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The Discipline Workout

Discipline and divine grace heal the intellect and the will of the effects of concupiscence. We can begin to see things clearly.” ― Scott Hahn, Lord, Have Mercy: The Healing Power of Confession

Don’t know about divine grace and concupiscence, but discipline definitely heals the intellect. Or effectively shuts up the intellect, so you can have a chance to see clearly. [What the hell is concupiscence anyway?]

You know when you really don’t feel like working out, but then you drag your butt to the gym anyway, and have the best workout of your life? Or crash a PR? Or feel fantastic afterwards?

Yeah, that’s not at all what I want to talk about.

The discipline workout happens, for the sake of discipline. For the sake of consistency. For the sake of your movement practice. It is (probably) not increasing your physical fitness, speed or strength. Because it sucks. Everything about it sucks. But it’s good for the soul.

There is certain clarity to the discipline workout. It hurts so bad, there is nothing else.

I realize that today is the day of the discipline workout about 4km into the run. I run with all the grace of a bouncing sack of potatoes. It feels that every single organ has magically acquired political independence from the rest of my body in the last half an hour, and now is just bouncing around in my abdominal cavity with not a care in the world.

On my way back, the saliva in my mouth is sticky from effort. I spit, noticing an inkling of satisfaction, as a neat ball of drool lands far to my left.

Motivation is a myth. You do not need motivation to get shit done. Just ask any parent how motivated they are to wake up in the morning, and get their kids ready for school, make them lunches and drive them around – they will tell you that some days they would rather have someone give them a massage with a baseball bat than get out of bed at all. Yet they do it anyway.

It’s easy to work out when you are healthy. And rested. And when the sun is shining.

It’s a little bit different when you are tired or sick or injured. When it takes all of your might to drag yourself to the gym. To go through the motions. Knowing that this is probably not the most effective workout of your life.

I’ve talked about difficult-easy and difficult-difficult, and the difference between the two. The discipline workout is a D-D. Always.

Sometimes, you know a particular workout will be a discipline workout, and sometimes, it’s an unpleasant surprise.

Perhaps, you are hungover. Been there, done that. Working out hungover sucks. Although it is definitely worthwhile to do once. Chances are you will never do it again.

Perhaps, you take off for a long run, only to develop digestive distress three miles in. But you’ve already started, and at this point, you might as well push through. Even if that means sharing way too much with your running partner. Even if that means running especially fast towards the closest McDonald’s.

Perhaps, you are tired. Dog tired, exhausted.

Perhaps, you are sick, but not quite the kind of sick where you lie in bed, moaning, and hence do not feel guilty about skipping a workout. Nah. You are the kind of sick that can drag on for weeks, or you are just a bit under the weather, or you feel like you may be coming down with something.

Perhaps, you are angry. You just got into a fight with your girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, dog, and the very last thing you want to do is rowing intervals. After all, they will only make you angrier. And a pint of ice cream sounds/looks/smells so appealing.

Perhaps, this is the day when you just didn’t feel like working out. Like all day. Yet part of you knows that you will go, eventually. So, you whine and moan, and pitter patter around the house, doing nothing in particular. You charge your iPod, and struggle to locate your running shoes, only to find them next to the bathtub for some reason, and only to forget where you found them five minutes later. And where the hell are your keys?

And, so you go. Every single reason listed above be damned, you go. You will do it, you are doing it, you did it.

I probably experience one or two of these a month. More if I’m not paying attention to my recovery. These are fairly easy to manufacture. Just cut down sleep for couple of days, and show up at the gym, expecting the same output, and you’ll see what I mean.

You know how sometimes a workout feels really hard at the beginning, but once you start it gets easier? As they say, the hardest part is starting?

So, that’s not at all true for this workout either.

Instead, it feels hard when you start, and it just progressively gets harder, until you start questioning your very ability to finish, and eventually your very ability to finish anything, or succeed at life in general.

I tear up somewhere in the last third of the run, and allow myself to glance at my watch. It reads 7.97km. My final distance today will be 9.67km, so I have less than 2km to cover. Yet my eyes remain wet for the rest of the run.

All I can think about now is not walking.

It’s not even about finishing the fucking run any more. It’s about not walking. Not walking no matter what.

Not walking.

Not. Walking.



A familiar black fence that belongs to our neigbors appears ahead. The fence is on the right, and it means that I have to turn left immediately after.

I attempt an all-out sprint. My speed increases imperceptibly, as I violently shuffle my feet. The cars start allowing even more distance as they pass – I probably look like I’m about to have a stroke. In fact, I AM probably about to have a stroke.


I spend another five minutes, walking around, waiting for my heart rate to come down. From “I’m-about-to-die” to “I-think-I-may-just-live-this-time-around” range. After you finish the discipline workout, you feel on top of the world.


As you finish, you feel empty. Or even more exhausted. Or sad. Perhaps, you collapse in a heap as soon as you get home. Perhaps, you have a little crying fit. Perhaps, you decide to give up exercise for good, because you are clearly not good at it, so why bother even trying, and shouldn’t everyone just concentrate on doing what they are good at, coz this is clearly not it, and you suck.

As I come upstairs, I promptly peel off the layers, and park myself in a bathtub. Italian doesn’t ask questions, but brings epsom salts and lemonade. He also lights incense, perhaps, hoping to ward off the evil spirits that seem to have kidnapped me temporarily.

Emerging from the water twenty minutes later, I dive facefirst into a sweet potato. With butter. And peanut butter. Yes, AND.

I think tomorrow is a rest day.

There is simply nothing good about the discipline workout.

Except one thing. The discipline.

And, perhaps, the fact that I didn’t walk.

YOUR TURN: How do you handle the discipline workouts? How often do you have them? How do you feel after you get’er done?

Liked this post? Read more about how to stay with your run and the special misery of time trials.

Hugs, Solo

*This essay was written in the summer of 2014.

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