The power of persistence: Little successes mean a lot

It’s only three miles, I told myself. Last week, I ran four miles at tempo pace, this week it’s just three. Completely doable. The damp, cool, gray morning was not inviting, yet I decided to make the most of it. After a two mile warmup, my workout called for three miles at a specific pace. As I lined myself up to start the three miles of tempo, I faced the task with an odd mixture of carefree attitude and focus. I would work as best as I could and let the numbers fall where they may.

I thought about running hard and steady. I thought about how strong I was. I didn’t worry about anything other than what I was doing at that moment. My pace slowed on the second mile, but that was expected as the route took a slight uphill and the wind swirled into my face. But I let loose on that third mile, digging deep. My legs were burning. My core muscles were getting sore. My breathing was intense. How much farther could I go? Mercifully, my Garmin beeped. I stopped the watch and looked down.

No. Freaking. Way. My average pace was spot on while that last mile was the fastest mile I had ever run in training. In fact, I believe that was the best tempo run I had ever completed in my four years of training. I was excited. I wanted to shout it from the steps of the municipal building, but since the police station is right around back, I figured restraint was probably a good thing.

There are all sorts of wonderful and amazing things this means for me athletically. It means I’m getting stronger. It means I’m getting faster. It means I’m developing a better ability to focus and to trust my training. It means I’m living in confidence.

But more importantly for me, I spent the rest of the day reaching back and remembering that tempo run. Not in the sense of living in past (even recent past) glory, but more as a touchstone. When things on my “to-do” list and the evil “should-do” list start to create anxiety and stress, I remember that morning’s run. Was it hard? You bet. Did I get through it? Of course I did. And the key point for me lies in understanding that day’s particular success was a culmination of little successes — showing up to my workouts, finding the positives, trusting my training, surrounding myself with positive people, eating healthy. It comes from showing up, day after day, with the intention of getting better, stronger, healthier, more focused. I can do this in virtually any area of my life. It’s not about hard work. It’s about keeping at the work.

Yesterday, I pulled out a old notebook full of personal favorite quotes. In it was this gem from Calvin Coolidge:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

And this advice from my favorite actress, Katharine Hepburn:

You’ve just got to keep on struggling, because everybody gets discouraged and almost everybody quits, and there are a few who don’t — and then they go on and discover gold.

It’s the consistency of showing up combined with our intention which creates amazing adventures and milestones and guideposts, if only we stay with it long enough for our persistence to germinate and bloom.

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