Talking myself out of excuses

Not every day is a great running day.

Sometimes the weather sucks for a run outside. A couple weeks ago, we had a cold spell that dropped temps and showered us with rain for what seemed like days on end. Truth be told, I was aching to get outside and run. But the thought of climbing onto the treadmill was not one I was willing to entertain.

So, I just didn’t. Instead, I waited.

Day after day, my running shoes sat in a heap under my record cabinet. Finally, though, the weather cleared, and I went for an afternoon run with Ethan and Michael. I was so excited to get back out there.

But after a week and a half of little to no formal exercise, I was dragging. I huffed and puffed and my side ached and the sun was too bright and I was sweating too much and I was discouraged to be lagging behind the boys.

But five miles later, I finally crossed the threshold into my air-conditioned apartment and that familiar feeling of accomplishment washed over me.

I did it.

Sometimes life leaves little time for exercise — or, more likely, we sometimes do a poor job of planning for it. I taught my first class as an adjunct this semester, and the weight of grading hit me hard in the final weeks of class.

Every waking moment that I wasn’t grading papers, this nagging voice in my head was telling me I should be. But the weather had cleared, and it was the perfect night for a run.

I went out for four miles or so, then made it back home to whip up some dinner, shower, and catch up with my roommates. Before I knew it, the clock read 11:00 and I hadn’t graded a single paper of the dozens that remained untouched with only days left in the semester. But my exhaustion said I’d be better off grading them tomorrow.

I stressed about those papers for weeks, always putting it off when something better came up. But when I finally submitted grades for the semester, a weight fell off me in such an abrupt way that I knew my time mismanagement had affected me much more powerfully than I’d thought.

And for all the nights I’d said it after a quick run, it had never meant as much as it did to say it now:

I did it.

Sometimes your body doesn’t move the way you want it to, maybe because of the heat and maybe because of all the hills. Or maybe because you can’t get your mind to let go and focus on the rhythmic thud, thud, thud of feet hitting the concrete and the smell of freshly cut grass along the trail.

That was my story last night. I walked more than I wanted to during those four miles. I considered cutting my run short, but I’d told Michael exactly what my route was, so I was determined to stick to it.

It had reached 90 degrees earlier in the day, so even the last spring daylight hour was laced with heat and humidity my body just wasn’t used to. And my usually-flat terrain had been traded for a hillier East Lincoln route.

Then, when I was just six blocks from home base, I passed a tall bush and was met almost immediately by a large dog jumping up onto me. I froze, and its owner got the dog down and apologized. But it had shaken me, and instead of continuing on at my jogging pace, I slowed to a walk to catch my breath. But the more I walked, the more my breath caught in my throat as I tried to hold the tears back.

“Finish strong, be strong, don’t be shaken,” I told myself. But the tears broke anyway, and I plodded along another two blocks.

When I got back to Michael’s he met me in the driveway and asked how my run was.

“Not good,” I said dejectedly.

I went inside and guzzled a glass of water, then another. I frustratedly slouched on the couch and reviewed my Strava stats.

But in the shower, my internal dialogue buzzed. Sure, I hadn’t set any PRs. I’d walked more than I had on any recent run. But it was also significantly warmer outside than any other day I’d run, and I’d run up and down more hills than I’d ever needed to worry about before. And I’d kept going, even when I knew I could shave off a half-mile or more with one quick turn.

I did it.

I got out of the shower and met Michael in the hallway.

“I’ve changed my attitude about my run,” I said.

And maybe I have a new attitude about my running routine in general. I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. I need to be consistent and accountable, but I recognize that not every run will be my best run, nor will it always be an improvement from the last.

And that’s OK, as long as I keep at it.