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The Art of the Excuse

An article by Al Bernier......

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The Art of the Excuse

Below is our Throwback Thursday article of the week. This one comes from our May/June 2012 issue, #7. 

by Al Bernier

Excuses. Everyone’s got them. What’s yours? Miss a day of training? Couldn’t finish a workout? Didn’t run the time you were hoping for in a race? Hit me with your best excuse – I guarantee I’ve used it before.

When it comes to runners explaining away their inadequacies, failures, deficiencies, and lapses of motivation, I can honestly say I’ve been on both sides of the conversation. I’ve heard some lame ones, I’ve heard some legit ones, I’ve come up with some solid ones, and I’ve sold some lemons. I see no end in sight for this silly game we play in our own minds, so the only question left to answer is: why? Why does running and making excuses go hand-in-hand?

Since running is such an individual sport, almost all of an athlete’s successes and failures can be attributed to how well or how poorly he prepares himself before a race. I understand that. That’s what I signed up for way back in the day when I got my first pair of Etonics. I was lucky enough to have a good coach in high school. He taught me what it takes to get to the starting line healthy and properly trained so I could go out there and race up to my own potential. The next lesson I learned was that when the gun goes off and the clock starts ticking, those two statistics that show up next to my name in the results – place and time – were going to be directly correlated to my physical effort and mental toughness. In a perfect world, that is running at its essence – taking your well-trained body to the limit by running as far and as fast as you possibly can. Unfortunately, when the going gets tough, you might notice that devious little caricature sitting on your shoulder, whispering negative thoughts in your ear and supplying you with all the excuses that you’ll ever need to take the easy way out.

blah blah blah 10.19.14 430x300Coming up with excuses for race performances are the easiest, and therefore lamest, excuses to make. “The course was too hilly,” “I should have gone with that pack,” “I got boxed in,” or “a spectator jumped out of the crowd and punched me in the face.” Hello?! These are all variables that were 100% under your control before you signed up for the competition. There was nobody preventing you from going the extra mile and preparing yourself for anything that the course or the competition could throw at you. When the going gets tough, the tough get in position and cover the surge. When a situation presents itself in a race where you can either accept the challenge or shy away from it, think about whether you want to stand around with your friends afterward, either saying you gave it your best effort or blabbing about how the planets aligned to prevent you from running just more than a bit outside of your comfort zone for a couple miles earlier this morning.

Sometimes I hear people complaining about injuries or missed training. This type of post-race excuse baffles me as well. You don’t see Desi Davila telling a press conference of reporters that she fell off the pack because she had a strained hamstring in training two weeks earlier. Don’t get me wrong – I admire someone who signs up for a race and still goes the distance, even if they experience some setbacks in training along the way. But why bother lamenting these setbacks when the race is over? Are you looking for pity? Do you want a badge of heroism? Are you trying to impress people with how fast you theoretically would have run without said injury or illness? The proper post-race synopsis should always be, “I performed up to my expectations.” Not the most impressive or newsworthy answer in the world, but nonetheless honorable in my book.

Finally, the most interesting and inexplicable excuses to me are the ones that we make to ourselves about training or race preparation. Have you ever heard that guy talking about how he didn’t get much sleep for the last few nights before the race? Or the old, “I would have run a minute faster if I didn’t get wasted at the bar last night.” Or how about, “I’m tired and I haven’t missed a day all week – I deserve a day off.” These are the folks that keep psychologists in business, and I’ve gotta admit that these excuses are my guilty pleasures. Why do people sabotage their own performances? So many runners put an extraordinary amount of effort into their training – often for weeks or months leading up to a goal race. Why is it so easy to lose focus in those last few days before the race? Eating poorly, not hydrating properly, lack of sleep, excessive alcohol consumption, extra days off (often filed under that evil term “tapering”), forgetfulness, trying new shoes or energy supplements on race day, etc, etc…

Personally, the only two explanations I can provide for these types of excuses are laziness and fear of failure. Believe it or not, some people are terrified of reaching their own absolute potential in competition. Some people just can’t get motivated for a new training cycle without being able to look back at the last one and say, “What if…” It’s a confidence thing, and in my opinion, the most nefarious type of excuse of them all. These are the times when it helps to have a coach that can keep you focused and motivated, but not many of us have that luxury. Another way around this is to surround yourself with friends, family, and no nonsense training partners that you respect – people that will hold you more accountable than you hold yourself. Kind of like AA for runners, right?

In the end, excuses will always be all too easy to make and undoubtedly what separate a few of us from those professional runners with sponsorship contracts and perfect strides. The next time you look in a mirror, ask yourself if you are satisfied with the amount of effort you put into your training and racing. If the answer is no, that person you see in the glass is the only one you have to blame. If the answer is yes, go have a few beers and take tomorrow off – “everything in moderation” has a nice ring to it!

This is Al Bernier’s one and only column for  The Level (to date).  As you can tell, he’s not one for pulling punches, and that’s what we like about him.  He runs for the Central Mass Striders.

If you would like to read more from the May/June 2012 issue, click here.


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