Breaking the Must Rut
by Chris Compson, Endangered Endurance Running Co. owner/coach
As a child, and admittedly as an adult, one of my all-time favorite movies is An American Tail. The story of Fievel’s harrowing journey to America and the search for his lost family through the mean streets of New York City never gets old. Add in classic songs like “Somewhere out There” and “Never say Never” and you have a recipe for me manipulating my 3 year-old daughter into choosing the film for the fifth consecutive family movie night. She has since started singing the tunes repeatedly and ad nauseum, in particular the latter. I don’t mind as I am often found humming or singing along with the iconic, and ironic tune, “Never say never, whatever you do…”
Despite the inherent hypocrisy in the lyrics, they are a great reminder that absolutes in life, and in training, should be approached with extreme caution. In skimming through three articles in a recent running publication, I counted thirteen instances of “absolutism”. There were four “musts”, three “nevers”, and five “alwayses”. Not more than 24-hours later, I was speaking with an adult runner I coach when the “absolutes” reared their head again. With a busy and conflicting weekend approaching, John was concerned that he would not be able to get in his long run as scheduled per his marathon training plan. John had casually mentioned this as we discussed how his training was progressing and adjustments to the plan we intended to make. Instead of foregoing his typical Sunday long run and doing what would fit with his weekend’s commitments, John had planned to run the scheduled 18 on Friday in and around his work schedule. His solution was to wake up early and get 5-6 miles in before work, run another 3-4 on his lunch break, and have time to squeeze in 8 after work to get to his Sunday scheduled 16-18. He seemed shocked when my response was “That’s crazy.”
Like many of us, John had strayed from Fievel’s long-forgotten words of wisdom, and fallen into the “absolutism abyss.” He viewed his training plan as a “must”, an “always.” As a coach, I encourage commitment and dedication, in fact, it might be the only absolute required for successful and happy running. However, when we fall under the influences of “musts”, “nevers”, and “alwayses”, we lose track of the importance and purpose for what we are doing. In John’s case, the primary purpose of his Sunday long run is aerobic development and gradual acclimation to the volume to be raced. By splitting his run into three segments over a 10 to 12 hour period, the purpose of the run is lost, so John really was planning to embark on these runs for another purpose altogether. Primarily, because he “must” run his weekly mileage.
Absolutes rob us of our ability to adapt, experiment, take calculated risks, and listen to our bodies. Unfortunately, moderation does not sell magazines and titles like “Five Rules for Running” are almost as catchy as “Never say Never.” So in the spirit of ironic hypocrisy, never believe absolutes in running, and always be sceptical of “musts.”