Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Guilty As Charged

With all of the training I do what hurts the most is the guilt.

Last night I felt the guilt. I had misread a workout and dismounted my bike 15 minutes early. Not a big deal per se but to me – well, it was. If you tell me to run 45 minutes I will circle my neighborhood until I get it done. If you tell me to do 3 x 5 minutes intervals I will push only 1 second further than 4:59. Perhaps this is obedience. Perhaps this is respect for my coach who put the time to think through my schedule and plan something with purpose. Or perhaps it is just respect and high expectations for myself.

Or perhaps it is…guilt.

When I let myself down and cut something short for no good reason at all (note: good reasons would be illness, injury, family, circumstances beyond my control), there is guilt. Guilt is a funny feeling. For the most part it is truly personal emotion that comes from within. But once it sets in it may as well be a heavy chain hanging around your neck.

In a sense the guilt is really just a way of policing myself – from making bad choices. It’s the system that I have in place to make me second guess everything that rides that fine line of good or bad. It keeps me on the straight path and reminds me that there is only one way – the hard way – to get where I want to go.

In training, I believe it is guilt that drives me to be my best. To follow the training program and stay on track. I would never, ever skip a workout. It’s not even a choice. First of all, my goals are important to me and I’m going to do whatever I can within my control to reach them. Secondly, why would I pay someone (my coach) to ignore them? Third, there is no shortcut to success – you can’t skip workouts and expect to simply arrive at your goal 6 months later. Last, it’s a slippery slope. It’s like letting yourself walk in a race. Once you take that first step, what’s to stop you from taking more? Once you skip one workout, what is to keep you from doing it again?

If I did any of these things – ditched my goals – ignored my coach – skipped a workout – I would feel GUILT.

And to some degree (even if you have a coach) you have to police yourself. You have to put up the guilt filter and funnel every decision in sport and training through it. There has to be a consequence and that consequence comes best from yourself. Because the commitment to your goals came from yourself. No one else needs you to reach your goals this year. And the only thing that is stopping you is likely yourself.

Maybe then what keeps me committed is the guilt. The guilt of performing poorly because of myself. The guilt of giving less than 100 percent of myself. The guilt of letting myself down more than anything else.

By definition, guilt is remorse caused by being responsible for an offense. When you commit to your goals, skipping the work to reach them becomes perceived as an offense, something that is wrong. Something is right or wrong when it’s part of your belief system. Your belief system is who you believe you are and who you believe you can be. Perhaps it’s the age group winner, a national champion, Kona finisher, etc. When it is in your belief system, it matters to you. You make the choices that matter for yourself. You are responsible for yourself. Ultimately you are responsible for your success. So when you make a poor choice that steers you from success, there is guilt.

So you can sort of see how this guilt – it’s a good thing. Because again, something has to police ourselves. Sure, 15 minutes on the bike wasn’t really much compared to the rest of what I did yesterday. And it wasn’t really the 15 minutes – it was what they represented. Commitment, following through, dedication, sacrificing now to set myself up for success later. Trust me, I didn’t need 15 more minutes. I was on workout #3 of the day. And that’s why it mattered even more. If I give up when it’s already been a really tough day, what does that say about myself? What will I do at mile 11 of the 13.1 mile run when someone has run up behind me and threatens my place? What will I do in those last 15 minutes? Blow them off? Say screw it and walk to the line? Go home to sit on the couch instead?

No, I’m finishing it up, I am going to follow through, I will push to the end. So to skip those 15 minutes yesterday and give up was not really a choice. Because of the guilt. The guilt that comes from myself. The guilt of doing things half ass or short of finish. The guilt of giving up. The guilt of getting in my own way. The guilt of wanting to achieve x, y and z this season but not just doing the workout as planned. The guilt of letting success run away from me when it’s right in my hands.

Each day we make choices about ourselves. We choose the food we eat, the rest we get, the commitment to which we give to our training plan. Something has to police this process. And sometimes it is guilt. Guilt is not a bad thing. I think we try to make it a bad thing because we feel guilty about the guilt. We have this warm fuzzy attitude that you should walk around smiley, happy, love yourself, be satisfied with yourself, be happy with who you are and what you do even even if it is.....half ass.


Buck up campers. Sometimes it takes more than that. Sometimes you need a good kick from a dose of guilt. It reminds you of what you are trying to achieve and what it takes to get there. The road to success isn’t paved with smiles and warm fuzzy thoughts. There has to be hard work somewhere along the way. And even if there isn’t, you should at least believe that there is. So that way when you try to skip the hard work guilt will set in and remind you to get your ass on your bike and get over yourself.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Exactly! Guilt is a necessary evil but the primary motivator for me with ALL aspects of my life...and I always ask my mom, "how did you install THIS trait in me; I want it to go away!" GUILT is what keeps me up at night and keeps me from missing ANY of my workouts and keeps me honest. I wish we could teach GUILT into athletes, but it is not that easy. :) Jen

Ness said...

Ah yes, the guilt. Who knew it would one day have a practical and entirely useful application? We should reclaim that word since it has such negative connotations.

Beth said...

Guilt drives me like none other. I'd be right there with you running up and down my driveway until I've run exactly 1:00:00! :) But hey, whatever works!

The question is - once you realized you had stopped 15 minutes too early yesterday did you get back on the bike?!? :)

E.L.F. said...

Yes! Of course! I did my 30 minute run then hopped back on my bike for 15 minutes. My rule is you have to correct the situation on the same day - can't go back the next day to pick up 15 minutes. That doesn't count. Yes I am cuckoo.

AGA said...

...poignant. Point taken.:)

Jessi said...

Wow, I was just trying to explain this to some friends the other day. They wanted to know how I could be so "dedicated" and not miss any workouts - I tried to explain to them that I actually find it EASIER to just do exactly as I'm told: no missed workouts; no short-cuts; don't think about it or you might just talk yourself out of it; just get on the bike (or in the pool, or out the door) and get the work done. I know the slippery slope of inconsistency and the associated guilt, and I want nothing to do with it!

And I think we should start a driveway runners support group. Because I know exactly how long it takes to run my driveway and will circle it for up to 5 minutes (10 laps) if necessary!