The Checkbox

I took a day off. YOU GUYS!strava

Since the holidays,* I’ve had several great weeks in a row of good ol’ nose-to-the-grindstone following-the-plan. It sounds horribly boring to most normal people, but there’s something so comforting about falling into a routine. I’m back at the point, now, where I know how many times per week and on which days I’ll be swimming/biking/running, and it feels great.

*or really, since the recovery day I took after my faceplant on a trail run.

Plenty of athletes (from any discipline) will agree that a day isn’t really done unless you can cross off your assigned training session in a calendar –whether you’re putting an ‘X’ through a workout scrawled in a day planner or uploading your data to the great TrainingPeaks server in the sky. It’s just so SATISFYING to watch the charts and graphs of distance, volume, and training stress rescale for bigger and bigger numbers. However, it can get to the point where the work isn’t just about having a good sweat-fest and patting yourself on the back anymore; you have to have something quantifiable to SHOW for your day! Putting the literal (or digital) tick in the checkbox becomes the day’s accomplishment. The ACTUAL THING the check represents –all that intangible satisfaction of a job well done— becomes secondary.

…there’s even a term in psychology for this displacement of the goal, but I forget what it is. Anyone?

Sometime in the near future I’ll talk about exactly how many methods I use to “cross off” my workouts-to-do. It borders on the ridiculous.


When you get all FIXATED like yours truly, a great deal of inner turmoil arises when circumstances conspire to force an unplanned rest day. The last Thursday of January, I went for a windy “cold” bike ride OUTSIDE –this was just after publishing my thesis on indoor vs. outdoor training. I knew my route and wanted to get it over with, and was feeling strong enough maybe throw in some pops of power along my relatively flat route. I pushed hard and did that Fabian Cancellara forearms-draped-over-road-bars thing to help cheat the wind; contorting my body into a shape it isn’t quite ready for –a position more extreme than anything I can achieve even on my TT bike. I got home, plopped down on the couch, and uploaded my workout (because CHECKBOX). When I stood up from the couch again, my lower back was spazzing out. This is not a new phenomenon –in fact my back is “out” more often than “in” these days—but it hasn’t weakened my functionality or hampered my ability to do the SBR things.

This spaz was different, though. I had a short run to do later in the afternoon, and gave it a whirl (because CHECKBOX). No matter how broken/punkish/sleepy I feel, I’m usually feeling fine within five minutes. No such luck this day. I felt awful the entire 30 minutes. I got home and conferred with Dusty and texted Coach Steve that I may well miss my workouts the following day. Deep sigh; commence moping for the next 24 hours, including watery eyes while telling Blair how disappointed I was in my “major” step back after all the progress I made through January.

GASP! I know, so dramatic. It’s incredibly strange how we can know one thing, but do another. I KNOW the smart thing is to take a day off, buuuuut I hoped maaaaaybe there’s an alternate universe where being smart = continuing down the same, currently destructive path in the name of nose-to-the-grindstone following-the-plan routine. Because CHECKBOX!

Luckily, when I was all “weeh I’m so sad to not get to do the dumb things I have scheduled,” my peeps were like:

“no probz” —Coach Steve

“Fucking RELAX! It’s just a day!” —James Adams channeling his coach, Robert Flanigan

“Nothing wrong with a day off.” —Dusty

“So… you bumped up against a physical limitation after a month of great consistency. Remember when you were bumping up against that pain while not training at all?” —Blair (I suddenly pictured myself as a gerbil jumping against the roof of her cage, giving herself brain damage.)

I can't find a gif of a gerbil getting brain damage, so here's another... representing me reaching a physical limitation and doing the work to get to where it's easy again.
I can’t find a gif of a gerbil getting brain damage, so here’s another… representing me reaching a physical limitation and doing the work to get to where it’s easy again.

Smart people are so annoying.

Anyway, this week the tables were turned and I found myself trying to console a friend who trained herself into a brick wall (ahem-hem, I’ll link here if she lets me out her). I found myself repeating a kinder-gentler version of “FUCKING RELAX! Just get healthy!” and realized again how easy it is to give advice, but how hard it is to take it. It’s a matter of perspective: let’s all remember to take a few steps back and focus on more important things than the empty checkbox.


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