“We’re closing down the trails today.  Too icy.  You can hike the 1.5 mile nature trail around the station, but that is it this morning,” the park ranger said.

“But can’t I just park down the street and enter the trails from there?  All I need is a map,” I responded in a soft, overly polite voice.

“Sorry sir, I’m not going to sell you a map today.  We are closing down the trails.”

“Damn,”  I muttered in a not-so-soft or overly polite voice.

Seriously?  It was 9:30am, 34 degrees, and steadily raining.  It was hard enough to get myself out of bed, let alone mentally prepared to run 25 miles.  Now, after a long drive, I was being told I couldn’t run.

That was the start to my morning last Monday.  I had taken the day off work to get in a long training run and stopped by a ranger station to pick up a trail map before wandering into a new-to-me trail system.  Because of a big ice storm that hit the DC region the night before, the ranger wasn’t helping me out.

Mentally defeated, I got back in the car and drove over an hour back towards the city to trails I was much more familiar with.  The excitement of exploring new trails and kicking ass for 25 miles was now replaced with worries about my eating schedule and motivating myself to even start the run on a such a wet morning.

But I pulled up to the other trailhead, laced up my kicks, and took off deep into the woods, not to emerge again for more than 4 hours.

Five Traits

Endurance athletes are an eccentric, eclectic group of people.  Young and old, big and small, tattooed and straight laced, and city folk and country folk.  These endurance sports attract all different kinds of people.

But on a recent run when I was wondering why it was that some people were attracted to endurance more than others, it dawned on me that endurance athletes, distance runners in particular, all have at least a few things in common.  For starters, I believe we all possess the same five traits:  patience, will power, persistence, sense of humor, and creativity.

Don’t get me wrong, these traits aren’t exclusive to endurance athletes, but I believe we all have them.

Over the next few months I’ll be exploring those traits in a series I’m  calling, “Running on…”  Today, we start with patience.

Our Need for Patience

In a sport like endurance running, you never know what is going to happen.  After speaking with that park ranger, I could have easily lost my patience.  Lost it with her, with the run, or with the whole day and just crawled back into bed.  When we rely on so many unpredictable variables like weather, fueling and hydration, mental and physical fatigue, and course variations, it is crucial to have patience when things go wrong.

Endurance athletes also require patience throughout their training.

Leading up to my first marathon, I participated in a 20 week training program.  That is almost 5 months of training for one single event, and I had no idea what would happen once I started racing.  Now, I train all year for different races.  I run races that are not the schedule to help me train for the bigger race.  I’m constantly training for runs and races that are months, if not the entire season away.

The problem is, strength doesn’t come over night.  Especially the mental and physical strength one needs for hours and hours out on the trail or road.  There are just no shortcuts when it comes to building up endurance, and patience with the process and your body is essential to stay healthy and motivated.

The good news is that we endurance athletes have that patience already!  Anyone who fantasizes about running a 50 mile ultra through the woods isn’t looking for a quick thrill.  They are looking for the adventure, the hardship, and the mental and physical fight to reach that finish line.

They fantasize about that journey because they know they have the patience to get there.  

I can confidently say that we (the athletes) have it because our patience is constantly being tested.

You might not think of yourself as a patient person, or it might not always feel like you have enough to get through a difficult run, but over time we all learn how to leverage and build upon our patience to help us succeed.  That is all part of the journey.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t going to fail.

Of course there will be times when we lose it or just can’t muster up the patience needed for the journey.  Those failures are how we grow, get stronger, and run smarter.  Failures make us better.

That recent failed attempt at checking out new trails was a test of my patience in every way.  A lot went in to prepping mentally and physically for such a long run, especially on that wet, cold day.  When things went wrong, I had to be patient with myself and the experience to get me through the run.  I had to be patient with the whole training process which lead me up to that day.

It was another lesson in rolling with the punches, and it will help out the next time my plans are spoiled or the aid station doesn’t have what I was expecting.

We may live in a world where everything happens fast and people lose their patience even faster, but when it comes to endurance sports, patience is one of those things you wont make it far without.

As an athlete, what has been the biggest test of your patience?

Photo Credit

Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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2 thoughts on “Running on Patience

  1. Good idea for a series Doug. I’ve done a similar thing called “Running Builds Character”, so it will be interesting to compare notes, especially since yours is done from the perspective of a trail runners perspective where mine was that of a marathon-focused road runner. But patience is a great place to start, and that’s the beauty of running – there are no shortcuts. I usually think of patience in the context of injury avoidance, as it’s impatience to achieve fast results that usually leads us down that road, as I wrote a bit about at

    1. Greg, thanks for sharing.
      Your Patience post is a great read (check it out, everyone!). It will definitely be interesting to compare notes throughout this series.

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