While I have participated in athletics pretty much all of my life, I have never considered myself to be a runner. However, in early July 2002 while living in Chicago, I decided to train for three months and run the Chicago marathon. I ended up finishing in 4 hours, 54 minutes, and 9 seconds.
Here are 7 life lessons I learned from running the marathon:
1. Nobody succeeds alone
It started with getting really good advice from other people who had run marathons before. I bought a book that was written for first-time marathoners. I followed the suggestions in the book very closely throughout my training. I also got several very helpful tips from a co-worker who had already run the Chicago marathon multiple times.
Furthermore, my friends and co-workers were extremely supportive throughout my training. I did my long runs on Sunday mornings and it seemed like every Monday at work somebody was asking me how many miles I had run the day before. They were so supportive that it felt like they were training along with me.
And during the day of the race, thousands of people lined the streets to cheer everybody on. This was extremely motivating! I remember giving lots of “high fives” to so many people that I didn’t even know.
Without all of the support that I got from other people, I am certain it would have taken me a lot longer to complete the run. And it is quite possible that I might not have finished at all.
I have also found that this is true in life. I can’t think of any significant achievement in my life that was accomplished all by myself.
2. The training is the real marathon
I was told by others that the actual marathon is really a celebration of all of the training you have done. This turned out to be exactly right.
I stayed quite motivated throughout most of my three months of training. However, there were definitely some very challenging times. I remember several times not wanting to get up and run at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, especially when the Chicago weather was not good!
And some of the 15, 17, and 20-mile training runs were nearly as difficult as the marathon itself, because I was constantly running more miles at one time than I ever had in the past.
In life, I think people win or lose based on what they do every single day. While everything may appear to happen on one day during the big event (e.g. a sales presentation with a client), the preparation for the event is what is most important.
3. You will hit “the wall” (and you will just have to find a way to make it through)
During my training, I often wondered if what people said about hitting “the wall” around mile 20 was true. I can tell you that it is!
The most I ran during training was 22 miles. And this was very tough. However, there is a big difference when you reach mile 20 and you still have 6.2 miles to go.
During the marathon, I actually felt really good around mile 17. I remember thinking to myself, “This isn’t so bad, I may start speeding up, so I can finish even faster.” Boy, was I wrong!
Around that time, I ran past a friend of mine and waved to him very enthusiastically. He was standing in a place where you could watch people running by at mile around 17 on one side and then walk a few feet to see people running at around mile 20 or 22.
By the time I saw him again on the other side, everything had completely changed. I was totally exhausted. When he saw me, he was yelling, “Go, Greg, go!!!” very loudly. While he didn’t hear me since he was cheering so loudly, I said in despair “I don’t know if I can finish.”
Fortunately, I did complete the marathon. But I can tell you that the last hour of the run was probably the longest hour of my life!
I have found that I have also hit “the wall” pretty much every time I have tried to accomplish something significant in my life. You just have to put one foot in front of the other until you reach the finish line. Perhaps this is simply the price you have to pay to accomplish big things.
4. Don’t start off too fast ““ Consistency is key
The training the week before the marathon is very light. Therefore, by race day, your body is just begging for exercise. And you are obviously extremely excited about the event since the atmosphere is so electric. I think 30,000 people participated in the Chicago marathon the year I ran it.
As a result, it is extremely tempting to want to start off the race by running really fast. But I told myself that I was going to take it slow at the beginning, because I knew I would need the energy later in the race. For the first 6-7 miles, I felt like I was running really slowly. However, I’m glad I did this, because it took every ounce of energy that I had to finish the marathon.
After the race was over, I checked my time at the halfway point and it was very close to half the time it took me to complete the entire run. I was very pleased that I ran so consistently throughout the race.
In life, I have also found that taking things day-to-day and consistently moving in the right direction is the best way to go. Otherwise, you risk getting burned out.
5. Somebody always has it worse than you
During mile 23 or 24, I was getting really frustrated. Every mile felt like three miles. Though it will sound crazy, I even began to think they were moving the mile markers back and making us all run longer!
Around that time, I looked to my left and noticed a guy beside me that was running with a metal artificial leg that went from one of his knees down. This is all it took for me to quickly get an attitude adjustment. I thought to myself, “If he can run with a metal artificial leg, then you have absolutely nothing to complain about.”
In life, we can feel like our troubles are too difficult to overcome. But let me tell you, there is always somebody out there who has it worse. And if they can make it, then so can you.
6. If you do your best, you will have absolutely no regrets
I finished the marathon in just under five hours. My main goal was just to finish, but I also hoped to complete the race in less than five hours. Therefore, I accomplished both of my goals.
However, the best marathoners in the world only take a little more than two hours to finish the race. While I could never come close to running this fast, I have always felt really good about the marathon, because I did the absolute best that I could.
I am 6 foot, 3 inches tall and weigh 200 pounds which is much too big to be a competitive runner. My main passion when it comes to exercising is weightlifting which I have done for over 20 years since I was 15. The funny part is that I will never come close to being the strongest guy in the gym, because I am too small and thin!
But this doesn’t bother me either, because I know I’m doing the best I can.
In life, there is a peace and contentment that comes from doing the best you can no matter what happens. This is all you can control and all you can ever ask of yourself.
7. The most powerful people in the world are the ones who believe in themselves
The day before the marathon, I was talking to somebody close to me about it. This person asked me:
“What are you going to do if you don’t finish?”
I was quite startled when I heard this question. Not once during my entire three months of training did I think that I would not finish the marathon. And quite honestly, I took it very personally that somebody would even ask me this question. Therefore, I responded by saying (with a little attitude!):
“One of two things is going to happen tomorrow. Either I’m going to finish the marathon or I will be in a wooden box.”
And I meant it, too! Nothing was going to stop me from finishing that race.
The point is that I believed in myself from the time I decided to run the marathon until I finished it. There was never any question in my mind what the outcome was going to be.
In life, I have found that the most successful people are the ones who believe in themselves and then go out and take action that backs up this belief.
This is why having the right thoughts is so important. Because like Steven’s blog title says, change your thoughts and you can change your life.
[Photo credit: Metaxin]