Summertime is usually denoted in my house by three piles of laundry: clean, kinda-sweaty-but-not-smelly-enough-to-garner-a-washing and holy stinkbomb. Normally that third pile really outweighs the others in my disheveled and sometimes clothes-strewn bedroom, but last summer it didn’t. I was in a fitness rut and it was ruining my body.
My normally enthusiastic mornings had turned to dread–instead of being excited about the day’s run or bike or swim, I now had to get up do it. Maybe I’ll feel better once I get moving or once I get some Lady Gaga cranking on the iPod, I would tell myself. Sometimes that would happen, but usually it didn’t. I was tired. I wasn’t happy to be out there. And I was always, uncharacteristically, looking for excuses to cut my workout short–or skip it altogether.
Up until that point, I had always been a very motivated athlete. For years, I would get up while most people were still sleeping and run. I was always reading about the latest and greatest exercise techniques to build my strength and endurance. I couldn’t get enough of the planning, the workout schedules, the cross-training, the races, my fellow compadres and the enormous high I felt after accomplishing a really great workout. I was an exercise addict, and then all of a sudden, I wasn’t.
As hard as I tried to do all the things the “experts” tell you to do when you’re in a rut (like change up my routine, pick a new goal, train for a different race, find some running buddies to share the miles with), none of that worked. I had quite simply lost my mojo, and I was feeling weak and pathetic–mentally and physically.
It was the first time this had ever happened to me, and I didn’t know what to do. So I tried pushing harder, thinking it was just a rough patch and I had to tough it out. But when a local nine-mile race rolled around that I reluctantly went to and I stopped at mile eight (to walk!), I knew something was seriously wrong.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about fitness it’s this: It takes so long to get in shape, but no time to lose it. That’s why it scared me to suddenly have no motivation. All those months and years of hard work to achieve my fitness peak were now in jeopardy. Was I depressed? No. Was I injured? No. Did I just needed a few days off to let my body rest? No. I was just totally and completely burned out.
Instead of bemoaning the fact that I was getting more and more out of shape by the second, I decided (for once in my life) to let my body dictate things. I ditched my carefully-crafted workout schedules (actually, I filed them away “just in case” my old self ever returned), I stopped wearing my GPS watch (those things can often be more stressful and a little too honest) and I canceled all plans for upcoming races. I wanted to experiment and see what would happen if I let my body rule instead of my mind.
In the mornings, I began waking up whenever I wanted, rolling out of bed and waiting for my body to tell me what it felt like doing–or not doing. Some days it would be a leisurely walk with the dogs, other days I’d hop on my bike or strap on my running shoes with no set plan on how many miles I would cover. When I felt like coming home, I would. Then I might stretch if my muscles told me to, or I might sit down and feed them whatever they wanted and then I might take a nap later if my body asked for that too. It was a whole new lifestyle and mindset that emerged, and I have to admit, my type-A self surprisingly, reluctantly liked it.
Some people say that in order to be motivated to exercise, we have to sign up for a big race and force ourselves to train for it every day. I disagree. While that may inspire us to start with, it’s our own internal motivation that makes us stick to it. That’s why I’m not a big fan of running or biking with other people. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my fellow athletes, it’s just that I want to feel my own internal motivation and let that be my guide. Yes, there are times when we have to tough it out and push through pain and fatigue. But when that becomes constant, then we’re just pushing ourselves into a burnout. Ultimately, what I have learned is letting our bodies dictate what they want to do can be much more motivating.
Goodbye rut. Hello laundry.