What I learned Through Running a Marathon
- Be realistic
- Make a Plan
- Adapt your plan
For the past several years running a marathon had been something lurking in my mind, "It would be cool to run a marathon", "I wonder if I could run a marathon?", "How hard would it be to run a marathon?". These thoughts had been rolling around for a while, around February of 2017 I began thinking about it more seriously, initially my thought was that I would train for and complete a marathon over the 2017 summer break as apart of training for soccer the upcoming fall (I was studying at Briercrest College and playing on the soccer team). I had begun training already before the summer, but my plan was really informal; I didn't have a specific goal or date, just an idea of "I want to run a marathon... it would be good training". I had never done long distance running, but the idea of the challenge and accomplishment was intriguing to me.
That summer did not end up including very much running, I was in Europe for a month and a half, and the rest of the summer was primarily composed of long days working as a carpenter to pay for school. In the end I didn't end up going back to college, rather did online classes and focused on FUM and subsequently didn't play soccer (one of the reasons I was planning on running). Looking back I can see that in many ways my goals weren't realistic, I had other things I valued a lot higher than running that I was not willing to give up; traveling, long work days, family functions, etc... The problem wasn't that I lacked commitment as much as that I was not realistic in what I thought I could do.
This is fine, it is good to live life putting your most important values first, when you are adding new things to your life be realistic about what you are adding. Do you really have time? What are you willing to give up? This is a lesson that I have to keep learning, I get super eager and often take on too many things at once, wearing myself out and making myself frustrated. Don't wreck yourself, be realistic (#1).
The next big thing I learned was commitment is key(#2). In a leadership and management class the character trait of grit came up, It was emphasized that grit was something that was developed through practice, and discipline. This stuck with me, while I had grit, it was something I wanted to continue growing in. In January of 2018, I was reviewing my last four months and planning for the upcoming 4 months, I had realized that I had not made as much progress towards my goal of running a marathon as I would have liked, and that I now had more flexibility in my schedule. I realized that I lacked commitment and vision to the goal, so I decided I needed to commit to something. It was time to pull the trigger, the Calgary marathon was scheduled for May 27th, at that point around 5 months away.. I dropped the $100+ dollars for registration and told a few friends I was going to do it. Now there was a clear goal, and consequences to backing out. As well I had the accountability and support of those around me. It was time to build some more grit.
Now that the goal was defined, the date was set, and consequences realized, I needed a plan to succeed (#2). I realized I couldn't just wing it and show up on race day ready to run 42.2km (26.2 mile). I needed a plan, in January my longest run was about 10 km, duration 1 hour. I needed to quadruple that in about 5 months. It seemed daunting. I started to break it down and do some research into marathon training techniques. First suggestion on many of the articles/blogs was "Start with a half marathon and then work your way up to a marathon", I chuckled and thought "haha too late, I'm already committed…". I then got into the more practical aspects of a training plan, I found that most plans are built around weekly cycles with varying lengths of runs, with one big run every week that grows in length progressively until about a month before race day. At this point the runs start tapering off to save your body for the big push. From this research I formulated my own plan.
I did some quick math and figured out that if I added a mile a week to my total distance I would be reaching the total distance of 26.2 miles at right around a month before race day. Now that didn't sound so bad, just add one mile a week. So I went to work making a spreadsheet built around adding a mile a week. My plan was this; 3 runs a week, the long one, a second one 75% of the distance of the long one, and a third, half the distance of the long distance. My goal was to finish around the 4 to 4.5 hr mark. I laid out the total distances I would need to be hitting each week and made a easy way to record it all. I was happy with this plan, it left me a bit of flexibility in my week, I could decide which run I wanted to do which day (this was especially good near the end when the long runs were 2 hours +), and was simple and straightforward to follow and record.
The last important thing I learned was that I needed to be willing to flex the plan in response to life (#4). While making the commitment and creating a plan were necessary to get me towards the goal, other things in life happen. I learned this through a very difficult process, at about month 3 of my training my youngest sister passed away at the age of 17. Needless to say this rocked my world and was one of the hardest seasons of my life, running a marathon was not even on my mind. I think I ran once in about 3 weeks. It was a period filled with a lot of tears. Trying to get back into regular life again was a process, it was not just about keeping on or moving on. It was about accepting, processing and just being in the midst of it. Through this process I started to ask myself if I really still wanted to complete the marathon, I was not running during the most critical period of training and I definitely had an acceptable excuse for not going on.
The Break Point?
My plan and goal was flexing close to its breaking point. It seemed trivial, why push so hard for something when it all could just fade away? Looking back I think this was something God used to help me process the death of my sister. I decided that I would not give up hope, that life was worth living, worth living to the best of my abilities for God's glory. I had started with the idea of building grit; resilience, character, but had never thought that I would be pushed or tested this far.
I decided to still go for it. I remember the first long run back after this 'break'. It was hard. Really hard. I had lost progress in comparison to where I was, I was way behind my plan, and the marathon was around a month and a half away. It was a mental battle to keep pushing on. But I did, those runs were a type of grief therapy, getting lost in thoughts and memories, listening to podcasts, finding rest in exhaustion.
My plan ended up flexing a lot, rather than hitting the longest training run a month before race day, I did my longest training run a week before race day, not as long as I had planned but it happened. On the big day, I was feeling great. The energy of the race propelled me, lots of people, lots of hype, and lots of energy gels. I ended up finishing with a time of 4:46, a little bit over my goal of 4:30 but all things considered it was great. I FINISHED! It happened.
As I was writing this I was thinking about what Paul said to the Corinthians; "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." (1 Cor 9:21) Seems to fit well; discipline in one area creates discipline and perseverance in all areas, remember to pursue not only crowns which are temporal, but those which are eternal.
I feel that lessons from this apply to making any type of goals.
- Be realistic in what you are committing too, can you actually commit?
- Commit to a goal and use social pressure and other consequences to solidify what you are aiming at.
- Make a plan. Break your big goal down into little bite-sized chunks that you can take on day by day.
- Be ready to flex your plan in accordance with priorities. Sometimes things happen, focus on what really matters, flex your plan for what matters most.
I hope my experience can encourage and empower you in your pursuit of goals that matter, whether that is quitting smoking, a physical feat, or behavioral discipline.
Keep pushing, keep pursuing what matters most.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR