Monday, January 30, 2012

The Battle Between Now and Later

Sun rising, from this Sunday morning's run
WARNING: Like my morning run, this post will be long and hard to finish, but definitely worth it in the end. Possibly?

Lazy Runner

I am lazy by nature. When I was a kid, I pretty much did no homework. I was a terrible procrastinator, and as I became an adult this didn't really change too much.  On occasion, I have bursts of inspiration, and I can work feverishly on something for a while.  Usually though, I give up on it before I'm done. I'm also a talker and not much of a doer. I have lots of ideas, but I don't follow through.  I have entertained the thought of being ambitious many times through out my life, but I ultimately lack the drive, discipline, desire, whatever.

When I started running again 3 years ago, I don't think most of my family and friends thought it was going to stick.  They figured it would be like many of my other hobbies that last for a few months and then go away. Honestly, I didn't think I would continue with it either. Especially when I first started, which is mostly what this post is about.  How did I go from being lazy to running every day so far this year, and getting up at 6:30 on a Sunday for a 16 miler? Well the truth is I'm still lazy in other aspects of my life, but not in running.


About a year ago, I heard an awesome Radiolab about how you negotiate with yourself when making choices.  The piece called "You vs. You" was specifically talking about quitting smoking, but it can be applied to any kind of choice to better yourself. It's the battle between now and later. Instant gratification now versus a better payoff later.  Should I continue to sleep in my cozy, warm bed or face the dark, cold morning and start running? If I stay in bed, that will feel much, much better right now. If I go out running, that will feel awful but I guess I'll get some benefit from it eventually down the road. The problem is our brains are wired to favor an immediate payoff.  In order to overcome this instant gratification and actually do things we don't really want to do, it's not enough to convince ourselves that this will be "worth it" later on.  

In the episode, this woman comes up with an idea out of desperation to quit smoking. She tells her friend that if she ever smokes again, she will donate $5000 to the KKK. This may sound ridiculous, but it worked for her.  She would have dreams of smoking and would wake up and really want to smoke. But, then immediately she would start thinking of the KKK and how absolutely awful it would be for them to have any of her money and she would be disgusted by it. After this segment, a neuroscientist came on and explained why what she did worked for her.  She took the battle in her mind from now versus later, and turned it into now versus now.  Because she associated the idea of the KKK with smoking, the decision became smoking a cigarette equals donating money to the KKK.  This worked much better than smoking a cigarette is not good for you and may because you to die of cancer later. It's the later part that ends up losing a lot of the time.

From Lazy to Crazy

Little later in the run when the sun was up a bit higher.
I love running by this farm on Willow rd.
So, what does this have to do with me? After high school cross country, I tried running a handful of times over the years, but it never lasted for longer than a few weeks.  To anyone who has started running after a long period of not running, the first weeks are awful.  Running is no fun.  You are in a constant state of discomfort so the whole time you just want to stop. Eventually I would stop until I would try again a few years later.  This repeated a few times. Three years ago, my friend, Pete started to run again and decided almost on a whim that he was going to run a marathon.  Kind of like a bucket list deal. This idea sounded kind of crazy to me, because that distance is completely ridiculous for non-runners or beginning runners. But, something about it piqued my interest. It was the craziness of it. He had found this plan that had runs of 12, 15, 20 miles on it! I saw these numbers and thought, is it possible?  Could I ever run that far? And, I'll admit that it wasn't just how crazy this would be, but the bragging rights that came with it.  If I did this, then I become part of this club of crazy people that run these distances and that was immensely appealing to me. After a few weeks of "helping him train" for the marathon, I decided I was going to go for it myself and I signed up for the Philadelphia Marathon.  Now I had this goal on the horizon, and I spent money on it, but that still didn't address the problem of now versus later. On any given day, I still needed to convince myself to go run instead of not run which is usually more enjoyable. The marathon was a ways a way so what was it that made me keep running day after day?

Stats Are My Trick

This is probably not what you were expecting.  Really? Stats?  What the heck does that even mean?  I frequently have spreadsheets that I use to keep track of all sorts of things in my life.  Going to Disney World? Better make a spreadsheet to track the families' favorite attractions.  Trying to lose weight? Better track it with a spreadsheet. Are the kids growing alright? Spreadsheet. Here as well, I had a running spreadsheet to keep track of every run that I did. The pleasure of knowing that when I was done with my run, I would feel great and I got to enter the data in a spreadsheet was the tipping point for me. I could keep track of my distance and duration and therefore have my pace. And, I could have graphs.  So many different graphs! It's true. I'm a total graph nerd. After a few months, I realized that I had outgrown excel, and really needed something more sophisticated. I had considered creating my own web app but then I found runningahead. And as you can see, there are a ton of graph options. In the need for even more data to track, I bought a Garmin watch with an HR strap so now I have HR data as well and even more graphs. I am in personal running statistics nirvana.


Nowadays, going out for a run has gotten a lot easier for me.  I actually enjoy the run itself, and not just finishing it.  I love being outside. I love running for a long time and being alone. But, on early mornings when it's cold and dark and I am warm in my bed, I love that when I'm done, I will enter the data from my run, and I will see what my pace was, and what my weekly miles are and what my HR was like.  Then I will take a look at the graphs and there will be another data point to look at. 

Stats may not be your thing, but you can find your own trick. Find whatever the "now" is that can hold you over in the beginning or for those especially difficult days. If I can get over my laziness and keep running, than you can get over whatever excuses you are making.

1 comment:

  1. I like this. I think one of the things that separates runners from "normal" people is our ability to be brutally honest with ourselves. Running (and especially racing) is a way to force ourselves to confront the truth. If we don't like the truth we can do something about it through training.

    Most people don't want to admit "I am lazy" and then have to put a plan in place to do something about it. That's about as brutally honest as it gets.