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Thursday, January 17, 2013


  Over the course of the past year, I've been told that word more times than I can count.  I grew to hate it.  I'd have another workout where I felt like I was getting nowhere, like I was spinning my wheels in place, like I needed this or that or something else in order to improve-and I'd just be told to be patient.  I would want to put my fist through my computer screen, kicking and screaming and eventually chucking the whole thing out the window in grandiose fashion.  I'd interpret "patience" to mean "you should be better by now, and I don't know why you're not".  That idea is ironic-I've told patients to be patient (pun unintended) hundreds of times myself, likely much to their chagrin, and I've never really meant that.  If I don't know why someone isn't getting better in a reasonable amount of time, I'll change treatments around or encourage further follow up with doctors.  But, there's a difference between the rotator cuff repair patient who thinks that he should have full range of motion a month after surgery and my triathlon progress, I'd tell myself.  How did I know I was going to get better?

   I disliked what I perceived to be the connotation of patience.  Patience always seemed like it meant sitting around, waiting for something to happen.  That's not how success in athletics comes about-it comes by making it happen, through sweat and guts and pain and grit and pure, straight hard work.  That wasn't patience, in my mind.  The dichotomy of it all is that when it comes to everyday life, I am fairly patient.  An impatient physical therapist would never make it, after all.  In person, before I become comfortable in a situation, I'm a little bit reserved, a little bit timid, a little bit introverted.  Assertiveness is my weak point.  I hate saying no, I hate asking for anything, and I really hate making phone calls.  I'd last about 2 minutes in sales.  In athletics, though, I'm different.  A new side of me comes out-I'm more fiery, more tenacious, more aggressive, less fearful.  I fret less, and more.  The self-consciousness and doubt that normally grips me somehow morphs into a sense of confidence once the gun goes off, regardless of anything I was feeling (or saying) just beforehand.  I'm a competitor-most of all, against myself.  Throughout my entire racing career, I only wanted to lose because I was being out-talented, not outworked.  I was inducted into the Penfield athletic hall of fame this past fall not because I was ever the fastest runner on my team, but because there was just something else inside of me, something that never let me accept anything less than the best that I was capable of at that point in time.  I always just wanted to push and shove and fight for whatever I could.  Maybe that's my demon, maybe that's what drives me still, maybe it's just what burns in all of us-but that whole idea of patience?  It just didn't fit in.

   But, a few quotes have started to change my mind regarding patience.  I'm starting to see that patience isn't just skipping around in a field or floating around in a raft and waiting for something good to happen.  Maybe patience is knowing to persist even when nothing good is happening; maybe it's the faith that the good will happen.  The first quote  I discovered earlier this week-"Patience is waiting.  Not passively waiting.  That is laziness.  But to keep going when the going is hard and slow-that is patience."  I immediately loved it-gone was the lazy connotation of the word, the idea that I was supposed to think that I'd get what I wanted by doing nothing.  That idea was replaced with one that suggested that maybe patience is actually sticking with it, gutting through it when times and numbers and paces just aren't going my way, knowing that ultimately what I was doing would be for the greater good.  It got me thinking-usually the times I've been told to have patience were after some workout that didn't go as planned, that I'd completed nonetheless, but with results not where I anticipated or wanted them.  Several instances in particular come to mind.
   I could probably rattle off dozens of swims that fit the description, but one stands out.  Last fall, I took to the pool for a set of 2x800, 1x600 (I think there was something in between there, but I don't remember exactly what) at half IM goal pace (my gold standard at the time was 1:30/100y, even though I never actually swam that in a race).  I'd done the workout the prior week, and it'd gone as well as swim workouts go for me-I'd held under my 1:30 pace throughout.  Naturally, I wanted to beat that.  But, that day, it just wasn't in the cards.  My first 800 was fine.  On the next one, I checked the wall clock at 200 and saw I was one pace.  At 400, I had slipped over 1:30.  Frustrated, I just stopped.  I grappled for a few moments with what to do next.  I wasn't sick or injured; nothing was wrong with me.  I was just off.  So, I sucked it up.  I swam another 400-over 1:30 pace.  I still refused to quit, and took to the 600.  I forced myself to not even look at the clock, and fought my way through.  It was slow-I've been warming up more quickly lately-but it was done.  I didn't dwell on the time, I just trusted that my body just knew that it'd done work.  It didn't know that today work was 15 seconds slower than it'd been the week prior.  I saw it as persistence at the time-but, that swim had been patience.

   On the bike, I can again think of times where I'd kept going, even when the going was hard and slow.  I remember my longest ride before Florida-6:40, done on the trainer (I'm a total wimp when it comes to cold riding weather.  Thanks, Raynauds!). From the start, the ride sucked.  I felt sluggish, tired, sore.  My power numbers were low, my heart rate was high.  I'd had high hopes for the ride, wanting to really nail it, to prove progress to myself.  Instead, the numbers were just not there.  I remember seeking out any support I could on that ride.  Getting myself through the first few hours was the roughest part.  Somehow, though, I managed to break it up mentally, to will myself through, to just keep pedaling, whatever it took.  Once I made it within two hours to go, I knew that I could will my way through.  The result?  Well, that day, it sucked.  My watts were lower than they'd been for any long ride since March.  But the ultimate result? A 4:53 split in Florida, faster than I'd though I could ride.  That miserable ride the month before had exemplified patience, even if I hadn't know it at the time.

   The other quote regarding patience that I love is the stone cutter.  "Look at a stone cutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it.  Yet at the hundred-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before."  That's always painted a picture for me, one that's spurred me on through those times where I was seemingly getting nowhere.  Thinking back on my entire running career, my biggest breakthroughs were often preceded by some of my worst races or lowest times-times when I was questioning myself, times that I just had to trust that somehow, some way something would crack.  My first sub-20 cross country 5k back in high school came a week after my worst race of the past several seasons.  In college, after a year of injuries, a lousy cross country season, a brief period of getting back into shape, and another stress fracture, I finally found myself again on chilly night in Hillsdale, Michigan, when nearly a 40 second drop in my 5k time from the week before suddenly brought me back.  But, whatever workout I had done earlier that week hadn't been some magic healer.  That race, that big crack, had been a result of drop of sweat and ounce of effort I'd put forth throughout the incredibly frustrating year plus prior.  I'd spent that winter hammering away however I could, whether it was water running at 7am (helped to have a roommate in the same boat), on the bike, or on the elliptical.  The race had just been the release of everything that had led up to it, for better or worse.  It'd been the result of my patience through it all.    

  But, in particular, the stone cutter has been some small source of inspiration to me in the pool for some time now.  Back when I was swimming twice a week, I could accept that I wasn't improving too much.  After nearly doubling my swim volume, though, the lack of significant improvement became more of a frustration.  I'd take a step forward, followed immediately by .99 steps back.  At times (like during the infamous workout outlined above), I'd remind myself of the stone-and patience.  Maybe nothing was cracking-but at least I could tell myself that every yard swam, every stroke taken was one more hammer strike, that some sort of indelible weakening in the rock hard swimming wall was occurring.  My attitude towards swimming began to shift every so slightly this past fall, when I just began to try to push the envelope, push the volume, push the effort a little bit more at a time, shutting my mind off, working at that rock, even if it wasn't showing.  And now?  Well, we discovered a seemingly small yet glaring defect in my form, one that's made a big difference.  But ever yard I swam last year has led up to the pool awakening I've been experiencing lately.  On Tuesday, I swam a 6:53 500 at the very end of my workout.  It's not fast, I know.  It's not even a girls Class C Section V qualifying time (sadly, hitting one of these is a side goal of mine).  But up until now, even 20 seconds slower than that could have been considered a decent swim.  I swam a lot of 400 TTs last year, and was lucky to crack 5:40 on them.  That rock?  It hasn't split yet-maybe it never will-but it's beginning to chip.  I lost myself a bit after that workout, returning to an empty locker room and randomly burying my face into my towel and letting myself lose it a bit.  More than anything, I was relieved.  I've always wanted to believe that there's more in these arms and lungs than I've shown in the water-now, for the first time, I'm starting to have reason to.  I sort of feel like Mary's waved some sort of magic wand, but in reality, it was patience-on both of our parts-and it was continuing to keep going no matter how hard or slow it (I) was, knowing that the hammer has been working away.

   So, what's being patient mean to me now?  It means that I'm going to push and fight and give the best of myself when I'm supposed to.  It means that I'm probably still going to complain and be dramatic in my logs when my run paces are slower than I'd like them to be or get pissed at my garmin when it, yet again, reads somewhere in the 180W range on my long rides, as it has for the past ten months.  What it doesn't mean, though, is that I'm going to quit on myself when this happens.  I'm not going to let up, and I'm not going to wait around passively, assuming I'll magically improve.  I'm still going to experience frustration, and setback.  I know that.  That's life and that's sport.  But, as long as I stick with this idea of patience through it all...I'll be fine. 

1 comment:

  1. Old John Henry would of been a good stone cutter.