The Punch of Patience

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Mike Tyson once stated, “Everybody has a plan until they get hit.” The question becomes what’s our response when and if it happens to you, because the likelihood of getting hit in a fight is about 99.9%. In ultrarunning, what is it that allows one runner to soldier on while another succumbs to the upheaval of the moment?

If I can stress one virtue every trail runner should possess in their arsenal of weapons, it’s the punch of patience. Something I’ve often struggled with over the years. Too often I get caught up in the moment, forget what it’s all about, ignore the signs and then it all comes crashing down. There are times when you’re out there grinding up a switchback, trying to top out on a climb you feel has already gone on way too long for your liking, and you just wanna quit. Your legs feel like lead and you can’t seem to catch a breath, your side is stitching and your lungs feel like they’re about to explode. The sun’s beating down on you, and there’s no place to take refuge from its rays. You drop your head down and plod on turning yet another bend, only to find that you’ve still not topped out. It’s a false summit. You exhale in exhaustion and disbelief, and place your hands on your knees as you ponder in disenchantment, “How much further to the top, damn it?”

You’ve got two options: you can give in to the drudgery of the hour and the temptation to stop – maybe throw in the towel altogether, or you can suck it up, blow it out your behind, put your head back down and continue the trudge until you’ve crested the summit. You certainly don’t want to go backwards. While sitting seems very inviting and may bring momentary solace, it’ll only prolong the agony so you might as well get on with getting on. In either case, there’s more you have to contend with before you experience any real relief from the physical and mental torment.

You may as well resign yourself to the task at hand, readjust the approach and gut it out. Focusing when you’re taking a heavy hit is rarely easy. It takes going real deep when confronted on that level, and you can never be certain how you’ll fare. When attempting to ascend from the depths of despair and make progress, there are false summits that may need to be navigated. Patience is the key that’ll get you through the door to the other side. It can be essential in determining whether or not you actually finish. That same feeling can come into play when recovering from a lengthy layoff due to injury. We put in a certain amount of work and have expectations of improvement. We train for and run races to further affirm that we’re doing the right thing. Indicators suggest our ability and progress are in sync, but we’re not nearly as fit as some of our training runs had lead us to believe. Damn it! Patience is the key – keep it in your arsenal.

Be patient with yourself, be patient with the course, be patient with that runner ahead of you on the single track as you make your way to the summit, and be patient with that runner, running up your ass, as it’ll soon change. The summit of those switchbacks, the summit of your pains and the summit to the finish line is near.

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About Author

Errol "Rocket" Jones is a veteran ultrarunner of 34 years, having participated in over 200 ultras dating back to 1981. Jones completed ultrarunning’s Grand Slam in 1998 and is a 3-time finisher of Badwater. He is also Co-Race Director of the Bear 100 and the Quad Dipsea, and serves as indentured servant at the Miwok and Lake Sonoma ultras.

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