Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Art of Quitting

Quitting is a life skill. Just like changing a tire, boiling pasta, or treating a stain, knowing how and when to just give it up is something all grown-ass adults need to learn to do. Of course, not quitting is a critical life skill as well, but as the flashier, more dramatic of the two, not quitting gets plenty of attention without even trying. In the world of life skills, not quitting is the perky, gregarious blond with big boobs & a short skirt. Everyone wants to get with not quitting.

Quitting, on the other hand, often gets a bad rap. Quitting is the cool-quiet-brunette-in-the-corner-with-her-nose-in-a-book of adult life skills. A lot of the time people think she's lame & dorky & generally give her a wide berth, but once they find themselves in a situation where they end up getting to know her a little better, they usually realize she's got a lot more to offer than they'd first assumed.

Seriously. I don't know why we romanticize not quitting so much. How awful would your life be if you never stopped eating during a meal? Or never stopped drinking at a social event? Or refused to leave a job you hated? Or stayed in a horrible unhealthy relationship long past its expiration date? A well-adjusted adult has GOT to learn when to give it up & move on, and I'm sure we all have unfortunate stories about friends & loved ones who just never mastered the art of throwing in the towel.

From The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick),
by Seth Godin, which should really be required reading for all grown-ups.

Having said that, I must in the spirit of full disclosure admit that there are certain situations in which I have a better track record of appropriate & timely quitting than others. Back in the day I was pretty universally awful at knowing when to quit when it came to athletic pursuits. Witness the number of times I walked out of the gym as a teenager missing skin on my hands / came home from polo with bruises the size of citrus fruits / ended up in the doctor's office with a running injury. "BUT I AM NOT A QUITTER!" I insisted. "NOT QUITTING IS WHY I AM AWESOME!" Yes; look how awesome you are, sitting there on the sidelines doing nothing but regrowing skin/soft tissue/bones/blood vessels. Well done.

I am not perfect but these days I am considerably better at timely & appropriate quitting than I used to be, which is important because I spent most of Thursday debating whether I was going to try to run at all or not. Wednesday's run pretty much sucked due to generally just being tired & also running into an insane headwind for half the way, which I'm pretty sure led to less-than-stellar form, which then led to a right thigh (quads, adductor, & hamstring) that felt utterly trashed by the time I got to karate, and as of Thursday everything was still quite sore.

It wasn't an impending injury-type-hurt, but given my history with that right thigh/hip, I am not too keen on taking lots of risks with pain there. So by the time I got home, I'd settled on trying a little a running & seeing how it felt, but quitting at the first sign of more than the mildest of discomfort in that inner quad/hamstring/adductor region.

And therein lies the trouble.

It's all very well & good to say you'll quit in x scenario under y circumstances or what have you, but sometimes, even on a training run, it can be hard to make that decision, particularly when the main underlying principle of what you're training yourself to do is keep going in the face of incredible discomfort. The rational part of your brain understands the difference, but there are other parts that are like, "Wait, but...but you said...wait what?"

So I knew the smart thing to do would be to set up this run so that it would be easy to quit if I needed to. Instead of setting out on my usual six-mile route & hoping for the best (being 3 miles from home when the pain hits is not conducive to quitting), I decided to do a loop in my neighborhood that circles several city blocks & works out to about ~1.15 miles per lap. Yes, it meant more stop lights, but since I needed to keep careful tabs on how my leg was doing, that didn't seem like the worst thing ever. More importantly, it meant that worst case I'd never be much more than half a mile from home. I could walk it easily, and even if I shouldn't run it but lost that battle to the part of my brain that's still enamored with the busty blond, I'd be unlikely to do too much damage.

Thankfully running didn't seem to aggravate the soreness; in fact running was actually more comfortable than walking. For the first couple of laps I did have to stop every couple of blocks to shake out the tightness in my Achilles & deal with some cramping in my feet (which has been a thing lately), but after that most of the discomfort disappeared (or at least went back to a 1-2 out of 10 kind of intensity).

I almost always only run loops like this if I'm doing a really short run (say, under 4 miles) because the repetitiveness makes me crazy, and if I had really thought I would end up running the full six miles that way, I probably couldn't have faced it. I never felt great on this run, but every time I jogged past my house & check in with how I was feeling, I'd find myself thinking, "Eh, I can run one more lap." So I did, and one more, and one more, and one more, until my watch eventually (and rather anticlimactically) ticked off six miles. Sure, it was my slowest six-miler in literally years, but if I hadn't known I could quit at any time without needing to call a ride or walk some stupid distance home, I'm not sure I even would have attempted it.

So yeah. I encourage everyone to cultivate a healthy relationship with quitting. Don't be afraid of it. Don't turn your nose up at it. Develop your ability to keep going & not quit, absolutely; just be careful not to do it at the expense of making smart choices for the long term.


  1. So very true. I run into situations in which I give myself very vague quitting instructions, like, "Quit if you're doing damage." Pretty hard to tell if you are until you already have!

  2. I needed to read this today since I am DNS-ing a half marathon to or rowing morning to let a healing injury continue to heal. I've been really struggling with feeling like a quitter when the reality is NOT running this race will allow me to continue to run and train for my fall marathon. So thank you for this post!

  3. I'm the BEST at quitting.

  4. I love this post! When I quit CrossFit, I got some flack, because there's such a quitters-are-losers attitude within the subculture. But sometimes NOT quitting is just asinine. When you're chalking up injuries and credit card debt to pay for an exercise regimen, common sense needs to prevail over the need to show you can handle whatever is thrown at you.

  5. Life's all about balance isn't it? We have to push ourselves most of the time but we also have to know when it's sensible to back off and do nothing. You managed the balance really well.

  6. Knowing when to quit is smart. Having a proper strategy to outsmart your not-quitting instincts is even smarter. I've frequently hacked my long-run routes and methods to drill myself to not-quit, but one can just as easily re-engineer them to teach yourself not to, uh, mis-persevere.

  7. This is why I've been running on the treadmill this week instead of doing my usual routes -- so I can quit whenever I need to. Knowing when to quit is tricky though! It seems specific to whatever injury/pain you're dealing with. For me, it's when the pain causes me to change up my stride and overcompensation begins. That's my no-go zone.

  8. I definitely agree with you in terms of quitting.
    I personally go into most situations in my life planning out my emergency bail strategy out beforehand. Just in case. I probably need to be better about translating that into my running or even mountain biking adventures. I think you're smart to be aware of the repercussions of not quitting.

  9. You really need to read Think Like a Freak -

  10. So now here's the real question: I've tried like three times to post a comment on this blog, and I'm not sure if this is working at all. So do I keep trying or do I -- wait for it, wait for it -- QUIT??? ;)

    1. YOU SUCCEEDED!!!!

      (Seriously, I feel like there are some pretty capricious aspects of blog websites in this regard....Wordpress was hating me for like a week & a half......)