It’s all a bit of a haze, but French fries were involved. Lots of them. And Big Macs. I vaguely remember getting hit in the head by a stray Chicken McNugget while I was reaching for a vanilla shake without a lid—you can’t chug through a straw, after all. A greasy patina began to cover every visible surface, giving the paper wrappers and wooden countertops and even our faces a waxy glow. We shoved food into our mouths by the fistful. We were lustrous with grease by this point. Straight-up glossy. For fifteen minutes, while we pillaged the feast before us, nobody spoke a word.
“This is the best Christmas Eve ever,” my sister finally ventured to the group of finely lacquered revelers.
“Incredible,” I agreed as I manhandled a final French fry into my mouth.
Don’t judge, people. Don’t judge.
Now, it must be understood that fast food is something of anathema in our house. Sure, we’ll share the occasional large fry or vanilla shake as a scandalous splurge, but that’s about the extent of the relationship. (Disclaimer: This does not mean we don’t eat junk food, as any of you who know me and my love for cookie cake can attest.) But this past Christmas Eve, without any extended family to entertain, and with my mom’s extravagant Christmas day banquet waiting for us the next afternoon, we found ourselves with a free pass to celebrate the evening in an entirely unprecedented fashion.
“Let’s have a game night!”
“And let’s get… McDonald’s!”
So, we did. In fact, the “1st Annual Christmas Eve Family Game and McDonald’s Night” was such a rousing success, I toasted it with a small glass of Gentleman Jack on the rocks.
The next day—Christmas—the more traditional traditions resumed (stockings and presents around a crackling fire and such). Running also resumed in the form of a track workout that, for one reason or another, I had scheduled for Christmas day. It was a simple workout: 12 x 400 meters at 5K pace, just to get the legs going. It would be a festive way to kick-start marathon training. Plus, I figured I’d work up an appetite for Christmas dinner!
I wasn’t even halfway through my 3-mile warm-up when I started to feel… unusual.
It’ll go away, I told myself. Just keep running.
I started the workout.
One quarter down.
Beginning to cramp.
Two quarters down.
About to throw up.
The third quarter ended in the women’s bathroom facility next to the track. There were no more quarters after that. Instead, I shuffled my way back to the car, climbed in, and somehow, miraculously, made it home just in the nick of time.
Lesson of the Day: Don’t fuel your workout with McDonald’s and Jack Daniels.
The most incredible part of this story is that I actually had to learn that lesson. The hard way.
To this day I’m not sure why I never considered the potential effects of our Christmas Eve meal on my upcoming workout. But I didn’t. At all. It was only too late—as the consequences of my choices haunted me in the form of an intense desire to vomit—that I realized my mistake.
Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”
My failed Christmas day workout was an excellent—and ultimately forgiving—reminder that our actions, no matter how big or small, have consequences. We don’t live or act in a vacuum. Everything we do and say blooms from a previous action and plants the seed of the next. It is, as I call it, a pollination of character.
Consequences aren’t always a popular topic in a culture that worships comfort, convenience, and doing “what feels good.” The word consequences generally conjures up negative connotations—punishment! discipline! no fun!—and brings to mind stuffed-shirt lectures. But consequences aren’t all bad. They can be quite pragmatic and objective, providing a system of checks and balances to our emotions.
For instance, why do distance runners pace themselves at the beginning of a marathon? We know that if we run the first few miles at breakneck pace, we will run out of gas before the finish line is even in the same zip code. We may feel spry and full of energy at the beginning of the race. We may feel like we could hold our 5K pace forever. Caught up in the emotion and excitement of the start line, we may convince ourselves that nothing would feel better than to explode out of the gates. But we don’t. Why?
Because we know what the consequences would be. And what we know trumps how we feel.
Far from being the platform of prudes, consequences are the beacons of the wise. They provide a quiet rebuttal to indiscriminate impulsivity. And that’s a good thing.
Life can be quite the emotional rollercoaster. The range of feelings I experience on any given day is nothing short of startling. Emotions are fickle. Emotions change. Emotions are confusing. Emotions flap and bend with every passing breeze. So why in the world would I want to act according to how I feel?
Just as we train our bodies, we must also train our minds. There is no neutrality in fitness; we are either growing stronger or losing strength. It is the same with our minds. Every day we are faced with decisions, and every day we make those decisions according to what we know to be right and wrong or according to how we feel. Sometimes the two align. Sometimes they don’t.
I’m all for living in the moment and living each moment to the fullest. Carpe diem, right? But we must take those moments in context of the future, because when they’re over, we’re left with the aftermath.
Which, occasionally, takes the shape of a blown workout on Christmas day.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story. Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.