[Editor’s Note: This month’s Trail Sisters column is written by Gina Lucrezi. It comes no surprise that iRunFar contributors have written many times about patience in trail and ultrarunning. To read more about patience, check out Ellie Greenwood’s 2012 Western States 100 race report about needing to be patient during her race as well as her follow up about eight months later about having patience with injury, AJW’s article on patience as one of ultrarunning’s five key skills, and Ian Torrence’s article about applying patience practically.]
Is patience overrated, or is it the key to having a successful race?
As I write this, it is June 17th, 10 days until I get to toe the line at the “big dance,” the Western States 100 for those who aren’t familiar. It’s 8 a.m. and I’m sitting at my kitchen table sipping a lukewarm cup of Keurig coffee (I hate that damn machine but my boyfriend loves it), and a bowl of coconut-flavored Noosa yogurt mixed with raisin-almond granola.
On the outside I look like a happy camper enjoying my morning, but on the inside my mind is racing a mile a minute thinking about race preparations, the actual race, and what happens after. I catch myself before I turn into a tornado of anxiety, and say aloud, “Gina, chill the fuck out! Patience!”
Patience, I was never good at it. (Just ask my parents.) My attention span is super short, so anything lasting longer than 10 minutes is a rough go for me. And when I want something, that means I want it now, not two days from now. A hungry Gina stuck in traffic is no fun for anyone.
Ironically, I love running ultras, and if there’s one word to describe ultrarunning, it would be ‘patience.’
Since the Western States 100 and Hardrock Hundred are looming, I figured I’d reach out to women participating and get their opinions on patience. I figure they have to have something to say considering they are all about to spend a day or two on their feet running.
The most obvious parallels are training and racing. To be an ace at anything, you need to put in hours of work, build a foundation, and gain experience. Change and vast improvement don’t just happen over night.
The 2014 Western States champ Stephanie Howe says, “It takes years to build your body up to be ready for the longer races. There is a lot of wear and tear that happens when you run 100 miles. Even though you might have put in a solid year of training, it’s the cumulative training that really prepares your body. So many newbies jump in long races after only a year or so under their belts, and just as quickly exit the scene. Patience young grasshopper son.”
The 2014 Bear 100 Mile champion and 2015 Hardrock contender Anna Frost seems to share the same view. “Good things take time, they really do! That is the beauty of running. It is a long-term relationship that has highs and lows and needs nurturing. If you do too much too soon in training or a race, it is very hard to come back to either recovery or a good steady pace to hold.”
Ultra veteran Tia Bodington will be running the 2015 Western States and she identifies with patience in training, but not as much in racing. “Patience is very important in training for ultra distances because if you run too much too soon–before you’ve built up your body’s infrastructure to handle the long hours both mentally and physically–you WILL get injured. I don’t feel I’m patient when actually racing, though. I go as fast as I can without redlining it. Personally, I’d rather DNF than slog.”
Any ultra you run means hours of time on feet. Therefore, a runner has to harness their inner ‘Pre’ and prepare for a much longer and slower day on the trails. I’m pretty sure all seasoned ultrarunners have gone out too hard in a race and have experienced a blow up or have had their wheels come off. I certainly have.
2015 Hardrock 100 competitor and accomplished ultrarunner (nearing 50 completed ultras as per UltraSignup.com) Leah Fein speaks about how she tackles patience on race day. “ My body has such a sense of self preservation [that] I have a real limiter on my pace during the bulk of a race. If I get close enough to the finish line, my patience wanes and my desire to be on the other side of the finish line with a beer take over and I ‘sprint.’ But otherwise my patience is almost always with me, for better or worse.”
It is quite obvious that patience must be exhibited on the physical side, but what about mentally? You need to teach your mind to relax and keep control of the machine it is driving. This may be the hardest part for most runners.
Three-time Western States finisher Aliza Lapierre mentions that for her, “It takes some strategic planning in order to stay patient, especially during races. I will often devise a race strategy for each particular race, taking into account my personal goals and how I have been performing leading up [to it]. This way I can assure myself that I’m right where I need to be, even if my race-day instincts tell me I need to be somewhere else.”
2013 Western States champion Pam Smith may have the best quote for this article: “Check yourself before you wreck yourself. What I mean by this is that I want to make an honest assessment of what I am doing and how I am feeling early in a race. How is my pace? Is this the same pace I expect to run hills in the second half? Am I breathing too hard? If it doesn’t seem sustainable for the length of the race, I know I need to check my pace and reign it in a bit to prevent any major blow ups later on.”
She continues, “Another tactic I use on race day is to start behind someone who has a bit slower finish goal than I do. Running several early miles in the footsteps of this person keeps me from having to think too much about pacing and makes sure I stay relaxed in the early miles.”
Ironically, we racers aren’t the only ones that need to embrace patience. I’ve put my boyfriend through some ‘interesting’ situations that most people would never care for or support. Justin is about to use some of his vacation days just to come out and crew for me at Western. Granted, I know he thrives off of the running scene, but I doubt he is excited for the low points in the race where I’ll be a crotchety bundle of fun. Ha! It takes a special person to put up with all the prep that goes into a race… and especially who is happy to clean all the salt and crusted gel from your face.
Says Stephanie about her husband, “It’s easier for Zach and I because he runs too and he gets it–he used to be a professional athlete and understands when I have to make some sacrifices. That said, he does expect me to be an equal partner in the relationship. I don’t get to just run around all day and recover. That is totally not fair. I think it’s important that I respect my responsibilities as a person and a partner and try to contribute just as much. Sometimes that means compromising what I think is ‘ideal’ for running or recovering. But that’s okay, that’s life! “
Brand new mommie Michele Yates is always accompanied by her husband at events. This couple has the smoothest transition at an aid station I’ve ever seen, and I doubt that comes from lack of support and patience. Michele says, “My hubby and I have battled it out, made up, continue to forgive, and understand. The few close friends I have totally understand too! My husband knew what he signed up for when he married me, I’m a pretty darn honest person. The great thing about him, my best friend, is that he totally supports and wants to see me excel at what I’m good at. So if you are up front and honest with people, can dig deep to understand and forgive, as well as own up to your shortcomings, then peace can exist!”
I’ve been pushing the importance of patience this entire article, but maybe there are times when patience should be disregarded. Maybe patience is occasionally overrated?
Although she understands and values patience, Michele also believes there are times when it is okay to run from the gun. “Some consider me an aggressive runner, as I probably am… any other way is just plain chicken-shit, right (words from the great Steve Prefontaine)? Although it appears I am an aggressive runner, again, I know my strengths and weaknesses so I will take advantage of those strengths when I can and hopefully coast through any weaknesses.”
Michele continues, “It depends on what you consider and define as ‘patience.’ I believe in running to your ability from the start. In an ultra, it’s going to hurt like hell after a certain point anyways, so why lolly gag and be a sissy. After all, aren’t you out there to see what you can do?”
I asked Frosty her thoughts on skipping patience and just jumping into the ring, as she has had experience on both sides of this conversation. “It’s a fine line. I have done huge training blocks where I have pushed my limits/boundaries almost too far but have managed to keep it under control and have raced well from it. But I don’t like to put my body through that too much. In a race I am much better at going at a consistent pace throughout the day with a slow and steady start, so I haven’t really ever gone out too fast. There is always an exception to the rule though. Some people go straight into ultras as their first race… for me the biggest factor is health. Doing something too fast, too soon can be damaging as so many of us runners have experienced. Patience is a hard thing to get right. How do you know where your line is if you don’t go over it at some point?”
Tia leaves it short and sweet, “Patience is a virtue in training. It works for race day if your goal is to finish.”
With such stout and experienced competitors entered in both Western States and Hardrock, it will be interesting to watch how they tackle the course and what strategies they will use to get them to the finish line. To what degree will patience lead them to the finish?
Call for Comments
What strategy do you think will win the Hardrock Hundred and Western States 100 this year?