Last Tuesday, following a less than stellar workout as a result of a nagging pain in my hip/piriformis/IT-band, I was ready to cast off exercise and commence pursuit of the new American dream; mediocrity, obscurity, and obesity. When that irritating pain transformed itself into an excruciating, shooting pain that spanned the entire length of my left leg and into my calf, I had had enough.
The conversation I had with myself went a little something like this…
Why do I do this to myself? I work so hard, take all sorts of preventative measures; strength training, foam rolling, and yoga and my body still lets me down. I don’t understand how I can go out one day crush a 10 mile run and then have to drag myself through a five mile recovery run. I am going to get myself through this race season and start “lifting” just to stay in shape.
Sure, during a two-hour run or a four-hour bike, I might enter into a “dark” place from time to time. This is especially true of those days when I find myself 50 miles away from home on a bike with a flat tire and a CO2 canister that misfired because it was knocked from my hand by the blowback of an 18 wheeler that came within feet of ending my life. Despite those moments that overwhelm, when my mental focus trails off, I am usually able to shake off the fog and rise above this self-doubt by picking up my pace or cadence and dominating the remainder of my workout.
What is usually a momentary lapse of focus, snowballed into a daylong pity party. During the ride home I cursed and scolded myself for the poor performance, for not stretching well enough, for not putting forth enough effort and for choosing to compete in endurance sports in the first place.
Again, talking to myself…
I am tired of choosing foods based on their micro-nutritional profile. Why do I know how many calories and how much fat, protein, and carbs are in everything that I eat without looking at the label? How much better is all that effort making me anyway?
When I pulled into my driveway, jamming the car into park, the criticism and questioning continued…
What kind of person wants to do an Ironman or an ultra-marathon anyway?
Hours later, still clinging tightly to the negativity of that morning’s workout, I was delighted to see my brother Anthony for no other reason other than having the chance to share my cynicism with someone else. I don’t think he saw it coming, but within minutes I had unloaded all of my anger, disappointment, and frustration onto him. At this point I was just mad that I was mad. I could no longer process what I was feeling, so I did the only thing I could think of; I went to workout (so much for that whole no exercise thing).
While writing this post and reflecting on this series of events, the emotions and my actions, I became even more disappointed in myself. Had I really thought those things? How could I have allowed myself to slip into such an irrational place? I never do that. I am always in control, always analyzing, always even keel. I tried to figure it out, tried to make sense of every thought and feeling.
Then I stopped.
Returning to a place of reason and clear thinking, I was able to regain perspective. I had underperformed during an hour-long workout that was part of 13 hours of training that week, in my 36 week training plan leading up to Ironman, which is still 6 months away. Exhale.
What does all this mean? Nothing really! I had a bad day; it is that simple. So why was that so difficult to grasp?
Well, when you plan your day around meals and training sessions, and your year around races instead of vacations, it can be difficult to maintain perspective. Every time I call it a night so that I can be up for training the next day instead of going out, or eat an egg white omelet instead of the Floridian French Toast (with extra Floridian), I am committing more of myself to a specific goal.
Sure, I am highly motivated, driven and ambitious. By design, these characteristics extend beyond sport and into my everyday life. I want to run an Ironman for the same reason I want to run my own business, because it’s extremely difficult and most people simply look at it and say I can’t, so they never try. I work so hard because I don’t know how to give less than my best. I strive for excellence in every endeavor I undertake because giving anything else is a waste. My dad, aka Big Al, wouldn’t have had it any other way. Unfortunately, even the most intense work ethic and detailed plan can be foiled by a bad day. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean that the world is coming to an end.
Having successfully talked myself down from the ledge, it became clear to me that this nothing more than another opportunity to walk the talk by adhering to the words that drive my training and shape my life: endure, overcome, and dominate.
Setting the scene, it is 5:45 a.m. the morning after I had sworn off training and competition. Having just downed a pureed banana and some protein powder, I was poolside with my kickboard and buoy. As it turned out, my retirement was short-lived. While I would have to forego my run workouts for a few days, my swim stroke could use the extra work and aqua-jogging and the erg would serve as suitable stand-ins for the time being.
It would be easy to quit. Heck, it would have been easier to make excuses and never have tried. But, that would mean having to live a lie; betraying myself, my convictions and my upbringing. Instead, I choose to live honestly.
When you live honestly, you cannot separate your mind from your body or your thoughts from your actions –Mark Twight, Kiss or Kill
Joe is a writer, trainer and fitness entrepreneur who co-founded Hybrid Athlete LLC, Kettlebell Cardio™ and Race Day Domination. Currently building @fittinsider, a platform for founders, executives, & investors redefining fitness/wellness. Investing in health/fitness companies