Tag Archives: good habits

Inertia – Friend or Foe? Both!


Yesterday was tempo day on my training calendar. One-mile warmup, followed by five miles at a medium-hard effort, ending with a one-mile cooldown. Simple and straightforward.

And a bitch.

Cuz I don’t like it, even at medium-hard effort. What’s that? Depends on how I feel at the time. Last week it was about 7:30 per mile, a pace that shouldn’t be overly challenging for me. But I was struggling and breathing hard. What’s wrong with me? I thought. The next morning I ended up running about the same pace, and it was much easier. Go figure.

Speedwork – intervals, hill repeats, progressions, and tempo runs – is an important part of my goal to improve short race performance. Problem is, that stuff is uncomfortable, and is supposed to be. When it gets easier, you step it up.

And I don’t like being uncomfortable.

So – why???? I’ll let you know as soon as I figure it out myself.

For now, getting out the door for speedwork means overcoming a certain inertia. It requires an active decision and deliberate action instead of a habit.

So yesterday evening featured a classic bout-with-self about the tempo run. Who would prevail – my brain, who wants the body to get faster? Or my body, which was feeling creaky from a recent race and gym workout, and really wanted to put it off? It went along these lines:

  • Brain: Tempo run time. Body: But I’m TIIIII-RED.
  • Come on, let’s get it over with. Let’s do it tomorrow, okay? We’ll feel better tomorrow.
  • It’s a beautiful, cool day! I’m your body. Listen to me. Coach says!

I’m not going to tell you this again…

And so on…until the pivotal moment. My wife called to tell me she’d be home in an hour. “Okay,” I said. “I’m preparing dinner, and then I’ll probably go for a short run.”

There! One way to overcome inertia is to make a public commitment. Having said I was going to run, now I had to do it. So I prepped dinner and then out the door I went.

I also made a compromise with myself. Because I really was feeling creaky and tired, I limited the tempo portion to three miles. Same intensity, lower volume. That self-promise sealed the deal, and I ran hard and with purpose.

But inertia isn’t always an opponent. When an activity becomes a habit, inertia becomes an ally (for good habits, anyway) and will work for you. Every Wednesday morning at 6 a.m. I go on an easy six-mile run with some of my run club. Was I going to show up today, even after a tough tempo and not being a morning person? Yep!

It’s automatic now, after a couple years of doing it. I laid everything out the night before, and this morning I just tossed on the clothes and went to the run. (Coffee and a treat afterward is a bonus.)

And speaking of bonuses, I’m going to hop into my hot tub. Both parts of me think it’s a pretty good idea.

Habit: A Three-Year Itch?

Last year I was pacing the 10K at one of the local Kona Running Company events. I’d been assigned the “1st Time 10K” sign, and having lost the runners I started with, I was looking for some more first-timers to run with. About halfway along I came upon a middle-aged couple chugging along and asked them if this was their first 10K.

I finally did find one!

I finally did find one!

“Oh, no,” they told me, “but it’s been a while since we’ve run one.” They were running the race as a family event with their daughter, who was apparently some distance ahead of them. They were hoping to get back into running more, but told me it wasn’t much fun at present.

“That’s okay,” I said. “It took a while for me to enjoy running, too.”

How long was that, they asked me.

“About three years,” I replied. Three years from when I started running on a regular basis and began logging my miles. Back then, I told them, my attitude was often, “Man, I guess I got to go for a run today.” Now it was, “I can’t wait to run today!”

What had started out as just another exercise to keep fit just sort of took over. I study Aikido, I ride my bike, I go to the gym – but I am a runner.

What had happened during that time? What changed me from a reluctant runner into a dedicated (some would say addicted) one? I’m not really sure, but if I had to identify one key factor, I’d say it was this:

It became a habit.

Click here for "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Hobbits." (No, I'm not kidding.)

Click here for “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Hobbits.” (No, I’m not kidding.)

In other words, it was putting on the gear, lacing up the shoes, and getting out the door on a regular basis that did the trick. It was an instance of a new routine, triggered by a desire to keep fit, that my body and mind first resisted, then got used to, then craved. Maybe it did become a kind of addiction. Then at least it’s a beneficial one.

I wonder if too often we associate “habits” with negative behaviors and don’t give good habits the credit they deserve. Habits, after all, are one way we get through life without having to constantly analyze and decide what to do next. While animals are driven mainly by instinct, we can transform our instinctive behavior to suit our needs and desires. In other words, we’re able to choose which habits we keep and which we stop. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is possible.

For example, one of the coaches in my running group told me how he quit smoking. “Whenever I had the craving for a cigarette,” he told me, “I drank a glass of water and went for a walk.” He’d replaced a bad habit with a good one, and today he’s an elite-level triathlete.


Some habits shouldn’t be replaced, however.

It wasn’t just willpower that made running a habit for me, though. Having a group to run with, especially in winter and bad weather, was a big help. So was the good feeling afterward of having done something good for myself. And the thrill of completing a new long distance or faster time at a race. If running and racing weren’t so much damn fun, it’s doubtful I’d be so into it.

And yet . . .

All this came back to mind due to a recent interruption of my routine. About an hour before my Monday session at Body Specs a couple of weeks ago, my boss called to request my attendance at an urgent call to a customer. I did so, but I had to cancel my session. The following week, I told my trainer (who I’m sure apprenticed at the Tower of London) how I’d felt about it.

My Lord, thou shalt do 50 reps with the 50 pound kettlebell!

My Lord, thou shalt do 50 goblet squats with the 50 pound kettlebell!

Back when I started, I told him, if I’d had to cancel a session, it would have been with some measure of relief. “But last week,” I said, “I was genuinely annoyed.”

And when had I started my torture sessions with Body Specs? About three years ago.

Chalk up another one to habit!