We’ve all seen the t-shirts and the memes: “No excuses”.
Usually it’s on a black oversized t-shirt, written in a gimmick font that looks like a stamp or rusted metalwork, worn by some scruffy 19 year old whose idea of sports is watching the MMA or scuffling up the street with a cigarette in his mouth. Sometimes, it’s emblazoned over a black & white picture of The Rock or some other muscle-bound guy who clearly takes it to heart.
In any case, it’s an oft-repeated cliché.
Cue the scene.
Yesterday was cloudy. It was windy. And due to both of those, as well as a current low front, it was cold. Colder than forecast, even. When I popped out at lunch to go get a coffee down the block, I was chilled, even though it was 1pm and it was supposed to be 17 degrees Celsius. I was in pants and long sleeves and I can say it was not even close to 17.
Add to the mix that I was feeling bone tired. My workout loads have been higher and harder, and my body is reminding me that I am supposed to introduce more rest into my schedule. Because… 42.
The night before, after hockey and a quick sprint, I came home lamenting that my legs just have nothing in them. While I’m skating fine, I feel like I’ve got no gas in the tank while I’m on the ice. And worse, I feel like I’m making no progress on my run times. There’s no zip in the legs, no spring in my step, even though I’m in less pain than I have been in ages.
So at the end of the workday yesterday, when it came time to change into the cycling gear that I had dutifully packed the night before, to go and drive out to the middle-of-nowhere to go for a 40km ride on the aero bike I had wrestled into the car before work, that is when the excuses started lining up in my head.
“You’re overtired and there’s a race next week. You should rest.”
“The wind is 25km/hr with gusts of 35km/hr. Nobody should ride in that. You’ll blow off the road.”
“It’s cold and given what those clouds look like, it might even rain. You only packed for a chilly ride, not a cold one.”
It’s a solid 20 minutes from my workplace to the community centre where I planned to park. Of that drive, a good chunk is on open, un-windbroken roads, where every gust rocked the car. Further proof, said my fading willpower, that I should pack it in and head home.
“I could do my weight workout tonight instead.”
“I need a rest day. I can just ride more on Thursday instead.”
The problem is that the wind is only supposed to get worse all week. Much worse. And if I wanted to make a rest day work, it ought to be today, Wednesday, when I have a massage appointment and household obligations that make fitting in a run or ride almost impossible.
And yes, there’s a race next week, but I shouldn’t taper yet, though I definitely need to back off a bit on the training this week to recoil the springs in my legs. If I didn’t want to double up on some upcoming days, even closer to race day, I really needed to fit in this session as planned.
So I resolved, just moments after almost caving to my own arguments to head right home, that in fact, I would go as planned to the parking lot. I would get ready, putting on every piece of clothing I could, and get out on the bike. If I felt too cold, too tired, after 10km, or if I blew right back off the bike, I could call it a day.
This strategy has worked many a time for many a workout.
Don’t want to run? Get dressed, get out there and start the warm-up walk, and run the first two kilometres. Don’t want to lift? Go down to the gym and start with a single set of everything. Chances are, just about 100% of the time, that workout is going to not only get started, but finished.
Sometimes, legitimately, it’s not safe to train. The weather turns to snow or lightning threatens, or the body really honestly needs a break. But the body and the weather conditions should make that call, not my willpower, sitting comfy and cozy in the heated seats of my vehicle.
I start each week with a plan for the running, biking, strength training, athletic therapy, and cross-training I’ll do. Weather and other factors might cause some of those plans to change, but it at least defines for me what’s ahead, and how it fits in around work, social commitments, and the tasks that make up responsible adult living, like, oh, grocery shopping and ironing.
For the most part, if I’m dragging my feet on doing a workout, I can pep talk myself into getting out and doing the session because this is the path I’ve chosen. If I want to be Marshal McLernon, age-group duathlete of unparalleled mediocrity consistently finishing middle of the pack, I need to do my training.
Incredibly, this can work most of the time. But sometimes, you have to kick yourself harder. And so there’s the “just put on your shoes and start” approach.
And so, last night, I parked my car in the shelter of the treed corner of this community centre parking lot. I gritted my teeth and got out into the cold, and started layering my warm clothing. I had a race t-shirt and arm warmers layered under my long-sleeved jersey. Luckily I also had some compression calf sleeves in my bag, so I put those on to help keep my legs warm. With a set of light cycling gloves, I knew I’d be able to shift despite the windchill. And so, mildly chilled, off I went, fully expecting to have to turn back after 10k, but resolving to at least get my butt in the saddle and give it a shot.
In fact, the butt stayed in the saddle for the full 41.5km. The first 5km were terrible, as my body tried to warm up against the wishes of my sulking mind, which had clearly lost the argument with my willpower.
It wasn’t speedy, what with the winds, and at times it was a white-knuckle ride, due to same winds and a lack of shoulder room on one busy road. Though I wasn’t terribly cold for most of it, I was truly chilled by the time I finished — so cold that my feet hurt and my hands didn’t want to operate my car key — but I still managed decent time with a perfect amount of effort.
As I told my wife afterwards, it was a relief to be tucked in aero position — not only to cut the wind, but also because there’s warmth to be had when you’re all folded in on yourself like that.
Added bonus? There was some solidarity to be had out on the road as the few of us cycling passed one another and mentally high-fived our like-minded brethren.
And that decision to work out? I remain convinced that deciding not to work out can’t be borne of “what if” and “well but” thinking. While we need to cut ourselves some slack and ensure that we take the right amount of rest, it needs to also be strategic, and not based on a lack of willpower. It requires a fine balance and some reasoning skills, but also the determination to follow through.
That is “No Excuses”.