Practice Patience for Your Running Goals and Your Life

practice patience

As a long distance runner, my tug-of-war with patience extends beyond the context of the rush hour traffic or the ducks crossing the sidewalk. Instead of being a virtue I aspire to master someday in the distant future, it is something I must come to terms with in the here and now if I’m ever to become the person I want to be, let alone achieve my running goals. Putting aside physical stamina, mental grit, and sheer brute force, a strong relationship with patience (on the rare occasion it isn’t on the rocks) always proves to be my strongest asset as a human and as a runner.

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That being said, patience is something I’m both amazing and terrible at embracing. Often believing that I’ve never done enough and have yet to be enough, I’m often driven to get what I want right now and faster than the average bear. On the other hand, I’ve learned of the rewards of delaying gratification, adopting the long view of my goals, and sitting on the grass on a warm summer day with people I love because simply existing is actually the biggest achievement I will ever lay claim to. No, patience and I aren’t always friends, but we’ve learned to tolerate each other and even enjoy each other’s company from time to time.

So, why does patience matter so much? Wouldn’t a runner benefit more from a greedy, insatiable hunger for the finish line? At times, yes. When the going gets tough and you need to push through those final miles or steps of a race, channeling your inner animal can be useful. However, this inner animal won’t help you in the murky middle of a long distance race. In fact, let that inner animal loose too soon and you’ll find yourself burnt out far before the finish line is even in sight. The key to succeeding in long distance running is knowing how to keep that animal caged up until the proper moment. In essence, being patient.

practice patience

I've been on a number of silent retreats in my day and, let me tell you, they are a quick-fire way of jumpstarting your patience practice. Albeit challenging, they will douse you in mindfulness, intentionality and, in my case, a desire to stare meaningfully at potted plants. 

Both in running, and in life, patience reminds us to follow our goals, as opposed to our impulses. Sure, I’d love to stop in the middle of a run, speed through a yellow light, or cut in line at the grocery store. Being impatient would relieve me of immediate discomfort. However, by failing to be patient, I’ve become a quitter, an unsafe driver, and simply a jerk. That’s a big price to pay for a little relief from discomfort. No matter how challenging it may be, I think I’d rather continue to practice patience than fall into less than admirable ways of interacting with the world.

Running is as much of a mental exercise for me as it is a physical one. While on the road, I spend a lot of my time dispelling excuses, convincing myself to either slow down or speed up, or distracting myself from the pain I feel. Throughout it all, I’m constantly telling myself to “settle in” and “settle down.”

Settle in

Settle down

Settle in

Settle down

Settle in

Gosh darn it, settle down

Be patient. Practice patience.

Practicing patience as a runner has more to do with embracing a run’s purpose as opposed to being in a calm mental state.

If I’m running a fast, tempo run, I still need to remind myself to settle in and settle down. Settle in to the pain; settle in to the speed; settle in to the commitment I’ve made to this run and experience. Settle down and remember that running is choice I’ve made, not something I’m being forced to do. Settle down and embrace the power of my body instead of trying to highlight my weaknesses and call it quits early. Settle down and just do it for God’s sake.

If I’m running a slow, endurance run, my mantra is still on repeat. Settle in to the slower rhythm; settle in to potential monotony; settle in to the book or podcast I’m listening to. Settle down and embrace the fact that my body needs to relax and not push itself. Settle down and remember that mindful running has both mental and physical benefits. Settle down and try to actually enjoy the experience.

Be patient. Practice patience.

Practicing patience, both in and out of the context of running, is one of the most challenging journeys I embark on every day. It’s also one of the most rewarding. Because of my commitment to patience as a runner, I’ve grown in my abilities to withstand pain, delay gratification, push through adversity, and tolerate unpleasantness in other areas of my life. While the cascading benefits of practicing patience is a topic for another post, I want to assure you that the benefits to your running routine alone can’t be ignored. Drawing on patience when you’re in the depths of a run will not only help you avoid physical burnout and injury, but also help you build the mental fortitude necessary to withstand the demands of an endurance sport such as this.

If you are in search of inspiration and assistance in your patience practice, I’ve listed some resources below that may help. While they don’t all address patience directly, they have proved to be my go-to resources whenever I need a mental rest and a reminder to settle in and settle down. Feel free to cue up the podcasts and audiobooks for your next run and see if they have a similar effect for you as they do for me.

Books to Practice Patience

Podcasts to Practice Patience

practice patience
practice patience
practice patience

Because having the patience to wait a week for each new episode was nothing short of a miracle.

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