Ultrarunning Skill #1: Persistence

AJWs Taproom[Author’s Note: This is the first in a series of five columns on meta-cognitive skills and their role in running, education, and life. My introductory piece last week invited you to share your stories, too. You can still share your thoughts by commenting on this article or by emailing me at [email protected].]

In response to last week’s column summarizing the five meta-cognitive skills characteristic of “schools of the future,” I received a slew of correspondence on these skills from a wide variety of iRunFar readers. These ruminations on running, education, and life represented a broad spectrum of ideas and opinions and, in many ways, presented me with a cross section of the populous that currently has found a home in this quirky, wholesome, deeply meaningful thing we call ultrarunning. Of all the notes I received, one of the most compelling, at least in the realm of this week’s theme, persistence, came from Vermont ultrarunner and father Michael Vooris.

Michael and his wife, Sarah, are the parents of two daughters, Regan (5) and Maren (2). Two weeks after her birth, Regan was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. From the moment Michael received the phone call from the doctor with that diagnosis, he knew that it would be essential for him to model a healthy lifestyle for Regan. After looking around a bit, he decided, quite spontaneously, to become a runner. Then, over a period of two years, Michael went from not being able to run continuously for one mile to finishing a 33 miler across the Vermont countryside.

Michael Sarah Regan and Maren Vooris.

Michael, Sarah, Regan, and Maren Vooris. All photos courtesy of Michael Vooris.

As he has become a runner, Michael says, “Running has become a teacher for me. When I started running after Regan’s diagnosis, I could not imagine how I would need these essential characteristics but now I realize I need them everyday. I need them to take care of my daughters and to take care of myself.”

Michael has realized, over the last few years, that running provides him with a platform upon which to build his persistence. Certainly, like all of us, he has good days and bad days. But the way he has learned to persist has given him a clear path to the future, a future filled with promise, hope, and success.

Regan and Maren Vooris

Regan and Maren on the run.

“Through running, I’ve learned that when I think I’m exhausted, I still have a vast reserve of energy and ability upon which to draw. I simply have to persist. Through running, I’ve learned that when I hit a low point and things seem hopeless, that if I just persist things often get better.”

In addition to providing the necessary attitude adjustment and general focus required in a complex life, Michael has also come to realize that there is a certain elegance and grace in the simple act of running, “The seemingly mundane act of putting one foot in front of the other, even when it deeply hurts and I want to give up, is perhaps the most profound thing I can do in running and, more importantly, in life.”

Regan Vooris

Regan persists, too.

Bottoms up!

 AJW’s Beer of the Week

Long Trail Brewing - HibernatorThe week’s Beer of the Week comes from Long Trail Brewing Company in Woodstock, Vermont. Their Hibernator is an outstanding winter session beer. They call it an unfiltered Scottish Ale and it drinks like an Amber. If there were such a thing as “comfort beer,” this would be it.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • iRunFar’s articles this week have had a heavy focus on the head-game part of running, from Andrew Titus’s Watching Matt’s Feet to Geoff Roes’s Is Running Selfish? to Michael Vooris’s story here. Some people would probably say that, for them, the mental benefits of running outweigh the physical benefits. Are you one of those people and how have you discovered this?
  • Do you have an example of how, like Michael Vooris, persisting on the run has shown you that you can persist in life, too?

There are 14 comments

  1. ToTheTrails

    Looking forward to this series AJW! I had it all messed up for most of my life in regards to persistence. I persistently hammered the long "miles" and hours at my job thinking that is what I was supposed to do even though it was the cause of the "low points" many go through during this ultra race, life. Long story short I decided it was best for myself and my crew to "DNF" my job. So far so good. Ran the smartest race ever a couple weeks ago with great results and the happiest I have been. Looking forward in persisting for the good in life!

  2. FernandoNBaeza

    This was a great story AJW, thanks for sharing. There's nothing more rewarding, in my opinion at least, as taking your little ones out on the trails with you, if even for just a walk. Nothing feels more natural than leaving all the gadgets and gizmos behind, and take in all the beauty nature provides.
    Fernando N Baeza
    San Antonio, TX

  3. senelly

    Yes! Persistence pays. And, as we all know, it requires long term – tiring – challenge. But, as in HURT parlance, "We wouldn't want it to be easy."

  4. barwic01

    It is interesting to hear that other people have the same idea I have when hit with a big life event, "I should run and think about this". This has become a mantra in that every day seems to have something we can ponder on ours runs and our rest days seem to have moments where we need our run but also our rest.

    I have been thinking of dusting off my fiance's spin bike to get a little spin in on off days but also to give myself time to think.

    Thanks Mr. Vooris for the story!

  5. akopa

    The photo of Regan running down that not-so-smooth-looking trail is amazing! Love her colorful attire, sweet smile, and oh my gosh what form. And the way her eyes are focused ahead adds a mystery as to what thing of beauty she's looking at, and will she look back down in front of her feet in time? Because we all know that taking in a beautiful view is one of the biggest hazards in trailrunning. But I see assurance in the photo also :) peace

  6. Matt Smith

    Simply awesome. Using the lessons learned from ultra-running (in this case, persistence) to improve family and personal life is a nice balance – and a perfect counterpoint to Geoff's article about selfishness and running. Props to Michael and his family – feeling the love!!

  7. Amy

    I can identify with the article on many points. The simple act of running, the beauty of it, the methodical process, is active meditation which settles my overactive brain. As for persistence, running is a mental pursuit at any level of fitness. Once a certain level of athleticism is established and the huffing/puffing stage has past, it becomes a battle of the will–"can I do it? can I go farther? just how far can I go?". Increasing miles takes persistence and desire for personal challenge. When I run I'm not in it to please anyone else, to lose weight, to look a certain way, I run to find out what I'm made of inside. I keep going because I never thought I could run as far as I now am (training for my first 50K in a few weeks). Persistence speaks to overcoming life's obstacles and running provides the perfect metaphor. Every run teaches me something about myself and is a humbling act of self-discovery. It is a precious thing. When I look at those who can't run (I'm a PT who sees many folks with disabilities) I am motivated to express myself through running simply because I can and it is a gift that is a shame to waste. A pure and good thing. The author is exactly right. The farther I run the more the aches and pains change, the hip may have hurt at the beginning but that went away, then the feet start talking and as I daydream they stop and so on. Running is also a matter of perspective. If you think 3 miles is too far then it is.

  8. AlpineAthlete

    I'm very fortunate to have Mike or as we refer to him 'Dutchy' as a running partner. While I could tell stories of our failed FKT in the Presidentials due to August hail & lightning, our 'secret' trail race where we forged ahead in 12" of snow while the cheerleaders hung out in their cars or the time we ran thru 30" of mud to re-establish a lost carriage road…..that later turned into a community accessible trail.

    I could tell you about trying for several years about trying to bring an Ultra to Vermont & struggling the permit / land owner issues.

    Yet my fav Dutch story is taking our kids on a trail run that was paced so slow GPS shut off! We set out trying to loop a lake & made it about 0.1 miles. It really did not matter bc we spent the day modeling for our children the importance of loving the trails, climbing rocks & trees, and soaking in the sun as a way of life! We ate on the trail & enjoyed the company, wilderness, food, & lifestyle of the simple act of placing one foot ahead of the other on the trail.

    & FWIW- due to Dutch's persistence we are seeing that unique Vermont Ultra happen in 2014! Unique in that the format will focus on the front of the pack supporting those who have ever wondered "could I?!".

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