Day 75: When is tough too tough?

Be aware how to cut your losses in tasks which don’t require persistence.

A month ago, I laughed about the top-rated quote from this wisdom quote site: Giving up doesn’t always mean you are weak; sometimes it means that you are strong enough to let go. Today, I’ll justify me doing just that.

You see, I went running in the rain today. Barefoot, of course. And it was freezingly cold. I lasted 1 kilometer, 1,3 kilometers, almost 8 minutes — and then I gave up and went back inside to have a warm shower. It didn’t mean I was weak, I meant I was strong: I could have run further, but it would have cost too much. My asthma started bothering me. My feet were numb. I was wetter and colder than I should have been.

I gave up because I was sensible and reasonable. I was strong enough to be weak. I’m proud of myself.

Oh, for Christ’s sake. I am a coward. I could have lasted many more kilometers, but I didn’t feel like it. I had spent my entire day, and most of the day before, in an almost too warm house, I had gotten used to being warm, and when I went outside, it was too different, the change was to big, the cold wind whipped my face and I just didn’t have the guts to fight through it, not this time.

Or perhaps not? How can I know? When is tough too tough?

My father’s mother always worried sick about her son’s running. Every time they met, she would ask him to quit, It’s dangerous, she would say, you’ll destroy your body, I even heard about people who have died during a marathon, please stop, son, can’t you see you make me worried? A marathon is too much!

On the other hand, you have people who die on the bench, are bought back to life, and then ask to get back on the court. Or ultra runners who run for days through deserts and over mountains, pushing their limits to the out most. Or a football keeper who plays with a broken neck.

If I had continued my run, I wouldn’t have lost a toe. I wouldn’t have been as cold as I have been before, nor would my asthma have acted up like it has countless times. I wouldn’t have needed to go to the hospital, probably not even to take medication. There’s a slight chance my feet would have been complaining about the salt on the roads (they seem to salt the streets here all through March, no matter what the weather’s like), and it’s possible I would have been exhausted. Small things. But I decided it wasn’t worth it.


No no, I am not a coward, I am strong enough to be weak!

Look at it this way: every time you train, you break down your muscles and body. Training is not good for you — untill afterwards, that is, when you rebuild muscles so that they become stronger. Training is an investment: you pay a little to get more back at a later date. Sometimes, you pay more than you get. Sometimes you destroy your body too much and get long-term or even permanent injuries. Like if you play straight after having come back from the dead.

Sometimes, doing sports might kill you.

But here’s the thing: it’s worth it.

It’s not worth it to die, but it’s sometimes worth it to increase your likelihood of dying. My father’s mother was wrong: her smoking was much more harmful than my father’s running. But she was right as well: if smoking gave her a much better life, if she didn’t mind increasing her chances of dying of cancer to get whatever she got out of the cigarettes, she was right to smoke. There are advantages and disadvantages with everything, and if she weighed everything and found that smoking was the better option, then it was.

I doubt she knew how much damage the cigarettes did, though. And I doubt she knew how much energy, health and happiness one gets from training and doing sports. And I really dislike smoking myself. But still, the principle is valid.

No-one knows everything. But even we did, even if my grandmother would have known the costs of smoking and the drawbacks of training, she would probably have continued the same way: lots of smoking, no training. You see we overestimate the present pleasures and underestimate pains in the future. Even though I know that one chocolate won’t be as good as I anticipate and will probably do more harm than good after the initial taste, I still take one more bite, and then one more, knowing full well that I’ll regret it just a few minutes later.

It’s the same with training: we overestimate the pain we feel at the moment, and underestimate the gain we get later. In other words: we don’t push ourselves hard enough, we chicken out, we don’t think we can go much further when in fact we have barely started.

Usually. Sometimes, the pain you feel is the first sign of a nagging injury, and the only way you can stop it from exacerbating, is to stop training. But no-one knows everything: it’s always difficult to know what to fight through and what not.

It all boils down to this, then: was my pains during my 1,3 kilometers today signs of potential injury? Would I have done myself a disfavor by going on?

You never know. I don’t know. But I agreed with myself that the warm shower was just what I needed. And that the smelly running gear was a small price to pay.

In other word: I was exactly as tough as I should have been today.

During my next run, I’ll collapse and break my neck before I continue.