Learning Patience from the Trails

Since I was little, I’ve been an impatient sort of person. In many ways, I benefited from it. I never wasted a moment, and I got to do lots of things at a young age, guided by this crazy internal clock.

As I started working, I was often rewarded for my impatience, as it transformed into a get shit done quickly attitude. I expect progress to happen, right away. In the short term, I feel like our society really rewards an impatient attitude.

However, it’s also a big pitfall. Being impatient all the time rewards short-term thinking over long-term thinking. But when we set long-term goals, we need to be prepared to wait months, or sometimes even years to see our results come to life. Any long term endeavour requires patience– by definition, it’s something that happens with sustained effort over a long period of time, and an impatient attitude can’t change that. So as I get rewarded in the short-term for my impatient attitude, I know that those big long-term goals require a balance.

Long distance trail running has really been an interesting mental exercise for me, because it’s all about patience. Often, the people who are the strongest in long trail runs are the ones who were patient– in their training, and in their race. In the many long ultra running races I’ve seen, or been a part of, it’s often the smart, patient runners who have the best day. And that’s not to mention the cases of injuries and other setbacks, which further test our patience, and our ability to wait for a better day toward our goal.

One of my favourite places to trail run, Island Lake Lodge in Fernie, BC

When I started trail / ultra running, I was incredibly patient. Coming from a road running background, I didn’t hike or climb at all, so I couldn’t really run uphill, or downhill. I decided it didn’t matter: I really enjoyed running long distances on trails, so I was willing to wait. I gave myself an arbitrary long time– ten years– by when I expected myself to overcome these weaknesses, and I was surprised to really improve in about two years.

Adventures with friends is the best way to spend a day on Earth! Kerry and Tara on the route to Hanes Valley.

As I became less of a disaster and liability, my patience began to slip away. I started to do better and better, and as I did, I expected more from myself, more quickly.

In the past two years, I’ve had to really remember the patience I had when I started. I’ve had an incredible two years of running, getting faster and stronger than ever, and getting opportunities to race internationally. But when it came to the races I entered eagerly, everything usually fell apart, because of my inability to figure out the nutrition side. I found it incredibly frustrating to feel fit, but unable to have a good day at a race. Over and over, I got severely nauseous during races, and performed way worse than I had in similar training runs. It got so frustrating, I thought about maybe trying a new sport… something that did not require eating during the event. Yoga, sprinting, and others became attractive.

But then I remembered that I could simply choose to be patient. If I really like the beautiful places I get to see, the people I get to meet, and the fun I have doing this, why not just chill out a little bit, and give myself time to work through these issues, just like when I started?

Photo by Tara at this year’s epic Broken Arrow Skyrace, which I barely survived. Had a terrible day in terms of results / hoped-for run, but I’ll be using those lessons for the next decade! 

With that mindset, I’ve gained back my original patience, bit by bit. I’m more focused on my long-term quest than before. And funny enough, as my short-term expectations lower, my performance rebounds… finally had a race where I didn’t DNF, try to bushwhack off the course at halfway, eat only a single granola bar, eat only goldfish crackers, etc. last week at the Elk Valley Ultra!

Galloping around just outside town in Fernie, BC before a super fun day at the Elk Valley Ultra

 

 

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