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What does it take to be an endurance runner?

Every time I complete one of my yearly running projects, I get flooded with questions about endurance running. One of the most asked questions is: “What does it take to become an endurance runner?”

I could answer the question by writing a book on the subject, and people would still ask the question.

I will try to answer as briefly as I can.

I suggest we start with the word “endurance ” itself. What does it mean?

The Merriam-Webster definition is:
“The ability to withstand hardship or adversity.”
“Especially: the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity.”

That sounds about right as a starting point.

When it comes to running, endurance begins when the body (or the mind) desperately wants to put an end to the activity for any one of many reasons. An endurance runner finds a way to push on and continues to run. If the same individual regularly puts himself in this predicament, in my view, he is an endurance runner. But he must do so of his own free will.

Endurance running is like a delicious dish with a complex recipe.

To be an endurance runner, you must forget about motivation. A powerful purpose must drive you. Your why must be strong enough to propel you and keep you going when things get tough.

An example that comes to mind is when I was running from Montréal to Québec City to raise awareness and funds to help Malik Fontaine, a 5-year-old with an aggressive form of leukemia, and his family. There was this moment when I was in excruciating pain and started questioning why I was subjecting myself to this misery. The conversation between me and myself continued for 30 km until I finally came to terms with my why and set my mind straight. I completed the 70 km day. I was in a tremendous amount of pain, but I felt proud. I was proud of who and what I was. When things got tough, I began repeating one of my mantras: “I’m an endurance runner. Running long distances is what I do. Pain is what I feel now. Proud of overcoming it is how I’ll feel forever. I’ll be better at my craft because I prevailed. I can take this. An endurance runner is who I am. Running through pain is what I do. There is no quitting.” And although I was running with a powerful purpose, helping Malik and his family, I still had to rely on my mantra to refocus and push on, regardless of the pain level I was experiencing.

What are the ingredients necessary to make an endurance runner?

Here are, in my view, a few qualities you must have or develop to become an endurance runner:

1) You must be patient. Running long distances takes time, and training to reach a certain level will require you to train progressively. Patience is a virtue you must already have or develop. Also, overcoming the pain you experience at the moment may take time to manage it. You must not quit at the first niggle.

2) You must be perseverant. Endurance running is a demanding sport. No one is born an endurance runner. You gradually become one as you train and persevere day in and day out.

3) You must be oblivious to criticism from those who cannot achieve what you are attempting. Indeed, many (usually people who don’t know better) will try to persuade you that what you do or trying to accomplish is insane and harmful. Your critics may be correct, but if endurance running were easy, it would not be endurance running. Your objective is only insane until you accomplish it. It is only harmful if you go about it the wrong way.

4) You must be focused. We are in a society where a million things want to capture our attention and monopolize our time. Our minds must continuously battle against distractions to stay on track to perform well. An endurance runner must be able to shut down the voices in his head, quiet negative thoughts, silence background noise, and remain focused on the running process.

5) You must stop being obsessed with the objective. To become an endurance runner, you must set the objective and forget it. You must focus on the process instead. The training process will make you an endurance runner, not the objective. Therefore, you must embrace it. You have to welcome it, enjoy it and learn from it.

6) You must accept that there is no finish line. Endurance running is not a task you accomplish and forget about; it is a way of life. Endurance running is a process that goes on as long as you want to improve. Wanting to enhance your abilities pushes you into more training, which adds more pain, more overcoming, and better results. Better results raise the bar, and the process starts all over again. You are therefore involved in an endless loop, hence the way of life. A runner breaks the loop when he decides he does not want to improve anymore. But let me ask you this: what kind of endurance runner does not wish to improve anymore? Endurance is what creates and sustains the loop. The suffering you endure and overcome today is training for tomorrow’s overcoming of even more pain.

There are many more attributes that contribute to making an endurance runner. Nevertheless, if you develop the qualities I just mentioned, you will be on your way to becoming an endurance runner. However, endurance running is not for everyone. It takes a particular type of person to accept scheduling suffering in his life.

Beware when you talk to or hang out with endurance runners, for you could be in danger of becoming one yourself!