Saturday, April 6, 2013

Taming the Quit Monster

Quit Monsters.  We all have one.
"The good Lord gave you a body that can stand most anything.  It's the mind you have to convince."  - Vince Lombardi

"Ninety percent of this game is half mental."  - Yogi Berra

Here's an experience that's common to pretty much everybody.  You're driving on a major highway when all of a sudden you really need to use the restroom.  You look for an off-ramp but alas, you just passed one and the next is coming up in four miles.  Frantically, you look for billboards advertising a Denny's, or a gas station, something to let you know relief is just moments away.  You're now bouncing up and down in the driver's seat, zooming along at 80 miles per hour, praying to the Patron Saint of Bladder Control for the ability to clench long enough to reach your destination.  Then, and not a moment too soon, you reach the next exit and there's a 7-Eleven beckoning at the first intersection.  You screech into the parking lot, fling open the car door not even bothering to take the keys out of the ignition, and dash to the bathroom.  The minute you get to the toilet . . . WOOOSH!  Victory.  And it's a good thing, because you're absolutely certain that you couldn't have held it one more second.

Running is a lot like that.

I should probably elaborate.  As I've increased the distance of my daily runs, I've noticed a strange phenomenon.  No matter what my mileage target is for that day, when I come to the end, I almost always feel like I couldn't have gone one more mile.  When I set out on a six-mile run, by the last mile I'm practically wiped out and ready to quit.  On the other hand, if I'm doing a 15-miler on a Sunday morning, mile six isn't even a blip on the radar.  It's all one big mind game.

So far, this concept has been among the most important things I've learned about marathon training.  For the most part, your legs will keep going as long as you need them to.  Your mind, however, will do everything in its power to talk them out of it.  Developing your mental toughness is just as important as building your physical endurance, if not more.  And the only way to do that is to find your preconceived limits and break through them.

My first run, back in September, was three miles and even at that I ended up walking some of it.  The thought of running a 10K was laughable, never mind a full marathon.  Before long, though, I was able to knock down one perceived barrier after another.  Running three miles without a walking break.  Then four.  Then a 10K.  Before long, the half-marathon distance -- a ridiculous pipe dream at the outset -- was not only attainable, it wasn't even that difficult.

The mind plays a significant role in the short term as well.  For me, there's a point of every run where the Quit Monster rears his ugly head and says, "Hey!  You're tired!  Time to quit.  Home is just around that next corner, make a left and we'll call it a day."  But instead I'll turn right and take another lap around the lake.  It's a promise I've made to myself, whatever my mileage goal is for the day, I absolutely will not (barring injury) quit until I've gone the distance.  In the battle of mind vs. body, I won't allow the mind to be the one to throw in the towel.

Don't get me wrong.  Quit Monsters can be pretty persuasive.

Mine, in fact, is a complete pain in the ass.  "Hey, you know what?" he'll ask.  "It's really windy outside today.  No point dealing with that, whaddaya say we take the day off and take a nap?  Rest days are important too, right?"  Or maybe, "Don't forget, man, there's a hockey game on at six.  It's already four-thirty, so instead of ten miles let's just do five today and five more . . . sometime in September."  Or, on his most dastardly of days, "Dude, let's just go out for pizza."

I hate him.  Plus, he hogs all the pepperoni.

Over time, though, we've developed a sort of grudging acceptance of each other.  Long runs have become give-and-take negotiations.  Let us take you through a sixteen-mile training run.

MILES 1-3: Generally, I take off on my own at around seven o'clock Sunday mornings.  This is a good thing, because the Quit Monster doesn't even get out of bed until seven-thirty.  So I'm about three miles into the run, loosened up and hitting my rhythm, before QM even knows we're out the door.  Once he realizes it, he's usually pretty cranky.

"Aw, man, we're doing THIS crap again?"

"You got it," I say.  "And you know, it wouldn't kill you to be a little more supportive."

"Bite me."

Like I said.  Cranky.

MILES 4-6: Since he missed out on his morning coffee, my Quit Monster fall back asleep for a few miles and allows me to enjoy the music on my iPod and the crisp morning air.  These are usually my fastest miles of the run, and the most comfortable.  I'm warmed up, pounding on all cylinders, and feeling great.

MILE 6-8:  Quit Monster wakes up (again), and he's groggy.  "Dude, how far have we gone?"

"Six miles," I reply.  "And we're going sixteen today, so don't even start up with me."

"Sixteen?!?  Who do you think you are, Bart Yabbo?"
It's YASSO.  Bart YASSO.

"Yasso.  It's Bart Yasso."

"Whatever.  Sixteen miles is crazy.  SIX miles, now, that's a nice, even 10K.  I can see you're getting tired, let's just pack it in.  I'll buy you breakfast."

The thing is, at this point of the run, I frequently start to listen.  I don't know what it is, but the seven-mile mark is where I usually have to fight through the first mental barrier of the day.  I always do, but it's there almost every week.  I can't explain it.

"Sounds tempting," I say, "but we said sixteen."

"I don't recall that conversation."

Quit Monsters have selective memory.

MILES 9-13:  Having won my first real argument with QM, we get along just fine for the next stretch.  My pace is steady, legs are feeling good, he'll occasionally try to throw me off by whispering, "Hmmm.  I bet you have to take a leak right now, don't you?"  But for the most part, he's accepted the fact that he's not going to talk me out of my sixteen miles today.  Sometimes we even have profound conversations.

"So tell me, why do you work so hard to get me to quit running?  I enjoy it.  It's good for me."

"It's my nature, man, I live to talk people out of things.  You want encouragement, call Anthony Robbins."

"Isn't that a downer for you, though?  Trying to get in people's way when they're trying to better themselves?"

"Nah, not a downer at all.  When you quit, I win.  This is all just a game for me, doesn't impact my life in any way at all."

"That's kind of sad, Q.  Wouldn't you feel better if you could make some kind of positive difference in the world?"

He mulls this over for a minute, and I can tell I've made a breakthrough.

"How would I do that?" he asks.  "Seriously, I'm a QUIT Monster.  It's just who I am."

Please, someone make them quit.
"Well, how about this?  Instead of bugging me about doing something I enjoy, why not hook up with someone who needs to quit doing something that's bad for him.  Like, I don't know, abusing drugs.  Or hey, here's an idea.  What about latching on to the Kardashian sisters and get them to quit making stupid reality shows?"

"You know, Chris, you might just be onto something there."

MILES 14-16:  Quit Monster checks out for the day, knowing he's not going to get to me with only three miles to go.  I can feel my legs getting heavier, my pace slowing, but we're past the point of no return now.  I hit the sixteen-mile mark about a half mile from my house, the perfect distance to walk and stretch my legs.

Until next week.  When it starts all over again.

For a guy named "Quit Monster," he's pretty persistent.

Orange County Marathon
Newport Beach, Ca.
May 5, 2013


  1. QM has been a royal pain on recent Sundays.

    "You're shaky this morning. You won't feel good on your run."

    True. But I feel better by mile 4 (usually) so I'm going and I feel real good about doing the run even when I don't feel good.

    "How about doing 6 instead of 8? You've had a busy week"

    I say "Pffft!"

    1. Yeah, sometimes we just need to slap him. Or her.

  2. love this! And love your writing....thanks for finding me so I can find you! I did the OC half last year. Very fun.

    I hate my QM. And mine is the same way. Run, bike or swim, whatever my planned distance (short or long) I find it very difficult to go even a stroke, pedal or step further. What's UP with that?

    1. Wish I knew. And it's not like I can fool him, either, by saying "Okay, off for twenty miles!" when I'm really only going to do twelve. He's part psychic, I think.

  3. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I love your writing too. Best of luck with the OC race. Are you doing the half or the full? The half is wonderful. The full is not so pretty.

    1. Thanks! Glad you stopped by. I'm doing the full marathon in Orange County, this'll be my first. I've heard others say the same thing you did, that the first half of the course is gorgeous, then it's like they just tacked on 13 more miles to make it a full marathon. I'm not complaining though, there won't be pictures of the course on the medal!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.