Thursday, January 24, 2013

Doing it.

No whining.

It's a rule that Victoria imposes on the girls she coaches at synchronized swimming meets - as she explains,  "one person vocalizing their unhappiness can quickly bring the entire group spiraling down into a mess of negativity."  And that negativity then becomes an obstacle that the athlete has to overcome.  Why make competition tougher on yourself, and put yourself at a disadvantage?  Whining isn't bad because it's annoying (though it is annoying), it's bad because it blocks you from your best performances.


Recently, the DC area's been hit by a spate of cold temperatures.  It's been pretty chilly - colder than we're used to, though not as cold as it gets in many parts of the country.  And we've had some snow too.  But we soldier on, getting up early, before the sun rises in many cases, to log our miles.  Yay us.  Not too much whining, but a lot of self-recognition of the fact that we were out there, doing our thing.  It was cold and dark (oh MY freaking cold and so damn early), but I got out there and got my run in.

And that's the problem.  The self-praise for getting it done.  My use of the word "soldier on."

It seems like a positive thing at first, the self-praise.  The recognition of the fact that I went out and got those miles in, despite the obstacles of cold and wind and snow and lack of light and the blackberry constantly buzzing.  Or the heat and the humidity and the lack of water fountains.  Yay me.  Positivity is a good thing, right?

In this case, I think not.  At least not this variation on "positivity," which isn't so positive after all.  Just like whining, the self-congratulation actually creates obstacles that weren't there before.   The cold and the snow and the early dawn really haven't been that bad, especially for those of us in the sheltered DC metro area (I can visualize my New Hampshire and North Dakota and Minnesota and Colorado friends nodding fervently).  But by celebrating myself for "overcoming them," I've made them into something much harder.

Perhaps easiest to explain with an example.  Suppose that I normally do a track workout of 8x800m on the track.  That's my norm.  Nothing special.  One day, it occurs to me that 8x800 is a lot, and most people only do 6x800.  And wow, some people barely make it around the track.  Hey, 8x800 is actually kinda crazy and hard and difficult, and it's really pretty exceptional that I pull it off.  Yay me.  I'm pretty cool.

Next time, that track workout is a lot harder for me.  8x800 just seems imposing in a way it never did before.  I've just created a mental hill for myself, where none was before.


It's simple.  Running is what we do.  It's not a big deal to run before dawn.  Or after dark.  Or on the treadmill.  Or when the thermometers show numbers different what what you usually see.  It's still just running.  Something that you choose to do because it fulfills you.

Either I do it, or I don't.  The background of my running is not a big deal until I make it a big deal.  Then it's one more thing I have to overcome.  And my training cycle just got a bit tougher.  Not because of the weather, but because of me.


I'm not advocating a lack of positivity.  Positivity is a good thing (and something I'm working on) -- it brings you to your best performance.  I'm also definitely not advocating that one ignore situations that require one to change plans, like slowing down when it's super hot or super cold, skipping or modifying a workout to avoid injury, running on the treadmill instead of in the hurricane, accepting that one can't breathe because of pollen, etc.  Positivity doesn't mean the denial of reality.   Sometimes, you have to adapt.

But I've come to understand that self-congratulation for doing normal things in non-normal conditions is not really positivity.   It's so much better to be truly positive - basking in the fun of running.  It's not that you "got out there despite X"; of course you got out there.  It's what you choose to do.  It wasn't an issue - you were happy to do it.  Instead focus on the great time that you had running - the friends you chatted with, the pretty sights, the runner's high.

See how that works?  Life becomes a bit easier, in the end.  Plus when I successfully maintain this mindset, I don't have my friends from the upper mid-West laughing at me.  And that's valuable too.


  1. Great post Cris! I don't have anything insightful to add other then YES 100% agreed!

  2. The phenomenon of a negative disguised as a positive is a psychologically interesting one, and though I'd never thought of the self-congratulatory overload as such, you are correct. Thoughts to ponder...

  3. You make an excellent point. I've always been anti-complaining for those stated reasons, but never thought about excessive positivity turning into a roadblock. It totally makes sense though. Interesting, very interesting.

  4. Interesting and I definitely see your point. Another thing to consider would be the positive self-talk you give yourself after each workout, regardless of conditions. Lately I've realized it's important to self-congratulate and say "good job" to yourself even if it's just an easy run or your standard 8x800. Never lose sight of the fact that you are working hard, putting out the effort and doing your best! Even though it's the "norm" for you and many runners, each run can be viewed as a confidence booster in terms of your dedication and love of the sport! Not like it was an obstacle to overcome, but that you continue to exhibit perseverance in a wide range of conditions. (Okay this comment is turning into my own blog post. . . but you got me thinking!)

  5. Great post! Really glad to have stumbled upon your blog ... I've been reading some of your old posts. I have been fighting recurring foot issues for a few years now. Incredibly frustrating -- just when I think I have it licked, and get back into a good training groove, it rears its ugly head again. Would be interested to know who your podiatrist is. I have yet to find someone in the DC/VA area whom I think is really, truly awesome ... Can you share his/her info?