With Fitness, Half the Battle is Showing Up
I sat in my car, looking out at the pouring rain. “Son of a bitch,” I said.
Warm and wet is fine. I’ve run in the rain in Maui and it was awesome. This was not going to be awesome. This was going to be cold and wet. In Canada, rain always sucks.
Stupid weather, messing with my workout plans.
I sat there in Rhonda the Honda, wasted some time on Facebook with my phone, and debated.
I needed to meet a friend downtown to pick up some tickets from him for an annual epic Stampede party piss-up. Downtown traffic sucks. Downtown parking fees are egregious. Parking 6K away from downtown, for free, then running to meet my friend and thereby avoiding the traffic, then running back, seemed like a great idea. I was dressed to run. I was ready to run.
But, rain. Crud.
I hate Canadian rain. I hated the thought of being cold and wet more than I hated the idea of traffic and parking fees.
Five minutes. I knew I could do five minutes. I also knew that going fast combated freezing. Suck it up, I said to myself. Just go for five minutes. If it’s horrible, turn back.
I ran the 6K in 27 minutes, a good pace, and walked into Starbucks. I was soaking wet and water was dripping from the brim of my hat.
“Holy shit, you ran here?” Dave said. Yeah, I guess I did. I hate forgotten about the miserable conditions within two minutes of hard running, and just did it. Grabbing a coffee the cute barista asked me the same question Dave had, minus the profanity, then, “What are you training for?” she asked.
“Life,” I said. I always wanted to say that. I managed to do it without sounding like a douche. She laughed, at least. If that ever happens again, however, I’m going with “Compressed morbidity.”
Last night I was at a party and a friend was telling me about how her son is in competitive gymnastics, and how the coach explained that, “You are going to miss birthday parties and movies, and there are going to be times that you’re tired and you don’t want to come, so you’re going to make a deal with your parents that, no matter how bad you don’t want to go, you have to commit to showing up for just 30 minutes. And if after 30 minutes you still want to go home, you can call them and they’ll come get you.”
Then the coach says to the parents. “Don’t worry, no one ever calls.”
Tomorrow is Father’s Day. The forecast calls for more rain. I have a plan.
I emailed my friend Stephan, who is also a father, and set up an early morning run. If it were up to just me, I’d probably sleep in, and not run at all. I’d be a lazy dad, drinking beer on the couch, because Father’s Day. If it were up to just Stephan, I bet he’d do the same thing.
But I sent a quick email, sort of a challenge but also a promise of mutual support: you kick my ass, and I’ll kick yours. And so, we’re both getting up early tomorrow to run, because mentally, we’ve already made that commitment. We’ve already shown up. Canadian Olympic Hall of Famer Clara Hughes told me she uses this trick of arranging meetings with friends for running motivation.
I remember having a shitty boss, long ago, and she was great at killing my motivation to do my lunchtime trip to the gym. She’d spend the entire morning sucking away my will to live, and there were times that I’d hit the Chinese food buffet at lunch instead of the gym, and feel even more wretched for the afternoon for having let her win.
Many times, however, I did the seemingly inhuman struggle of committing to just those five minutes. Just show up, I would coax myself. And I would go and start lifting, and it would usually suck at first because I’d be dwelling on what a troglodyte my boss was, but after a while the iron would strip all that away, and it would be fine.
Don’t view an hour’s worth of exercise as something where you need to find the motivation to make it through that entire hour. In most cases, you only need the motivation for those first five minutes.
The hard part is showing up. The other 55 minutes usually go by pretty easy.
James S. Fell, CSCS, is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and AskMen.com. He is the author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada.