“The notion that persistence is essential for success is embedded in popular scientific writings. However when people are faced with situations in which they cannot realize a key life goal, the most adaptive response for mental and physical health may be to disengage from that goal.” (source)
Do a quick Google search. “How to quit…” The top hits will be job and smoking/bad habit. You will see a little about quitting relationships, but for the most part you will get advice on how to quit things that come with negative connotations. Otherwise, quitting is not recognized as socially acceptable behavior. The idea of persistence as a virtue is so ingrained in our being that we go to great lengths to realize a goal even at the expense of our health and happiness. We will put ourselves through repeated failures and rejections. As a matter of fact, we will convince ourselves that we are happy in our pursuit. This is called the “effort-justification paradigm.”
If you have a small amount of time and money invested would you continue an endeavor that most would say is destined to end in failure? No? What about if you had a large amount of time and money invested? Would you continue? Even if you probably would fail? The Sunk Cost Effect is a maladaptive economic behavior that is manifested in a greater tendency to continue an endeavor once an investment in money, effort, or time has been made (source). We are really bad at cutting our losses and getting out while we can. The larger the investment in a project or a goal the more likely we are to stick it out even if the best thing to do is to quit.
I DNF’d a race in June. Before that DNF, I had never allowed not finishing a race to be an option, but when I made the decision to drop I was relieved. I knew it was the right thing to do. I was a little sad about my DNF, but not nearly as much as I thought I should be. I couldn’t go another step. Physically I was fine, but mentally I was done. The thing with any decision is you have to stand behind it and deal with the consequences. I can still look myself in the mirror.
Have you ever quit something? I asked a few friends their take on quitting and I got different responses from everyone.
Sarah said: “I’ve quit a couple of things. Tumbling, swimming and piano… It was the right time to quit them and I started other things. I think quitting is something that is okay if it is replaced with something that is just as constructive as the last thing. Some things are just meant to be for a season. As long as we quit and take principles that we learned from what we did with us in the future… That’s all that matters!”
Dan said: “I used to quit things all the time when I was younger. For me, it was never the right thing to do, just the easy thing. I always felt guilty about it but wouldn’t change.”
Nick said: “When my son was born, I had to quit learning to play the fiddle as well as cooking the more complicated dishes I was trying to learn. Add those 2 with running, reading and video games, I just didn’t have time for all the hobbies and take care of the kid. I had to look at all my hobbies and figure out which ones were important to me (yes, video games are important). I dropped the fiddle and cooking so I’d have time to spend time with my wife and son (the two top priorities).”
Julie said: “I quit playing soccer when I got to college. I couldn’t do both a sport and Athletic Training so I picked what would ultimately become my career. I think I won’t say I regret it. If I could go back I would do things differently. But I like how my life has turned out so I can’t complain!”
Linnea said: “I quit a job, and it was the first step in making my life what it is now (which is a fantastic thing). I tried to allow myself to quit college softball, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it, and looking back on it, I’m really glad I couldn’t go through with it.”
Diedre said: “I have never, ever quit. I don’t know how to quit; my brain simply will not allow me to. And it isn’t a good thing, because there are times when quitting is the smart thing, the right thing, to do. But I can’t. That’s why I keep pushing myself, and why I’m looking forward to the Rocky Raccoon 50-miler. To see if there is something out there that can make me quit.”
Tim said: “I had to quit RR at 60 miles this year because my feet were shredded. Right thing to do? Yes. Easy? Hell no. I felt worse for a long time because the rest of my body was still doing great. Any regrets? I don’t regret quitting, but I do regret not being smarter about my feet. That will continue until I finish it this time!”
So, what has me thinking about quitting? Three of the six US Olympic marathoners did not finish (DNF). There are some strong opinions out there regarding this. Desi Davila was already injured, but she made the decision to go ahead and at least try to race because you do NOT pass up a chance at becoming an Olympian. Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman were supposed to be healthy and then they suddenly dropped out. I have an opinion, but I will save it.
I asked my coach Ryan Warrenburg of Zap Fitness some questions regarding the Olympic Marathon.
Q.) Is it acceptable that three of six of the US marathoners pulled out mid-race? Why are we fielding a team that is injured? Do we need back-ups? Is the lure of the Olympics diminished? If none of our runners stand a chance at winning, why is this?
A.) I am in no position to judge the US runners who pulled out of the Olympic Marathon, but with the marathon distance there is some serious risk to your health to run 26.2 miles on an injury. I have no doubt those athletes did everything they could to get to the start line healthy. I would be willing to bet that if it was any other even than the Olympics they may have never even started the race, but because it was the Olympics they wanted to at least step on the line and give it a shot. I’m sure nobody was more disappointed than those athletes that they weren’t able to finish.
I don’t think calling it acceptable or not is a fair way to judge the athletes dropping out. Obviously, it was unfortunate three of the six dropped out, and you would prefer that none of them did. However, each case is unique and those athletes earned their spot on that start line and to start the race and call themselves Olympians. They have every right to try and treat the injury all the way up until the race to try and get to a place where they can compete. On the women’s side with Desi I know there weren’t any women with the Olympic “A” standard that were fit to compete in the Olympic Marathon who weren’t already on the Women’s 10K team. It is much harder than on the track where all the other athletes are in the middle of a summer track season to have alternates in place. You would never have an alternate train for a marathon they would probably never race. The only way would be if an athlete was training for a different marathon at the same time and got the call up. If there was someone there capable of competing at a high level I believe there is a good chance Desi would have given up her spot, but that wasn’t the case.
As runners, we all know how quickly an injury can happen. One minute you feel fine, and the next minute your knee won’t flex. I can guarantee that the last thing that Hall and Abdirahman wanted to do was drop out of the race. It’s simply not fair to judge them for it. They have their reasons behind the decision that they made and I know that they are still feeling the weight of it and will until they get another chance.