Thursday, June 19, 2008

Week 2 (or: Never thought I'd say that)

So starts Week 2. I have to confess that a week ago, I didn't know if I'd be able to say this or not. I've done this quitting thing before after all. So what's different this time? First -- and probably the biggest factor -- is all of the support I've gotten from people I know both in the real and cyber worlds. It's amazing in a way, but expected in another. Second, the motivation is different this time. I'm making this attempt because it's time to quit and that's it. Other times I've tried to use external factors, not as motivators, but as motives. And maybe that works for some people. Maybe other people can "do it for my girlfriend/wife/mother/kids" and that's what gets them through it. I'm not one of those people. My motive has to be selfish. I have to do it for me, and that may be one of the reasons I've never been able to do it successfully before. Well this time I'm just going to damn well be selfish. Somehow I don't think people will mind.

The only other time I've made it this long was under duress. I spent three years of a past life in the army, and basic training provided me the perfect opportunity to quit back in 1983. Five weeks of cold turkey, with plenty of *ahem* activities to keep my mind occupied. All of us knew that we'd just been handed a head start on a platter, so why is it that none of us managed to quit? I think the answer is that for those first five weeks we weren't allowed to do anything without a direct order (makes me wonder how I survived it), so the minute we were able to do anything of our own volition, we did it. No matter what it was. Or how destructive.

The converse of that is also true. Yesterday I asked our resident expert JC about the running program she used to get started. Some of you may know she used this same program to help a friend tackle her first 5K recently. (If you're interested, the program is detailed in the "Couch to 5K" section at And that conversation started me thinking about something else the army might have provided for me if they hadn't done it by force.

See, if there's anything the army loves to do, it's run. During those long-ago basic training days, if you went anywhere alone or at least not in a formation, you did it at double-time. Or else. Later, the regular PT included anywhere from 2 to 6 or more miles of road work at least three times a week.

When you're in the army, you run. A lot.

There are a number of things wrong with this. And it's possible that they're related. First of all -- at least in the units I was in -- they don't bother to teach you how to run right. There's no training involved, you just lace up your sneakers and left-right-left at double-time. If you learn anything about technique it's an accident. And I've come to learn from other people that it's really not as simple as "just do it".

Second, a lot of the running you do is in a formation -- usually platoon sized, in four ranks of maybe 10 people. And the person in the front right corner of that formation is the one setting the pace. There's no particular qualification for that position, it's just the guy or girl who happens to be at the head of the rightmost line. Those are not fun runs. On the worst days I got through them by picking a spot on the back of the guy's head in front of me and blocking out everything else until we dropped back to a walking pace.

Third, most running in the army takes the form of the "Airborne Shuffle" which basically means scuffing along without ever really reaching full extension of your legs. A couple of miles of this and your shins are questioning your ancestry. Three miles and you're beginning to question it yourself. Any more of that and you're questioning the relative merits of homicide.

And finally, you run because you're told to run. You don't get to choose, you don't get a vote in the process. If you're medically able to pick 'em up and put 'em down, you run dammit. So it's hardly a wonder that the day I could quit (September 18, 1986) I quit. And I haven't run a step since (unless somebody was chasing me).

That's too bad, really, because over the last year or so of my enlistment my unit had a new C.O. who was a big proponent of running. Because of that, we were actually allowed to run in smaller groups -- or even break out individually. This was a whole different experience, a whole different kind of run. And I learned that if I could use the first quarter mile or so to get my lungs synchronized with my legs, and ease my legs into the rhythm of things I would get too bored to go on long before I got too tired. And predictably, my times improved dramatically in the 2-mile event that was part of the periodic test we had to take. I never quite broke the 12 minute barrier for 2 miles, but I came damn close. And on at least one occasion I can remember taking the second mile a full two minutes faster than the first.

If I'd had a choice in the matter, maybe I'd be writing this blog about the latest 10K or half marathon I'd run. Or the full marathon I was training for. Or maybe my knees would have given out even sooner than they did and I'd only have the Ghosts of Marathons Past to write about. If I'd been able to choose it, running might have been my friend and companion instead of the jock asshole I was always trying to avoid talking to.

The difference is all in the motives.Stumble Upon Toolbar


mamie said...

I so empathize with your motivation talk. I quit twice before I finally blew out the last match. Both times I started again and tried to hide it. For years one time. And finally this last time, I had to say to myself, "Well, if you smoke, YOU'LL know. And that's the most important thing." It's not selfishness as much as wanting to respect myself. It matters if I cheat to ME.

So happy week anniversary. I know what that means. To you.

Mojo said...

My mom went through the same thing. Told everybody she quit when all she did was "go underground" with it for years. Funny thing was, she wasn't fooling anyone. We all knew, we just didn't say anything. One by one she let people in on her "secret" until pretty much everybody except my Dad and maybe my brother "knew". They knew, they just didn't say so. (Enablers!) And after my Dad died she pretty much gave up the pretense altogether. She still hasn't quit, despite grave warnings from her doctor. She might never quit. But one thing is certain, if she decides to quit, it can't be for anyone other than herself. I think that's why she "failed" (read: didn't really try) last time.

tiff said...

Selfishness can be a good thing. You're doing great. Who knows....maybe you'll even start running again.

Mojo said...

@Tiff: My knees would absolutely never stand for a return to running. I have to put braces on both of 'em just to walk the dog.