Months ago, Sam asked readers to give us an idea of what they’d like to read more about. Lots of you responded but I was struck in particular by the response of a woman around 50 who wanted to know more about our failures. In the comments to Catherine’s post about the Challenging Challenge of Challenges, I confessed to my non completion of the 39 day Runner’s World Mile a Day challenge. We may all do a group post about that at some point but I want this one to be an exploration of all the ways I am not what I may seem to be (fit, motivated, accomplished, persistent, responsible blah blah blah) and how I have made peace with that. The truth is, I often fail.
In order to more fully explain and understand these failures, it’s important to understand in what context they happen. In this space, I am often writing about interesting adventures that I have had and what they mean to me. Sometimes, I write about the things that impede me (my Rheumatoid Arthritis or Falling off Things). What I hardly ever write about is my day to day reality or the struggles I have to keep fitness going in my life. I have realized that I may come across as a person works out somehow every day without issue, diligently works toward their goals and then gallivants around the country on bike, horse or in a canoe. Well, no, I don’t.
The only thing I do nearly every day is walk my dog. That means I’m guaranteed to walk about 2 kilometers a day.However, on days where my children or partner have walked the dog enough and I’m tired and it’s late and cold. . .I do not do anything.
I am lucky if I do more than two significant fitness activities a week. I have my surge weeks where timing and weather or perhaps just obligations to friends mean I do more. But if I’m honest, I usually do one aerobic thing, one strength thing and maybe ride a horse for 40 minutes. There are weeks I do not do any running. There are weeks, like this week, where I choose sleep over Pilates.
Regarding my running, I started when I was 36. It took me until I was 42 to run 5k. That is not your expected “Couch to 5K” timeline. Immediately after achieving 5k, I wanted to get to 10k. I just did that for the first time yesterday so that was another 6 years. In the 6 years that I spent working my way up to whatever distance I would run, stop running, run again, get injured, recover and eventually try again. None of this was according to a plan. There is a half-marathon running schedule on my fridge right now, but I am not following it.
Last year, I had my bike on a trainer in my basement because I was scared about doing the Bike Rally again. I’m taking a break from the Rally this year and my bike is resting in a corner. The trainer tire is not on it.I’m waiting until spring.
Then there was the running challenge, 1 mile per day from American Thanksgiving until New Years Day. I lasted 2 weeks, sort of. My body and mind utterly rebelled. The obligation to find time in whatever weather and no matter what else was going on in my life to run a mile proved impossible to meet. At first I was ashamed of myself. It’s only a 20 minute overall thing from getting dressed to getting undressed. However, working full time and being the point person on everything else in my life means that a solid commitment of 20 mins per day when it may be in rain and wind and snow and dark and cold and blech is impossible.
What does this all mean? The truth is, I do the minimum necessary for some sort of result (result defined loosely as strength, endurance, health, the dog’s comfort). I often fall out of schedules. Sometimes it’s because there is a legit interruption and often because I like sleeping better than exercise. I have streaks of success that are amazing. Finally running 10k yesterday was a heady achievement. But I am not under an illusion that I will be ready for a half-marathon next month. I will be lucky if I run 10k again any time in the next month. I will be grateful if nothing wonks out in my body as I continue to try to push speed and distance. However, even though I am inconsistent and haphazard, I get somewhere. I am more fit and stronger now than I have ever been. The thing I have changed since my first struggles with fitness in my early 30’s, is my attitude toward restarting a thing I’ve stopped. I don’t spend much time caring that I haven’t run in 3 weeks. I just go run a few kilometers, slowly. If nothing hurts too much, the next time I may run more faster. Then that’s it, I’m running again (or on my bike, or core work, whatever it is). There is no shame in stopping. You stopped. Then you start. Except dog walks, they are never ending and that’s a darn good thing.
9 thoughts on “Uninspired: Some Tales of Outright Failure (Guest Post)”
“he thing I have changed since my first struggles with fitness in my early 30’s, is my attitude toward restarting a thing I’ve stopped. I don’t spend much time caring that I haven’t run in 3 weeks. I just go run a few kilometers, slowly. If nothing hurts too much, the next time I may run more faster. Then that’s it, I’m running again (or on my bike, or core work, whatever it is). There is no shame in stopping. You stopped. ”
The attitude of restarting and stopping is the most important thing of all. Just because a person stopped, doesn’t mean failure. Restarting can also mean taking redirection in a different activity later.
It’s the same thing as…walking up a hill on a bike. Honest, if one is out of shape, that happens. But there’s no shame. Someone might see you. So what? If I had that attitude of never walking a hill…I would give up on biking.
Oh my goodness yes! I have hurt myself trying to get up a hill (fall over while clipped in) and it was just dumb. Walk up the darn hill and get back on your bike at the top :).
Love this. People think I’m a constant worker-outer, mover, too — I’m just not. I just tell people about the times I DO get out the door, less frequently about the times I lie on the bed with the cat watching netflix at 530 in the afternoon when I could be at the gym. Thanks for your openness 😉
Sometimes, your cat needs you more than you need to work out :).
Or you need the cat… 🙂 Pets are a wondrous thing.
I really really appreciated this post! Thank you. It’s good to hear that there “success” can include something other than the constant “NEVER GIVE UP” etc. messages that seem to be what I hear – the all or nothing approach to fitness that dooms me to failure (or what feels like failure).
Thanks Loretta, all or nothing is doom. We are also so vulnerable to the moralizing that comes with “failing” to work out. “I’m so bad, I didn’t go to the gym. I’m so good, I woke up at 4:30am to run 5k”. These kinds of moral judgments are dangerous. Our goodness and badness should be more dependent on how we treat people in our lives and not whether we make it to a step class.
Susan, thanks so much for this post. It is a gift– an honest account of what our lives are really like, as opposed to what they might seem like from the outside. You know I’ve been struggling for a while now, and knowing that others struggle makes me feel like I’m not alone in this. And that helps us realize that it’s normal, which calms us down enough to think, “hmmm. What would I like to do now?” Maybe it is to throw a leg over the trainer (mine is set up but gathering dust at the moment), or (more likely for me) go to the nearby yoga class, which never fails to give me joy.
I agree wholeheartedly, Catherine. I am contemplating writing my next post about what is ACTUALLY in my head while I’m in spinning class, contrary to the assumptions people make about it.
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