The Characteristics You Need as a Runner

Speed, strength, endurance, fatigue resistance – each matters significantly in determining how fast or far you run and how closely you come to achieving your goals in a race. Objective metrics certainly have value in running and their ability to show us our progress is the reason why so many of us stick with running over another sport.

Yet speed and endurance are not the only factors into your progress, accomplishments, and most of all happiness as a runner. Physical characteristics do indeed matter in running, but I would argue that there are certain mental characteristics you need as a runner – no matter how slow or fast, how long or short you run. 

The Characteristics Runners Need

Intuition

Along with smart training methods, intuition is the best tool a runner can have for preventing injury. Intuition is that feeling in your gut to back out of a marathon or other race when you aren’t properly trained for the distance. Intuition is that voice in the back of your mind that tells you to take an extra rest day or ease up on the pace in a speed workout, lest you incur injury or overtrain.

And intuition is the deep and unwavering belief in your potential and abilities as a runner, that you can do hard things, that you can chase that goal despite doubts in yourself (or doubts from others).

No coach or running book will provide you with the trait of intuition. The skill of intuition must come from within you, honed by listening to your body’s cues, discerning between nerves and gut feeling, and building your confidence in yourself.

Grit

Some days running just does not feel good, fun, or in any way an activity which you want to do. A nice warm bed, a bottle of wine, or Netflix call to you and you know that you won’t have a great run anyway. But consistency is key, and grit is the characteristic which separates consistent runners from those who easily fall off of your training.

Grit manifests when you lace on your shoes and head out for a run despite any and all excuses. Grit is running on a rainy day, when you’re tired, or when you’re emotional or stressed. Like any muscle, grit becomes stronger each time you run when even cleaning the bathroom sounds more enjoyable than running. Of course, grit must be guided by intuition – there are days where pushing too hard won’t make you a strong runner, but only lead to injury.

Grit produces the resolve and tenacity that keeps you running even when all sorts of obstacles come your wait. Grit keeps your spirits up after a missed goal in a race. Grit even lets you accomplish those cross-training sessions when you’re injured and must slog it out each day in the pool, on the bike, or on the elliptical.

Patience

Who hasn’t finished a disappointing race and thought, “I need to redeem myself right now”? Who hasn’t missed a time goal and immediately searched for the next race? The natural desire to achieve goals compels many runners to race and race again, rather than taking time off to recover and train hard for a future race.

Patience proves time and time again much easier to preach than practice. There is nothing easy about shelving a goal for the next 3-6 months or even longer as you train again and wish for the best come race day. When you’re injured, patience prevents you from logging miles before you’re fully recovered, thus helping you avoid injury or other problems later down the road.

Patience accompanies the decision to release yourself from the pressure of the clock and focus on the journey, rather than solely the end goal. I could have signed up for multiple marathons for 2016 and ran myself into the ground in pursuit of that 3:30:00. But, as my intuition tells me, I’m not built for racing several marathons a year, not without resenting my training, enduring joyless races, and overtraining. Why ruin the journey for the end result?

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28 Responses

  1. Great post Laura. First, I would add a little bit of crazy. We must be right. haha

    Honestly, my immediate reaction is disappointment but that doesn’t last long. I reframe my thinking and look at the whole thing from a positive perspective. We’ve all had a bad race or a missed goal. Even elite athletes. So, why beat ourselves up and steal the joy that is running. Pinning this!

    1. Thank you, Jill! Yes, runners can be a bit crazy – but in a good way! And my thoughts exactly. Everyone has disappointing races and bad runs, but we can’t let those steal the joy from running. Positivity and perspective are great characteristics for runners to have as well.

  2. I think I have more grit when it comes to training than racing, because I get intimidated by the idea of pushing too hard. It really doesn’t make sense but I guess I feel less pressure in training runs! I am pretty patient and I think I have good intuition. Being injured is definitely a test of these traits!

    1. I feel the same way – racing still intimidates me a lot as well. Maybe because there’s someone recording the time publicly or because it’s easier to get over a bad workout, but yeah I do think you’re right that it’s pressure. And injury really does help strength intuition and patience, for certain!

  3. Absolutely YES! I have learned all of these through the years of running. Especially patience. While I’m still not the most patient person I have leaned that goals can take a long time to achieve. And when you’ve been injured and unable to run, it’s the ultimate test of patience!

    1. I’m not the most patient person either and I agree with you so much that injury and achieving goals tests and teaches patience. Even individual runs where the miles seem to last forever teach patience!

  4. GIrl, please, you know I am going to love this and pin this! I would also add respect and humility (and as for humility, if you don’t start with it, you will certainly learn it, right?). You have to respect what your body tells you, and give your body the respect that it deserves, or you will be down and out and very sad for it.

    1. Thank you! Oh yes, definitely respect and humility. Running is a great teaching of humility because nothing is as humbling as setting a big goal and then missing it.

  5. GREAT post! Love all of these!

    One thing I think all non-elite runners need is the ability to not take ourselves so seriously. Training and working toward goals are commendable and admirable and should not be taken lightly. But we’re all non-professional, amateur runners doing this as a hobby, and I think we could all use a reminder to lighten up sometimes. Having a healthy dose of perspective and keeping the joy in the sport are, I think, the most important characteristics for any runner to have.

    1. Thank you! And oh my gosh yes to perspective! I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I’m not a big fan of the “train like the elites” mentality because they are paid to do that. I’d run 130 miles a week also if I was paid to do it (and, you know, ran that fast). That’s actually a lot what I wrote about in today’s/the next post, so it sounds like we were thinking the same thing!

  6. This makes me think about the ultra running community and how I discovered that most of them (us) were covered in tattoos and had had some sort of life crisis happen to them like a divorce or a death of a close family member, or recovery from drug addiction or a struggle with mental illness or SOMEthing to make them a little “crazier” than everyone else. So I would say that every runner probably needs a little bit of emotional pain to convert into miles.

    1. Have you read How Bad Do You Want It? He talks about emotional pain and trauma as a way that runners learn to cope with the physical discomfort of training and racing hard. Of course, he doesn’t say that you should go out and seek bad experiences, but most people have something in their lives that caused emotional pain and runners have the ability to draw from that to cope. Interesting stuff!

  7. All of these are crucial indeed for a runner, I think especially the first one. Knowing your own limits, but also knowing that you can stretch them and that’s how you grow as a runner and a person, is so important. I would also add that perspective is key – knowing that what works for one person might not for another, and taking the long view or the big picture view of growth.

    1. Yes, I 100% agree with perspective. It’s far too easy and tempting to compare oneself with other runners, which is a slippery slope and a negative place to be if you get too far deep into the comparison trap. And perspective that in the grand scheme of things, a bad run or disappointing race is only that – nothing worse.

  8. I just love this. As you know, I’ve been working as hard, if not harder, on my mental game! For me, I’ve got the physical abilities but my head always gets in the way. I’ve come a long way but there is so much room for growth. Thanks for addressing this!

    1. The mental game is as important as the physical training! I think it’s an area where most runners need to improve, regardless of physical ability. It’s too easy to get in our own way if we don’t have the grit to fight it out!

    1. Thank you! Yes, I always joke to my husband that I’m a little bit crazy because I get in my mind it’s a good idea to go run 13.1 or 26.2 miles as hard as I can!

    1. So true! And that’s probably what draw a lot of us to long distance running, because it’s not just about becoming physically stronger or faster – it’s about becoming a better person.

  9. I really love this! I agree, mentality/mental strength is a huge determinant of running success. I actually took a class called Physiology of the Marathon and the final paper was on what sets apart winners in the marathon. I claimed it was mental strength, and there’s actually a ton of scientific evidence to back it up!

    1. Thank you! Oooooh, that class sounds really interesting! I’ve read some of those studies that say that mental strength, not physical ability, is what separate runners who achieve their goals from those who don’t.

  10. What happens if your intuition flies out the window when you’re racing? Like, “I shouldn’t be puddle jumping and weaving but I’m going to anyway…”? Like my intuition. It vanished on Sunday. And now I’m sidelined again! Gah! Where was this post last week?! Just kidding. 🙂

    1. That’s where prudence comes in I guess, to guide intuition and discern between intuition and “race brain” 🙂 Sorry to hear about your rough race!

  11. I love this post! So many truths. I find that so many runners sometimes “want” their goal more than they want to “work” for it. These are all such important traits. Great read! xo

    1. Thanks, Jes! Oh you are so right – you have to work for what you want, and so many runners seem to just expect a finish time to be handed to them – but the grit, the work, and the day in and day out dedication are what matter, as you know with how much you’ve accomplished!

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