Virtues are habits and firm dispositions to do good. The word virtue is from the Latin virtus: virility, strength of character. Fortitude is a firmness of will in doing good in spite of difficulties faced. To put it plainly, I think of it as overcoming fear. You might become a pretty good ultrarunner if you have a well developed sense of fortitude. Anyone who is willing to toe the line at a tough run of 30, 50, or even 100 miles has hopefully spent some time developing this virtue. In fact, I think that is one of the major aspects of training for and racing the longer distances – to know it might be really awful at some point but to do it anyway. Fortitude is something that most runners develop through their training. In fact, it happens naturally as our long run increases and as our weekly mileage grows. We run longer and more difficult races. The distances that used to scare us don’t keep us awake quite as much the night before. The interesting thing is that a lot of this transfers over to the rest of our lives and we learn to “be not afraid.”
The virtue of patience is a form of the moral virtue of fortitude. Knowing that, you might think that patience involves just getting tougher and enduring whatever comes along. The distinctive mark of patience, though, is that it involves bearing the difficulty caused by another person or situation. So, instead of overcoming fear, we are now talking about dealing with situations we don’t like very much - and maybe even seeing the joy in that. We can grow in this virtue by learning not to complain to ourselves and others, to use hardships as a way to progress in this virtue, and maybe even desire difficulties as a source of growth in patience.
Most runners I have met tend to get fortitude down pretty well. Patience is sometimes another story. Part of this is just a symptom of our culture. We are a very time-impatient society. We want something right away, on our schedule. My shoe order said free 2-day shipping, and my shoes are taking 3 days to get here. I’m thinking of the finish line, and maybe I should just focus on the next aid station. If something doesn’t go just right in my race, does that mean it’s over? What if I tried to accept it and deal with it…what if I maybe even welcomed it…what if I was grateful for the difficulty?
My own struggle has been when my sense of fortitude leads to impatience. For a while, that involved dealing with a setback in training. My sense of fortitude made me initially say, “No big deal…that pain will go away,” followed by something dumb along the lines of, “I’m sure I can just run through it and then it will go away once I start to taper.” This kind of thinking led to having to back out of two goal races I really wanted to run. In the end, it is only through patience that I am really able to heal. Truly backing off and starting over has made me grow in patience and is also making me a stronger runner and person. The whole thing reminds me of some advice I got from a veteran ultrarunner before I ran my first ultra. They told me simply, “Don’t try to push too hard and make things happen. Relax, let the miles come to you. If something comes up (and it will), just be patient and deal with it.” That has been some of the best advice I have ever received.