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Don't Do Parking Lot Laps

Editor’s Note: The following essay was originally featured on THE ROCK FIGHT podcast and is available to listen to in the player below.

Today on The Rock Fight (an outdoor podcast that aims for the head) we talk about giving yourself a hall pass for that last tenth of a mile.

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Today I’m picking a fight with…rounding up! Because those laps in the trailhead parking lot to get that final tenth of a mile really don’t matter.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about clearly you’re not on Strava and never have tracked your mileage on a bike, on a run, in a pool because if you do any of that long enough, invariably, you will end a planned outing just short of your target mileage.

That little tiny delta between the goal and real results mocks endurance athletes to no end. Planning on 10, 20 or 30 miles and arriving back at your car with 9.91, 19.94 or 29.10 on your watch, phone or GPS can take someone with zero OCD tendencies and push them over the edge. Both because round numbers look better when you look back on them but also being short of the goal prompts that little voice in the back of your head, you know that internal demon who tells you to quit when you get tired? That voice will start shouting out that being shy of the plan means that you didn’t really do anything at all.

Back when I was training for my first ultramarathon I definitely would be the guy doing laps in the parking lot to get that GPS to flip over.

But there was always another voice in the back of my head, much quieter than the demon pushing to me to get that sweet sweet round number but there just the same, calmly telling me that this was a waste of time, that I was only doing this because I was afraid of what people would think if they saw that miniscule gap between 19 and change and a full 20. That if I was truly out doing my run or ride for me that I wouldn’t care about the numbers or what anyone might think about how I chose to spend my time.

And then my GPS would click over to whatever number I was aiming for and both voices would shut up and I’d go eat a burrito.

The patron saint of outdoor commentary Brendan Leonard wrote about this topic once upon a time and in his essay he stated that “to a lot of people, 5.89 miles is just as good as 6.00 miles”. I don’t know if that’s true. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t do the extra .11 miles to get from 5.89 to 6. Probably it is, but my experience with endurance people is that they need the status of accomplishing the goal.

But I can say that there is at least one person in the world who feels this way now and that’s me.

My epiphany came on a 20ish mile trail run in Park City on the Flying Dog trail. Flying Dog is locally famous and a local favorite primarily for mountain biking but on this day I was running a modified Flying Dog Loop that includes a few extra goodies that takes a typically 17 mile course and gets you to what looked like at the beginning of my run 21 miles.

I was in pretty good running shape, regularly going out in the mountains to run close to this distance but for whatever reason, I had a bad day.

Before even the halfway point I was walking not just the steep ups but the flats and even some of the mellow downs. It was springtime so maybe I was sluggish from pollen and allergies I don’t know. All I know is that it was a slog. I finished my snacks with more than 9 miles to go and it was just one of those days out when you start questioning everything.

Why do I do these things?

What do I actually get from doing these things?

Hasn’t baseball season started?

Couldn’t I be at home on the couch watching two teams I don’t give a shit about play ball while I drank a beer?

In these moments you only have the wrong answers to these questions and they’re all a form of self pity anyway. The only thing to do in those low moments? Keep moving forward and eventually…e v e n t u a l l y…it will come to an end.

And it did. I hit the parking lot, started walking to my car with designs on hitting the nearby gas station to get the biggest coldest coke they were legally allowed to sell me. I pulled out the keys to my car and looked at my Garmin to end my session and there it was.

Final tally: 19.91 miles.

It didn’t take long, like it was pretty much instantaneous that the two voices in my head flipped. The demon faded to a low thrum and the pragmatic ‘who cares’ voice of reason surged forward. I will not be running parking lot laps, it told me. I’m saving my run on my running watch and I’m going to get a goddam coke.

And that’s the way I’ve felt ever since. Just this morning, the day that I’m writing this I finished a gravel ride literally at 12.79 miles. I live on a cul de sac and easily could ride right by my house loop around and by the time I was in my driveway I’d be at something like 13.05 miles.

But why give into that? It’s pointless. If I wanted to ride longer than I should have just ridden longer. As humans we have some many weird little peccadillos that when we have the ability and self awareness to ignore the dumber of them I feel like we have an obligation to ourselves to do so.

So if you’ve ever wrestled with this. Had that moment of ‘ugh, I want to be done but I need to run another 3 tenths of a mile for no real reason, I absolve you of that guilt. Hit the showers and get that burrito you’ve been craving for the past hour.

And if anyone gives you shit on Strava for not ‘finishing’ your ride, I got your back. We’ll bounce a rock right off of their noggin and welcome them to the rock fight.


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