Friday, February 5, 2016

Your yearly reminder that quitting is an important life skill.

So here we are, a month into the new year, up to 20+ miles a week & 8+ miles at once; my legs are feeling good, I haven't had the slightest hint of pain or discomfort, and the spot where I had the stress fracture feels completely normal. Given all that, I decided to wanted to give some faster running on the ground a try this week. On Tuesday I had some mile repeats on the schedule, and I thought those were probably a good choice for a first workout (as opposed to say, 200m's).

As I come back from this injury and start training again, I'm trying to be realistic, both in terms of 1) not pushing my body so hard so soon that I get re-injured and 2) remembering that it's now a good six months since I was in reasonably good shape. This attitude is a little bit at odds with my usual impulse to DO ALL THE WORKOUTS and MAKE ALL THE PACES, no matter what, no excuses, so it seemed like a good time to remind myself of the many virtues of quitting.

Quick recap: Never quitting sounds really good in theory, but think about it. What if you never quit anything? Never quit a relationship you'd outgrown? A job that wasn't working? A bad habit? A club that or hobby that's become more of a chore than a good time? An argument where you realize you're wrong? Something that seemed like a good idea at the time but now is clearly really, really not?

Quitting gets a bad rap, but in truth, it's a key life skill that all adults should master. To go all metaphorical on you, quitting is like weeding the garden. It keeps the soil fresh and tilled and creates room for things that are working to grow and blossom as well as space for fresh, new things to take root. The impulse to quit can also serve as a safety valve to keep us from doing ourselves serious harm.

Of course, sticking with things and seeing commitments through is an equally important skill; the wisdom (as it seems to be with many things) is in learning to tell the difference. Sticking with something because it just has to get done or you gave your word or because it'll be worth it in the end is one thing; refusing to quit things purely on principle is just stupid. Your time and resources are worth more than that!

My workout was supposed to be five mile repeats at 7:25 pace with 1:30 jogs in between. Now, first off, it does not make me feel great to see that pace on my schedule for mile repeats, but such is life when your ass has been parked on the elliptical for the better part of six months. Second, doing the whole workout including a warm-up and cool-down would have been a 9-10 mile run, and given that my longest run so far has only been 8 miles, I wasn't crazy enough to attempt the whole thing anyway. But I thought, "Eh, I'll do three and then do two more 7:25s on the elliptical at the same effort level." Given that I ran a sub-22 5K in December when I wasn't training and now I've had about four weeks of some training, you really wouldn't think (or at least I did not think) that 7:25s would be all that big of a deal. Like, effort required, yes, but not like hard hard.

Har har har.

You guys. 'Humbling' doesn't even begin to cover it.

I gave myself some time to get up to speed & when I thought, "This feels about right," glanced at my watch. And then I kind of wanted to cry when it said 8:30.

Sigh. Fine, I thought, and revved the engines a little more.

Now I did run three mile repeats at more or less the right pace (7:21, 7:26, 7:22), but finishing every single one of them felt like the end of a 5K, and that was with stopping at red lights. (Side note: I may have uttered a "Dear sweet lord Jesus, thank you" at every one.) It was not pretty. More than once I wanted to shout to the universe, "I RAN THREE BACK-TO-BACK 7:00ISH MILES IN DECEMBER UNTRAINED, WHAT THE HELL!"

There were two interesting things worth noting.

1) Once I started running fast, I had a very hard time getting my heart rate up. At that pace it should be *at least* 180 and it took almost the entire first mile--during which I felt like I was dying--to get above 165. (Normally for me 165 = running casually up a steepish hill.) Even in the last one, I only *averaged* 180. That is really, really weird.

2) I did forget that the first mile was uphill, so 7:21 when I was shooting for 7:25 really was probably WAY too fast. Like maybe that mile should have been closer to 7:40ish.

At this point I was so. So. Done. Maybe a little part of me had been thinking, "Eh, if I do 3 and they go pretty well, *maybe* I'll just go ahead and knock off the last two so I can say I did the whole workout." But that was so not happening, both because I felt half dead and also because I could feel how hard running even just that much faster had been on my poor legs which are NOT used to this right now. It just seemed like the worst idea ever. And, to be honest, I'm not sure even just doing two more time/effort wise on the elliptical would have been smart, having just experienced what that effort level apparently was today.

So, I quit. I still logged 7.3 miles for the day and logged my first successful speed workout since July (if you don't count the December 5K), and honestly, that really did feel like enough for where I am right now. I do not feel bad about it.


  1. I ran a 5K last weekend 6 days after racing a half and felt great. Then yesterday I ran 3 miles at my goal 10 mile race pace and it felt HARD. Sometimes I have no explanation for these things other than adrenaline during a race making it easier to push myself and that late morning breakfast tacos aren't the best idea if I'm attempting an afternoon workout...

  2. Great post! "Quitting" is such a rough term for something that we all need to do and accept more often.

  3. More like being smart enough to modify?

  4. You didn't really quit since you weren't committed to doing the entire workout at the beginning of the run! Anyways...Speedwork after doing no speedwork for a while is hard as crap. The next workout will go better for sure. ;)

  5. Knowing when it's smart to quit is an important skill. Great post.

  6. Speedwork paces never make sense to me. I can race way faster than I can do should be the other way around, right? Anyway, the first time I go out to do any kind of speed after a long time off, I always give myself a bit of leeway on the pace. I did mile repeats 2 weeks ago that were more than 30 s off my target pace. But, knowing that I hadn't suffered like that in a while, I was just happy to be running 2+ minutes faster per mile than my normal easy pace. And then I managed to run a 5K even faster than my mile repeats. Like I said, it doesn't make any sense. After reading Matt Fitzgerald's book, I'm thinking speedwork is as much about training our brains to accept that pain as much as it's about training our bodies to go faster. All this to say - I'd call your workout a success!

    1. Yeah, I actually wonder if the mental piece is the big one for me right now since all my speed work has been on the elliptical. I also think sometimes faster paces are easier during races not only because you're rested but also because of the adrenaline (at least up until the end....). We'll see!