In 2009 I ran the Lake Tahoe marathon. It began the year before while watching a cousin of mine run the same event. I thought “I can do that!” and so my training began. I dragged out the training for a year, gradually increasing the distance I ran. The event came, and I successfully finished! I won’t get into my finishing time though – I’ll leave that up to your imaginations!
And lest I make my fellow author Larry (who is currently doing a “couch to 5k” program) jealous, I want him to know that I am FAR from being able to do such a thing right now. But luckily, there are lessons from that training as a first time marathoner that have stuck with me. At first glance these lessons might be applied to any other feat of strength or endurance, but if you look closer, you can use them to help you accomplish anything.
It’s About Distance, not Time
When it comes to marathon training, time isn’t as important as distance. In fact, anyone who runs their first marathon will tell you, “I’m just in it to finish!” When you’re running, you need to put in the miles, no matter how long it takes you.
Someone once asked me if I thought they could run a half-marathon based on their 10k time. I told them the exact same thing. Your 10k time might be great, but do your joints know what it’s like to go 13 miles? You’d better give them the chance to experience it with time to recover before your event.
The same thing applies when we’re working towards any goal. Often, we have a timeframe in mind when we set out. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, it may get in the way and bring you down. You don’t know how long it will take to reach your goal. It might be a harder journey than you thought. And while great goals involve some kind of timeframe – don’t forget that you may have to reassess it in order to cover the distance required. We set time limits on our goals to give ourselves a sense of urgency. But let’s face it, we want to reach our destination – not simply work towards it for a predetermined length of time.
Sometimes the Plan Involves Intentional Walking
We don’t consider walking when we think of running a marathon. But the truth is, sometimes you have to walk (you can walk the entire thing in some events, but not the one I was in). In fact, many experienced marathon participants alternate (20 minute jog, 5 minute walk, etc.). This actually helps you push through to the end without being completely drained for those last few miles. And as Larry pointed out in his most recent article, the last push could make all the difference in the world.
When it comes to accomplishing your next goal you don’t want to lose that motivation when you’re so close to reaching it. This happens a lot when we put our entire body and soul into something. Instead, plan on walking a bit. Maybe tackle two unrelated goals at a time and switch between them. Or simply plan to take breaks for recreation. You may find that you’re able to maintain a more consistent effort this way.
Proper Nutrition is Expensive
It takes a lot of good things to make the running experience more pleasant. I learned this lesson the hard way! Luckily, it wasn’t a total loss for me. It doesn’t have to be for you either.
When running a marathon, we all know about the importance of hydration. But not just any hydration – you have to balance those funny things known as electrolytes. Electrolyte imbalance is the cause of the ever present muscle cramp you feel during a long run. Without proper nutrition, you might as well be running this marathon while carrying a backpack full of rocks that gets heavier with each step until you’re completely squashed!
To do it right, you have to invest your time in learning what works best and your money to get it. If what you eat doesn’t have enough of the good stuff you need, you’ll find yourself full of garbage, unable to eat anything! The same thing applies to accomplishing other goals. Chances are you’re not an expert at it already, so you’ll need to feed yourself with whatever it takes to succeed. It can be food, knowledge, practice or even time. Don’t scrimp or you may find yourself defeated when a slightly larger investment in the beginning could make the entire process easily doable.
Inspiration Comes from Those Who Have Gone Before
With my marathon, I had the example of my cousin who completed the same event and survived. I saw it with my own eyes. But my event wasn’t for another year. I needed to find a different role model in the mean time. I found what I needed in a man named Dean Karnazes.
This man is a freaking animal. He warms up with marathons before breakfast. He’s run multiple 100 mile races in places all over the world. He ran ACROSS AMERICA.
Could I ever be like him? Not in ten thousand years! But that doesn’t mean he couldn’t inspire me. Find some inspiration for yourself! Surround yourself with those who have already accomplished what you’ve set out to do – either literally or as I did, with books, images and other inspirational media.
Sometimes it Hurts to Envision the Finish Line
When working towards any goal, visualizing yourself at the finish line can be a great way to focus your efforts towards accomplishing it – except sometimes when the vision involves a lengthy, drawn out and painful process. For me, it would kill to think about how much running I still had left to do! So here’s an alternative – just get through to the next step. Turn your overall goal into a series of smaller checkpoints and don’t look past the next one in the series.
Previously, I wrote about mind over matter and quoted some advice given to a group of Navy SEALs in training. I want to emphasize that advice here too (see previous article for source):
“First of all, I do not want you to give in to the pressure of the moment. Whenever you’re hurting bad, just hang in there. Finish the day. Then, if you’re still feeling bad, think about it long and hard before you decide to quit. Second, take it one day at a time. One evolution at a time…Don’t let your thoughts run away with you, don’t start planning to bail out because you’re worried about the future and how much you can take. Don’t look ahead to the pain. Just get through the day, and there’s a wonderful career ahead of you…”
When working towards any goal, don’t worry yourself with how much work you have left. Sometimes you just have to focus on the next tree and tell yourself you will run to there. Pretty soon you’ll reach the tree and pass it. Then pick another marker. Repeat as necessary.
The Effect of Accomplishment Lasts the Longest
Although training for a marathon took me an entire year, and running it about killed me, there was one thing that made it all worthwhile – the feeling of accomplishment. There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when you’ve done something you’ve worked towards for such a long time. There is immense power in being able to look at yourself and say, “I can do hard things.”
A funny thing happened to me with all my running. When I first started, I would dread the day I had to run 5, 10 or 15 miles. But now that I’ve finished, I hear folks talking about dreading their half-marathon training and I think to myself, “oh, that’s nothing!” I don’t mean to downplay any accomplishment, but I want to show you how accomplishing something difficult can make so many other things seem easier than they ever did before.
Remember that! When you’re working towards your next goal take a look back and see how far you’ve come. Then remind yourself of the times you thought you couldn’t even reach the point you’re at now. That is something to be proud of! And whether it’s running a marathon, learning that new skill, or even winning the spelling bee, remember these lessons and you’ll find your journey much more enjoyable.
So what about you? What lessons have you learned while working towards goals in your own life?