Monday, June 6, 2011

Confessions of A Chronic Procrastinator

The Farmer and the Snake
One winter day, a farmer found a snake by the roadside, stiff and motionless with cold.

"If you put me inside your shirt," the snake said, "your body will make me warm and I won't freeze to death."

"Oh, I know your kind," replied the farmer. "If I pick you up, you will bite me."

"Oh no," the snake objected. "Why would I do such a thing, if you are good enough to help me?"

So the farmer had compassion on the snake, and taking it up, he put it inside his shirt. The warmth quickly revived the snake, and resuming its natural instincts, it bit its benefactor, inflicting on him a mortal wound. "Oh," cried the farmer with his last breath, "why did you bite me? You promised you wouldn't."
"Ah," said the snake. "So I did. But you knew I was a snake when you picked me up."
There have many incarnations of this story, from many Native American tales to Aesop to popular musical lyrics of Al Wilson to various religious stories. As I read the story, I can't help but feel a connection to the moral. No I'm not a snake (at least I don't think so), but I am a procrastinator, which is a different kind of serpent.

Examples from my Youth
I used to calculate the maximum amount of sleep I could get before school. Here's how it worked: I am a creature of habit. My morning routine was relatively unchanged. Get up. Potty. Shower. Brush. Change. Eat. Leave. Rather simple and easily repeated. One day, I noticed that I was hitting the snooze button. That extra 9 minutes meant something to me...less sleep. I decided to eliminate the snooze. Then, I started combining morning steps. I could brush while in the shower. I could leave and eat at the same time. Thus, I saved valuable minutes, accomplished all my morning requirements, and maximized sleep minutes. Sadly, sometimes things didn't work out the way I had planned (no clean clothes, no food, someone else beat me to the bathroom, etc). The consequences varied from going hungry to going smelly (Note: Popularity was not a concern of mine). All could have been solved by getting up a few minutes earlier but I made a conscious effort to put it off.

I was your classic nerd in school. Knew-it-all. (See note on popularity.) That's KNEW, as in past tense. I refuse to comment on the present in this portion of the story. Homework seemed like a waste and I refused to bring it home. Unlike most students with this view, I excelled in school. I got good grades on assignments and on tests. How was this possible? Multitasking. See, I would do homework for the next class in the one prior. I developed a skill of taking notes while doing homework. Worked for me. Once in a while, I would fail to complete it all (lousy teacher standing over my shoulder).Was I the best student in class? Nope. But I could have been if only I'd have taken the extra few minutes to do my work ahead of time.

My second pure marathon (done before I found triathlon), was Chicago in 1999. Me and a group of buddies were still in the car searching for parking when the gun went off. The race had started and  hadn't arrived on site. We were not concerned. There were 30,000 people in the race. We parked the car about a half mile out and ran with our gear. When we showed up, the line was still quite long. We had time to go to the bathroom, drop off our gear bag, flirt with some of the volunteers, and jump in line. And to imagine some of those chumps got there an hour or 2 ahead of time. We wasted not a single minute and got to start the race with the rest of the clowns that morning (some were literally clowns).

Not Much Has Changed
Last week, I did the Corporate Challenge with a few of my work buddies. They had obviously not grown up in a world of procrastination. Their thought, let's leave for the race 2-hours pre-start. "But" I chided, "there's so much more we can accomplish in life with that extra time." I wanted to go for a longer bike ride, cut the grass, eat dinner, hang out with the Wife, play with the PRP, and much more. Granted, I had a good time with the Cast so I have no regrets. If it were not for them, I would have arrived at 6:50, roughly 10 minutes before the race, and wondered why I showed up so early.

Don't believe me? Take this weekend's races, when I arrived at the River Ramble, I noticed the official race timer counting down to the start time. It was T-minus 8 minutes and counting. I had my race bib in the building on the other side of campus and had to use the facilities. Plenty of time. After a short walk to the other side which I now lovingly refer to as 'the warm-up', the Wife and I made it back to the start line at T-minus 45 seconds. Crap, I still had thee-quarters of a minute to kill. I guess I'll just stand around like everybody else.

Okay, I admit, that these examples are from lower priority functions. What about the real deal? Not much different for me. I did the Keuka Lake Triathlon. The first real multisport event of the year was this weekend. I've been waiting 8 months for this day. What did I do? I calculated the last possible moment I could get up, get the Wife up (she went with as a fan :-) ), wake up the dogs (more fans), and drive to the race site. Keep in mind that I had to drive 90 minutes to get there. Worse, triathlon has stuff that you need to set up. In a run, you show up. You run. You leave. In tri, you place your bike in transition, set up your helmet and glasses, set up both sets of shoes, make sure you have water and nutrition, get your cap and goggles, body glide necessary areas, and a lot more. You have stickers and numbers you need to attach to the various parts of you gear and self. Further, the RD's feel the need to kick you out of transition long before (15 minutes) the race actually starts. That's 15 minutes of standing around doing nothing when I could be setting up my gear. So, the advertised time transition close time was 7:15. What time did I arrive on race site? 7:02 and I had not picked up my race packet yet. I walked out of transition at 7:14.35 grumpy about the extra 25 seconds.

Surely I change my ways for the big, expensive races. Well, maybe. For the 2010 Ironman Lake Placid, I did get up at 4:00 am for a race that started at 7:00 am. I woke up specifically for feeding. The science says that you should eat roughly 3-4 hours pre-race. Notice how I calculated my wake up time on the more-sleep side of the spectrum. We stayed in a house about 1 mile and a half away from transition. Transition closed at 6:45. What time did I make an appearance? 6:35. I got everything set-up and my special needs down to the pile on time. Showed up to bob up and down in the mass swim start with an extra 4 minutes to spare. I hope to be more efficient this year.

I've Been Bitten
As I sit here idly waiting for a couple of things to happen (race results to be posted and knee pain to subside), I am thinking deep thoughts about characteristics and personality. Mainly, I am thinking about how much time I waste doing non-productive things (such as blogging) and how often I put off taking care of responsibilities. I do actually take care of business, I just don't do it early. Classic procrastination.

Take training: I put off swimming until the last possible date. I don't get serious in the water until about 6-8 weeks out from the main event. I don't need much more time than that to get in good swimming shape. Why start something today that which could be put off until tomorrow? I start biking and running much earlier in the year because it takes that long to build up the necessary speed and endurance to compete at the IronLevel. Not that I'm all that competitive yet. The distance also requires several years to get good. Too bad no one told me that years ago.

If I showed up to a race early, would I benefit? Probably. I would have a chance to warm-up properly. Check out transition and go through the motions. I might get a chance to socialize and develop relationships that would benefit me in the sport. Maybe I could find a workout partner or 2. Maybe I could learn a few new tricks. All of this appeals to me. Will I actually show up to a race early? Doubtful. But, hey, I knew I was a procrastinator when the triathlon-snake bit me.


  1. I am so exactly the opposite! I was 1hr early to the race on Sunday. Took my time. Chatted with everyone and was relaxed and ready when the swim went off. No problems, no stress, good bike warmup and bike function test. (Decided not to do a run warmup). Got in the water and swam a bit to get lose. etc. Sat around while watching everyone scurry about and stress out. Couldn't be more different.

  2. That's the thing: I think showing up early will actually create stress in my life. In my system, there's no time for stress. It's all business. Even if I wanted a nice warm up, bike check, etc, I doubt I'd need a full hour.