Do you consider yourself a patient person?
Of course we would all like to think we are patient, as we are taught that this is a virtue. Well, consider for a moment that to be a good distance runner, patience is more than a virtue, it is a necessity.
To be able to train for months and months (or years) for a particular goal, all the while keeping focus on what you are working toward, takes patience. It’s not like we are playing football or basketball here, where we get to face the competition every week and satisfy our competitive urge. In running, we need to learn to just put our head down and go, and go, and go, until the right time comes.
Let’s now look at the racing scenario… You might be running a 10km, a half marathon, a marathon or something bigger. No matter the distance, you have to pace yourself, you have to slowly work your way through the course and not be tempted to race off after those ahead of you or those who may be passing you. Patience is the leash you wear to stop you blowing up or hurting yourself. Properly managed, patience (in conjunction with your training of course) is what will see you cross the line in your best possible time and in the best possible condition.
Racing can be very much like a game of chess; at times you have to make the choice to sacrifice the urge to go for it, and to calmly wait for the right moment to make your move.
When looking at the long range view of your running career, if you’ve been doing this for a while, you will no doubt agree that it was the work you did for those years that have come and gone, that have put you in the position you are in now. You have a confidence and a knowledge of your body and what it can do. If you are new to running, you may be tempted to throw yourself at some huge challenges now or expect a lot from your body straight away, rather than wait until you have “matured” into the sport. We’ve probably all been picked off not far from a finish line by someone more “mature” than us.
From a practical perspective, patience in running can be applied by directing your attention more intentionally. I’d suggest that when you run, don’t spend all your mental energy thinking about the finish line or how far away it is, instead regularly but not constantly, direct your mind to the moment you are in. What is your body feeling like right now? Can you adjust your stride rate, your posture or your arm movement for example to improve the efficiency of how you are moving? Do you need to slow down or have you been taking it too easy and can up the pace? How is your mental state? Are you smiling or frowning? Have you been enjoying your surroundings or spending the whole time in your head? If you are feeling pain, what can you do physically to reduce the load on that part of your body and what can you do mentally to move the pain out of your central focus. All of this helps to manage your state in the moment, so that you can continue to patiently run YOUR race and not push yourself beyond what you can handle.
I’m not sure if being patient is something we can decide to do, I think it must be practiced and honed over time. Patience as an athlete means being focused on the process more than the outcome. If you focus on the goal, the end result, there is a temptation to rush forward or to take shortcuts. This of course is a path fraught with danger. Focusing on what you need to do right now, what you need to do every single day, so that you consistently move toward that goal is what will make the goal a reality. This is the essence of being patient. Doing the right thing at the right time.