The Art of Calling It

“Calling” a workout, knowing when you’re just done and need to lay down, is not easy. It is an art.

But, it’s an important art. I believe, with very little basis for this belief, that part of the reason I have, on the whole, done better coaching myself than being coached is because it’s hard for coaches who are not right there with you to make decisions about when to call a workout. Unless they happen to be crazy fast with the text/email responses — and I have sent some hysterical texts/emails. You are still the best equipped to know when you are exhausted.

There are some general rules I follow for calling it, though:

Recovery days should make you feel recovered. Yesterday was an easy day. But as I was on my bike, I felt terrible and not at all like this was easy. I decided that unless I called the workout there was no way I’d be able to run hard in the morning.

But don’t be stupid about the other recovery things. I also ate like I was a moron yesterday. This did not help. If I keep forgetting to eat lunch and then feeling awful and calling workouts I won’t be well-rested, I’ll just be out of shape.

Unless you’re a total mess, start the workout. There are days I don’t even make it out the door. Generally this has happened when there are lots of other reasons I feel wiped out: too much work, not enough sleep. Sometimes those things are just going to be too much. But, most of the time, I try to follow that 5′ rule: do it for 5′ and see how you feel. Once you get moving you often feel better than you thought and there is no need to call it. (This is not true of swimming for me. Swimming is usually a constant battle not to quit in the middle.)

Only call hard workouts if you have a really good reason. I call easy workouts all the time. (OK, not all the time.) But that’s because those are often there for recovery and if they’re not making me feel recovered then *shrug*. Hard workouts, though, the kind you only have a few times a week, you better nail those. I try to only call hard workouts if I’m a hot mess, hurt, or can’t do them. That equates to: if I’m drowning in work or life and having a breakdown (see: when Floyd died), when I have a physical injury, and when I’m just totally missing the times.

Don’t lie to yourself. This isn’t easy to get right. And I screw it up a lot. Everyone screws it up a lot, because it’s hard to do honest self-assessment. Consider the general rule that you should call a hard workout if you’re missing all the times you’re supposed to hit. What if you’re just missing them by a little, but you set them too hard in the first place? What if you’re not missing them, but you feel super awful terrible? What if that super awful terrible is how you’re supposed to feel because it’s not an easy workout? What if you’re secretly self-sabotaging because you subconsciously believe you can’t hit the times and just want to be done? Self-coaching (or, even if you have a coach and you start questioning the schedule) is constantly tinged with self-doubt. You have to know when you really are not doing something for the right reasons and when you’re just being lazy.

Like right now: I am avoiding heading out the door for my hard run. Because I’m tired and it sounds shitty. But, it’s time to go. This is not a workout I should call.

5 thoughts on “The Art of Calling It

  1. YES. Totally agree, especially with the “Start every workout” / “Do it for 5:00” philosophy. This is something I tried to start doing consistently a couple of years ago and it made such a difference. I would also tell myself, “If you can’t do it today for whatever reason, that’s fine, but you have to *prove* you can’t do it.” (Fortunately I’m generally not a self-sabotageur, because otherwise that could cause problems.)

    I think I do sometimes need to remind myself that easy days are supposed to leave you feeling recovered, so if you find yourself slogging through an “easy” run, it’s probably better to just to bag it. I have a bad habit of being a super hella badass in the moment (FINISH AT ALL COSTS!!!) & a sore, exhausted mess the next day.

  2. I think this is a great post – I love your honesty. We all mess up sometimes and we all have to sometimes kick our own bottoms to complete a workout. But for each time we do, there’s a workout that seems effortless as well. I personally think that the real art is learning to tell the difference between the signs that tell us that we really should stop a workout, and the ones we need to buckle down on and battle on. There’s a fine line between being a badass and a dumbass. Like you, unless I’m actually injured or sick (i.e. something is genuinely physically wrong), I start all workouts and at least do the warmup, even if I don’t feel like it. Then I honestly re-assess the situation. It’s very rare that I don’t go on and complete the session, but if I don’t I know that I’ve tried and had a good physical reason not to go on. I also share your sentiment on easy runs – although I skip them only once in a blue moon, I really treat them as fun recovery runs. I often run them on the trails for the pure enjoyment of things, and come home having clocked a terrible pace but with a huge smile on my face.

    1. Trail runs are almost always fun!

      The real art is definitely knowing when you should stop v. when you should push through. That’s totally why people want to have a coach instead, so someone else can help with that.

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