I’m not a particularly patient person. It’s something I’m working on, and it’s shaping up to be a lifelong battle. As a kid, I woke up early, ate 10 am lunch and decorated for Christmas in September. If I wanted something, I wanted it now, particularly with respect to attention (cue constant, unnerving and ultimately unanswered call of “Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Momma, Mommy, Mom, Mom!”)
At one point in my youth, I literally thought that “patiently” was part of my name, because the word had so often preceded an address to me (it’s actually a really cute story, another blog for another time).
The condition has carried into my young adulthood, now filled with sunrise mornings, early meals and A LOT of waiting. That’s the paradox of impatience: when you’re always eager to move on, chomping at the bit, you spend a great deal of time in the dead space of wait (dead wait, if you will). You wait for time, wait for others and wait for the next big, small and medium thing.
At times, it can be kind of cute. You’re eager, excited, and people call you “antsy pantsy”. At others, it’s damaging. You’re pushy, anxious, irritable. And, you know, it’s not great for training. Sure, I’m the first one ready for practice, have the shortest warmups and am always keenly aware of what’s coming next.
But again, it also means that I do a lot of waiting. Waiting for a workout to start, waiting for an interval to finish, waiting to see improvement or to reach my goals. And waiting is dead time, it’s completely unproductive, even counterproductive (cue constant, unnerving and ultimately unanswered call to my coach, “Pat, Patty, Patrick, Pat! Pat! Pat! Pat! Pat!).
For me, June has been a practice in patience, probably the best on that I’ve ever had. After a relatively inactive spring geared more towards adventure than training (hello, college.), I came into the summer plenty fit, but not exactly “ski” fit. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have the muscle to ‘muscle through’ workouts. The difference between good and bad technique became stark, as measured by my relative distance from my teammates. During our uphill time trials (which seems redundant, all cross country ski time trials are uphill), I would strain my neck up and watch the high vis tank tops disappear over the horizon and want nothing more than to be there. Now.
And there I entered the disconnect. When I brought my head from my body to theirs, I entered limbo, the dreaded, dead wait colored by impatience. When I looked up, I saw a lot of pavement, anticipated plenty of pain and yearned for the ever evasive finish line. I began calculating how much it would take to get me there: how much time, how many pole plants, breaths and crunches. All of which I began to lose, because looking up pulled me back (literally and figuratively, have you seen what it does to your hips?!)
As athletes in the wanderlust era, we have plenty of coaches, mentors and lululemon totes telling us to live in the moment. “The past and future don’t exist,” they say “all we have is the now.” Doing that can be hard, especially when ‘the now’ you have isn’t ‘the now’ you want. We’re goal oriented people, raised in a culture where the promise of the future is meant to motivate us through the beautiful pain we put ourselves through today. We try to counteract that mechanism with our “process goals,” but even those are connected to the finish line.
Which I did reach, eventually. And when I crossed it and leaned over my poles (unsure which was more tired, my body or my brain) I caught a glimpse of my teammate, other Annie, losing her breakfast on the side of the road. She had just PR’d by nearly a minute and was having trouble standing upright. Later, in our cool down, she tried to recall what happened during her effort. “I never looked up,” she sounded. “I hurt so much, but I never looked up.”
Sometimes it’s good not to know where you’re going. The amount of energy lost in anticipation, in dead wait, can surprise you. Especially when you’re doing the hardest sport on the planet. At Annie’s experience, I realized that maybe living in the moment isn’t as complicated as my impatient mind had thought. It’s not a matter of not looking forward, of losing sight of your goals or not being excited for what’s next (because, in our sport, there is always something exciting coming up next).
Rather, it’s having the prudence to know when to just not look up. To know when not to yearn or get frustrated, to see that dead wait hanging before you and turn your eyes down and plow through it. Since that double pole test, I’ve gotten a little more practice at that prudence (which some might even name patience). I’ve spent more time skiing alone in the back, or working through the gym. In two weeks I’ve gained better technique, more pullups and even a time trial PR.
Changes were made, but I can’t tell you exactly where. I was just doing what I needed to, I didn’t even look up.