The 12 Gifts of Fitness
Day 1: ENERGY
Day 2: PATIENCE
[Originally published December 16, 2014]
Patience, young Jedi. That is what fitness gives us when we make a long-term commitment to doing what we can, as often as we can, and not over-thinking the whole situation when we can’t. We do our best, and over time, our bodies talk back to us in ways that can sometimes be kind of glorious.
My “whooooooaaaaaaaa!” moment when it came to patience with a fitness program landed almost four years ago. It was March 2011, and I was training for my first “official” Boston Marathon. (I ran unregistered—yep, they called us “bandits”—back when I was a college student in 1993.)
This time around I was an “invitational” entrant, not a qualifier by Boston’s time standards but eligible to run through another program. (I’ve since become an annual member of the Massachusetts General Hospital’s pediatric oncology/hematology marathon team – 2015 will be my fourth consecutive race with them.) But in 2011, it was my first time showing up in Boston with an official race number, and I desperately wanted to arrive in the city feeling like I’d earned the right to be there.
So I trained. I trained well, I trained hard. I trained patiently.
The program I used for that particular race was a super-smart one that advocates just three days a week of running and two additional days a week of cross-training: cardio workouts that exercise different muscles than the running muscles (think swimming, biking, and rowing).
I showed up religiously for every workout starting in January. Then in early March, I got sick and couldn’t run for a few weeks. Blah. I had a half-marathon scheduled as a tune-up race in late March. So I just went out there and figured, well, here goes nothing.
One hour and forty-six minutes later, I had smashed my personal best for the distance, by over six minutes.
It was nuts. It was one of those races where everything felt almost too easy. What happened? Why was running close to a sub-8 mile mile pace over 13.1 miles suddenly…not that hard?
I’m convinced it was because I had finally learned how to train patiently.
The actual Boston Marathon that year was far slower (I had, after all, lost weeks of training to that illness). But what I had achieved was enough to propel me to a new personal best at a shorter distance: a performance that made it clear that it would be possible for me to chase an official Boston Marathon qualifying time in the future.
I like that.
Here’s what this year of fitness has taught me: Our bodies respond to what we give them. That includes the good and the not-so-good. If we’re consistent, whatever we give our bodies eventually shows up either on our bodies, or in our bodies. Being able to run far more efficiently all of a sudden? That’s a by-product of lots of small choices: running each workout well, dedicating oneself to making daily commitments, doing our best, not beating ourselves up when our “best” wasn’t “super-duper.” And always, always showing up the next day.
That’s what I call patience. And it’s one of the huge gifts of fitness I’ve experienced in 2014. I hope you have too.