Playing the long game. A mandatory detail to accept in any pursuit worth your time, yet still one of life’s most elusive actions. The ability to follow through on the big picture agenda is a much different skill set than manifesting intensity of body or mind for a singular task. Being a model of consistency requires full surrender to the natural order of things. Every one of us has a physiological makeup that determines how quickly we can progress in any given day, month, year. Intending to leap and bound your way through a step by step process is often the nail in the coffin. So how do we learn to become meticulous in forging our path through a seemingly unending gauntlet of tasks to our mountain tops? Channel your inner marathoner. These unicorns have no business even showing up to the starting line without literally and figuratively taking things one step at a time.
No one understands the value of pacing quite like a seasoned endurance athlete. While some might equate pacing to moving slowly, the reality is an accurate representation of what you can accomplish in a given period. Their variables center around the distance to be covered and their capabilities. The ideas of much too fast, much too slow, and especially outright stopping have consequences that lead them to an accurate picture of how fast they can go over what we perceive as a long time. They also have an intimate understanding of pacing concerning total volume. If I train this long at this speed today, it affects my ability to do other things in the coming days and weeks. As an athlete, your ability to pace needs to extend far beyond the reaches of immediate feedback in a workout.
Establishing a realistic timeline for reaching your goals is step one. With that span of time in mind, you can begin to ask yourself what kind of effort you can put forth regularly for that long and, even more importantly, what your expectations are for short term feedback. Our community is littered with athletes who regularly get on the right track, but time after time, they fail to understand how long it takes to achieve their version of greatness. This cycle produces the kind of false feedback loop that suggests they have failed when their only failure was how they perceived their progress. We also see this misunderstanding manifest as burn out. The idea that every day should be massive volume and full send quickly reveals diminishing returns and a flawed sense of what it feels like to improve. We must accept that it will take a long time and that your efforts must remain sustainable for that duration. Learn to pace your rounds, workouts, days, weeks, months, and even years.
Another key lesson from the endurance world is a deep understanding of what momentum does for progress. Because our sport has actual moments where we are stopped dead in our tracks, that concept makes its way into far too many scenarios. While the perpetual “can you take one more step” question is quite literal for a marathoner, there are much more profound implications. Learning to keep moving when you do not want to vs. cannot creates the type of small victory that bleeds into staying the course in the bigger picture. The key is in recognizing even the slightest achievements and scaling them up over time to eventually take over your entire mindset. In preparation for a marathon, the context of “just keep going” shows up every time they lace up their shoes, want to stop a training run, or give up the entire pursuit altogether, and each of those instances can make or break their chances at showing up on race day.
Ebb and Flow
If you’ve ever committed to logging miles regularly, you’ve probably experienced what can feel like absolutely random ebbs and flows of how you feel throughout a run. Some of your best runs can have a brutal cramp smack dab in the middle that disappears just after you decide to push through. Oddly timed heart rate spikes or deep mental fatigue show up when they are least expected, and it becomes a choice of whether you’re going to pack it in or not. Over time you learn how to talk or feel your way through moments, which removes the power they once had over you. Imagine approaching a longer timeline with this attitude. Rather than attempting to predict or overreact to the moments in time where you feel the weight of your pursuit bearing down on you, you accept that can and will show up and, most importantly, can and will go away. How you feel and perform throughout an entire season will ebb and flow, remember this and it will begin to lose its power over you.
The endurance athlete’s barrier to entry requires physical execution of the three main ideas in this article. Learning how to pace for a given distance, rely on momentum, and accept the occasional hiccup is the mandatory education that comes with training for long stretches. What makes them such an exciting example to learn from is the phenomenon of these ideas permeating their mindset over much more extended periods of time than any training session could be. Some of life’s most profound lessons are learned out there logging miles or in the throes of a brutal AMRAP. What separates the good from the great is scaling up these ideas to become a way of life rather than just a mindset that produces a great workout score.
Written by Drew Crandall