To read the Intro to this 5-part series on athletic longevity, click on the title of the first installment, to the right.
3. Practice Patience! The great ultrarunner Yiannis Kouros (arguably the most amazing ultrarunner the world has seen) has commented that without patience, you can't have endurance. "Practice patience" is one of those many platitudes that millions of people say they respect, but very few seriously observe. We live in a "sprint culture," and are poorly prepared for the long run. For an endurance athlete, though, learning the art of patience is as critical as doing the miles or eating the right foods. It's critical in both training and racing. Here's my thought on how it relates to athletic longevity:
As you grow older, it gets easier to learn patience--and more necessary. Youth is famously fraught with impatience and impulsiveness, and for the young that isn't necessarily bad. But experience brings new perceptions about time. In my forthcoming book The Longest Race (out in October)*, I have a chapter titled "Learning from Quarterbacks," which examines one of the most fascinating phenomena in all of sports--the concept of "slowing the game." Football is a game of rocket reflexes, and one of the most important skills of a successful football player is not just to be fast in his own movement, but to slow down his opponents' movement in his perception--to see them in slo-mo, so he can more astutely and accurately direct his play. As the sports journalist Roy S. Johnson has said, "Great athletes . . . say the game 'slows down' for them, particularly at critical moments. That's why a baseball player or tennis player can read the spin of a bseball or tennis ball when it looks like a blur to the rest of us . . . . The fastest way to your goal isn't always fast." After Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers led the Packers to their Super Bowl championship in 2011, for example, coach Mike Miller commented, "He is at the point in this game that the game has slowed down for him."
And how does this apply to a slow-twitch sport like long-distance running or bicycle racing? Your need as an endurance athlete isn't so much to slow down a blur of motion around you as to slow down any sense of urgency or anxiety in your gut. Internal turbulence can be as disruptive and energy-sapping to a distance-runner's performance as chaoitic external forces like blitzing defensive linemen can be to a quarterback's. It's not just a matter of good pacing, but of finding the kind of inner calm that allows the highest possible level of both physical and emotional energy efficiency.
Part 4 follows in a few days . . .
*The full title of the book is The Longest Race: a Lifelong Runner, an Iconic Ultramarathon, and the Case for Human Endurance. It has had enthusiastic pre-publication endorsements from Bill Rodgers, Michael Wardian, Jacqueline Hansen and a score of other prominent endurance athletes, and will be released in October. It can also be pre-ordered now from Barnes & Noble and other booksellers' online stores.