physical exercise is what separates people.

    I always try to remind myself (and I'm not an accomplished runner by any definition) that it is a choice I make, not some lot of bad luck, bad genes, age/etc that makes me strong or weak.

  8. To Anonymous...
    Thank you for you thoughtful and passionate response. I'm sorry if this offended you in some way. I can't help but think you're reading way too much into this. Indeed, I think many of us make all kinds of excuses in life for many different things ... let's face it, we are the "victimized" generation. Everybody is a "special case", or a "well you just don't understand my situation", or a "yeah, but it's a lot harder for me". It makes it much easier for us to cope with falling short of the mark, whether self-imposed or one placed there by society. It's a simple defense mechanism. And in many cases, there's obviously legitimate pain there that drives these "excuses". It's like if I can subconsciously turn myself into a victim, ergo it's not my fault, ergo I don't have be responsible for my behavior ... because "I just couldn't help it". I dunno, to me that's just a sad, defeated, way to go through life.

    And please don't misunderstand - I know there are real and actual challenges that folks face. And no one can judge just how real, or big these things are except for them. But I'm just personally not an excuse maker. I know if I don't make a goal time in a race, or don't sell something to a potential customer, or even fall short as a husband or father ... IT'S MY FAULT ... NO ONE ELSE'S. I never knew my dad because he left when I was 3. I have never one single day in my life used that as an excuse when I failed. Rather, I knew I would have to work harder than some people because I didn't have that support system that many are so lucky to have. Having an alcoholic murderer as a father has actually driven me, instead of holding me back. Yes I said alcoholic murder. So I would never judge anyone's pain or what they've been through - but I can tell you I chose not to use mine as a crutch.

    But please understand ... for this blog post I was really just talking specifically about runners. I work in a very "manly" industry. I take endless kidding about being a runner, almost on a daily basis. Pretty much all of it is from my friends and it's intended in good fun, but after a while it just gets old. So maybe this was more of an unsolicited response to some of that.

    And in response to you calling me "great" (sarcasm understood) ... I don't think I'm great, I just don't give up ... ever. Believe me, I'm not someone that very many folks should model their life after ... but the principle of never giving up IS. And honestly, I can't believe I have to defend it.

    I don't want to "read too much" into your comment, but it reads like it's okay to lie to yourself, quit, rationalize your situation if you can't get it done. In the weight loss example, if there are medical reasons that the person gained, or cannot lose the weight, then that of course is an exception. But take my current situation for an example - I'm trying to lose 12 pounds for a race and I just can't do it. I really, really, really want to ... but I just lack the mental focus not to jamb my pie hole with potato chips and honey buns almost every night. So I haven't been able to lose the weight, and I'm probably gonna be a little heavy for this race coming up. But I would never say, "Gosh, I just can't help it, the stuff just tastes so good!" Rather, I know it's a lack of self-control after 8:00pm to avoid the snacks.

    So anyway, I really do appreciate your comment - it would be nice if you would identify yourself next time, or even email me directly - I typically don't respond to anonymous comments. But thank you for reading - have a good day.

  9. Fairly new reader to your blog, and at 42, I can relate! I have a quote on my office wall that I read daily:

    "Now, if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon and night, but the body is never tired if the mind is not tired"

  10. Agree fully. So many excuses - but that's kind of the society we live in & the young generation is growing up that way. Running is different things to different people, but don't give me the excuse that "I Can't". If you can't run, then swim, bike, whatever... but get off the couch for cripes' sake.

    No but seriously, haha, yes, I'm guilty of this for like, a year. I promise, it HURT! Whatever my doctors say!
    And I did kind of enjoy the break, just a touch, even though I started to feel pretty antsy.
    BTW if I had a dollar for every time someone told me they would run, except...knees, I'd be rich.

  12. I've seen so many people who are like this and for people like us it's hard to understand them. How do we not scoff at someone who says they can't run because it makes them so out of breath? But I've also been in a position where I could only do a fraction of what I wanted to do in training because of my body. There was no wussing out on my behalf - I just physically couldn't. So generally I agree that a lot of people could push themselves a lot harder than they do but each case has to be taken on individual merits.

  13. Thanks for taking time to reply, sincerely appreciated. I post as anonymous because it is possible, and I do not want you to know who I am and what 3rd country I am coming from and what are my PRs (not really, just being sarcastic...)
    Frankly, I do not know why I got so upset by your post. I miss from you a little bit of understanding of other people's weaknesses, including their/our stupid excuses. Personally, I am doing really great regarding running, but I am falling short at everything else. I know my excuses are "stupid", but they are real to me and can't overcome them although I would really really want to.
    It is great that you do not use your father as an excuse for anything, but it does not mean a similar story can't be very burdening and hindering somebody else - and it is not just their choice that they didn't overcome it as well as you did. Cheers!

  14. I know exactly what you are trying to say. So many times I hear excuses instead of legit reason.

    Only one I hear that I like is "I wish I had your determination". Because they are telling me a truth about themselves not an excuse.

  15. Ha Abby! Good point about admitting it.

    Grace ... no, your stuff was legit, we've seen the x-rays.

  16. I once had a family member tell me they couldn't possibly go for a walk (during the day) because TIMBER WOLVES had been heard by a neighbour a couple nights ago! That's the day I stopped trying to encourage activity for my morbidly obese family member. Sigh.

  17. Great post! I thought about it as I started listing excuses as to why my 100 miles per month streak ame to an end. Truth is I didn't want it to continue bad enough.

  18. I really liked this post. Thank you!
    Me personally? I fall in the unwilling category. I am completely able and capable. I can be unwilling to put in the time and the energy at the same time I am unwilling to give up. Excuses? Oh I make them up in my head all the time and none of them pass the red face test. What does is: I felt pretty damn good after 8 miles and didn't want to lose the feeling so I stopped in my endorphin buzzed glory and enjoyed it along with an unseasonably warm and beautiful day for RI. I did get out there the next day and did what needed to be done to finish the run, 13.2, what motivated me for the last 0.5 miles was to finish a Strava challenge on the 2nd day of the month. I felt EVEN better for it.

    Bottom line: we need to be honest with ourselves. Thanks for this!!


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