Three lessons from running a marathon

Despite never being much of a runner, I decided to run a marathon a few years ago. I initially thought it was going to be the biggest physical challenge of my life (spoiler: it was), but eventually realized I was learning far more than just how to run a very long distance (42km for those unaware).

If you haven’t read the full story, first I suggest reading all about it in my blog post here.

I learned a lot from the experience and wanted to summarize the key lessons I took from it:

Lesson one: There’s no shortcut to success

Maybe the biggest lesson I took from the entire experience was a new appreciation for the phrase “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”.

How ironic, right?

It came in two forms.

First, in the training itself. Because I was starting with virtually no running experience, I decided to follow a popular training plan that lasted about five months. This meant that for five months, I’d be running four times per week and also stretching, foam rolling, focusing on nutrition and hydration, and more.

To accomplish something great, you really do have to put in the work.

And second, in the runs themselves. When you set out on a run, whether it’s a training run or race, there are no shortcuts. You start at Point A and have to get to Point B. There’s a path you have to take, and there’s no getting around that.

I learned this the hardest once my training runs got very long, to the point where I’d spend every Sunday on a 2+ hour run. It wasn’t easy getting up on Sunday, knowing everyone else was relaxing or enjoying the weekend, and that I had 25km ahead of me.

But what kept me going was knowing that if I wanted to give myself the best chance at finishing the marathon, I had to finish the training. Taking a shortcut would only make the end goal that much harder.

I realized this is the same for starting a business or really anything else in life. To start a new business, training and perseverance is key to doing solid market research, building a quality business structure and adapting to other business processes necessary to reaching a long-term goal. If you want to make or do something great, like start a small business, you have to put in the time and effort.

Lesson two: Our mind is our strongest muscle

When I first started running and training, it was 99% physical. You run a bit one day, you slowly increase it the next, and week after week, it gets a little longer and little harder.

But once you get to longer runs, the ones that really push your physical ability to the limit, it becomes all mental. This is part of why I signed up to run a marathon, as opposed to a 10k or half marathon. I knew with a few months training I could finish the shorter races easily, and I wanted to really push myself to the limit.

The first time I learned this the hard way was on a 26km training run I did about 5 weeks before the race. At around the 17km mark my legs started getting very heavy. And around the 23km mark, I could barely feel them. It was the hardest training run I did (partly because of hydration and nutrition issues, which I improved after), and the only reason I was able to finish is because my mind shut out what my body was trying to tell it:

“Stop, you’re too tired. Stop!”

Luckily I was able to silence my body, kept pushing and finished the run.

I also strengthened my mind.

This happened on an even more extreme level for the marathon itself. By the 33rd km, I was as tired as I’d ever been. My feet were blistered, the sun was hotter than ever and my legs were beaten down.

I kept going – for another 9km. 9km of physical pain, soreness, aching, everything. It was the hardest physical challenge I’d ever faced, and the only reason I was able to push through was because of my mind.

The problem is, most of the time we don’t “work out” our minds. If you’re like me, you live in a safe, privileged, first-world country. Most of our lives are easy and because of it, we don’t train our minds to become stronger, tougher. So when a real challenge or difficulty surfaces, it’s harder to deal with than it should be.

But if you push yourself, physically and mentally, your mind gets stronger and the things that used to be “hard”, all of a sudden don’t seem that way. Sales calls or presentations or exams don’t seem so intimidating after finishing a 26km run.

It can be tempting to call it quits when you’re tired and need a break from your small business or startup. Pushing yourself to stick to your business plan and business structure to reach that final destination of success will be the greatest decision you ever make.

The more you push yourself mentally, the more prepared you’ll be to tackle any difficulties that life throws your way, and because…

Lesson three: We’re capable of much more than we think

Similar to lesson number 2, is the realization that by remaining complacent, we miss out on doing incredible things we never thought possible, or simply thought we weren’t capable of, because we don’t even try.

In a world of instant gratification, it’s easy to get frustrated or quit if you try something in the short term and don’t see results:

  • you don’t make any sales within a month of starting a new business
  • you struggle to lose weight after 3 weeks of exercising
  • your book isn’t “good” after 2 weeks of writing

The reality is that we’re capable of doing much more than we give ourselves credit for, but if – and only if – we are willing to push ourselves and put in the time. 

I definitely would never have been able to run the marathon if I only trained for a month. It was the months and months of running, planning, adjusting, learning and pushing that allowed me to do what I (almost) thought was impossible a few years before.

In business, it can be the same. If you give up too easily or get frustrated and quit when you don’t see results after a short period of time, you’ll never achieve anything great.

It takes years to build a successful business. It takes years to write a best-selling book. It takes years to become an expert in your field. And it’s only by pushing through the difficult times, the hardships and the setbacks that you’ll ever achieve anything truly remarkable.

Of course, there’s a difference between “pushing through” and being stubborn or refusing to give up. There will be times when you need to course-correct, pivot or change direction completely. But if you have a vision, a goal or a dream that you’re passionate about, the only way to make it a reality is by putting in the hard work and not giving up.

What to do about it

With these things in mind, I’ve definitely changed my approach to work, working out and life in general. I understand:

  • how important it is to work towards some difficult goals once in a while – in the gym, office, etc. to keep strengthening our mind
  • shortcuts get you nowhere. You might finish your current task quicker, but you’re not maximizing output in the long run if you don’t put in the necessary work
  • to set flex goals – goals that push the limit of what we think we’re capable of – because we’ll come out stronger at the end, whether we actually accomplish the goal or not
  • finishing something that takes a lot of hard work feels so much better than finishing something easy

I’m sure you can relate – when I think back to some of my “best” or most amazing accomplishments, it’s the ones that were the hardest to finish. The ones that took the most time and commitment.

Make sure to work towards, or create, some goals like those to keep growing and to keep things exciting in life.

Hope you enjoyed, and if you want to follow more of my journey, make sure to sign up for my daily email here.

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