I Believe In Inertia

It happened again yesterday, like it always does, about three-quarters of the way through my run: I started to try to talk myself out of finishing the run. My stomach was acting up, I could tell I was dehydrated, I was sluggish from not getting enough sleep the night before. What’s the difference, really, I asked myself, between 4.5 miles and 6 miles? Who would care, really, if I went home early?

But I didn’t. Because this happens inside my head all the time, I have a trick I use. I make myself start the last lap. I’ve run probably a thousand laps around the 1.45-mile crushed-rock trail around the park near my house, and I wouldn’t say I’ve enjoyed many of them. Almost every lap is a small battle for me, but I’ve figured out one thing: if I get through 10 percent of a lap, I’ll get through 100 percent.

I have plenty of friends who are happier in motion than they are at rest, and I have realized I am not one of them (although my mother is). I could sit and eat donuts in front of a computer screen for 16 hours a day and it wouldn’t bother me a bit, so I’ve had to devise systems to keep me from giving in to my sloth-like instincts. I refuse to own a reclining easy chair because I’ve seen them trap people for hours. I commit to outdoor events beyond my capabilities so I’ll be terrified enough to train for them.

I believe in inertia. Large or small, physical or psychological, it’s a wonderful and horrible thing. A body at rest will stay at rest, sometimes for years, and a person in a job they don’t like will stay in that job for years. We’ll stick with routines that are bad for us simply because they’re comfortable.

In trying to figure out both sides of that equation, I’ve learned something about myself: If I take that first step, I’ll commit. I’ve stood nervously at the top of steep ski runs, at the bottom of ice climbs or rock routes, and backstage before public speaking gigs, and the worst part is the few seconds or minutes right before you say fuck it, stop worrying, and go. You make the first jump turn, swing one of your tools into the ice, edge the rubber of your rock shoe onto the first hold and step up onto it, or walk on stage and say the first few words. And then you’re in it. Good or bad, falling or sending, at least you’re not wasting mental energy worrying about it anymore.

Whether you want to run six miles or 30 miles, you have to run ten feet first.