Yesterday, I ran 26.2 miles in 4 hours and 4 minutes. It was a brutally difficult run at the marathon in Ogden, Utah because it was raining nearly the entire time. In fact, when I finally crossed the finish line at 11:20 a.m., I looked so exhausted and cold that they took me into the medical tent to warm up and make sure I wasn’t dying. When the medical volunteer asked me, “So what’s going on with you right now?” I answered matter-of-factly, “Well, I’m cold and exhausted because I just ran a marathon in the rain. Other than that, I’m just fine.”
While I beat my previous personal record for a marathon time by nearly ten minutes, I was REALLY hoping to get below four hours overall and I fell short by FOUR lousy minutes. If had just run about 10 seconds faster per mile, I could have achieved it. What could have made the difference for me?
Well, I’ve thought about that, and naturally, that’s why I’m writing this blog post. Marathons give you LOTS of time to think. I mean, can you imagine running without stopping through the entire Super Bowl or one of the extended editions of the “Lord of the Rings” movies? That’s a long time to be alone with one’s thoughts (which usually consist of thoughts like “Man, this is painful” and “Why am I doing this, again?”)
Yesterday during the long race, I decided to focus my thinking on life lessons that I could gain from the experience. The first and most obvious lesson is “Don’t run marathons. Especially in the rain.” Seriously, though, here are five valuable life lessons I learned:
#1 Be Prepared
How does one prepare for a marathon? The answer is lots and lots of training runs. I did log the appropriate number of miles over the past four months in preparation for this race. In fact, a couple weeks ago, I ran 50 miles in one six-day period with a 20-mile run as my longest run. However, during most of those runs, I averaged about a 10-minute mile pace. In order to finish under 4 hours, the average pace needs to be 9 minutes and 10 seconds per mile. I didn’t do that kind of pace on the majority of my runs. The old adage rings true: “You perform how you practice.”
Aside from pace training preparation, I should have been better prepared for the race itself. The weather forecast consistently called for rain on the morning of the marathon. I knew it was coming and I foolishly neglected to prepare for it. Just having a $5 poncho and a jacket would have made a world of difference. But in my haste to get to the starting line, I didn’t bring those things. While the rain was fairly light for most of the race, the consistent cold and wet conditions really made it tough. My feet were wet and uncomfortable, my clothing was soaked and I honestly couldn’t feel my arms and hands for most of the race. Just a little more preparation would have made my experience immeasurably more enjoyable.
Life Lesson: You can’t control your circumstance (rain, puddles, cold), but you CAN control your preparation. As the boy scouts will attest, being prepared is crucial to a successful experience.
#2 Stay with the Pacer
In marathons, there are people who are designated as pacers who help you know how fast you need to run in order to achieve a certain overall time. Armed with a GPS watch and a sign that states their designated pace (3:45, 4:00, 4:15, etc.), these pacers who run the race are quite helpful. At the starting line, I found the guy holding the 4:00 hour sign. He was easy to see during the race because his sign was topped with red and white balloons. I told myself that I needed to stay near him, preferably ahead of him. I was ahead of him for about half the race, and then I got slightly behind. Instead of pushing myself to immediately catch up, I allowed myself to drift ever so slowly behind him. At first I was only 10 seconds behind, then 20 and then at the end, I was a full four minutes behind him. If I had never allowed myself to let him get more than 20 feet ahead of me, I would have reached my goal of a sub-four hour marathon.
Life Lesson: In any goal you wish to achieve, find a mentor / example you can follow and stay as close to him/her as possible. Whether that’s a workout partner that helps spot you and pushes you to do better, or the example of spiritual leader you wish to emulate, stay with the pacer.
#3 Do Not Carry Extra Baggage
At about mile 16, my brand new Ogden Marathon shirt was soaked through and was sticking to my chest uncomfortably, so I finally took it off and carried it in my arms the final ten miles. I wanted to ditch that shirt on the side of the road so badly, but I also wanted to have that shirt as a memento of my experience, so I stubbornly clung onto a cold, soaked shirt for the next 90 minutes. Carrying that shirt in my arms may or may not have affected my overall time, but it certainly was annoying. In hindsight, I probably could have ditched my shirt and then found a staff member at the finish line who could have given me a replacement one.
Life Lesson: Don’t hold onto unnecessary baggage. Whether it’s a grudge, a bad habit or your favorite sin, it’s important to just let it go. Don’t let it weigh you down. Life is already tough enough. Don’t impose on yourself unnecessary burdens that don’t benefit you or those around you.
#4 Enjoy the Journey
The course at the Ogden Marathon was breathtakingly beautiful (pardon the pun). Mountains, hills, canyons, lakes, streams, quaint farms and cloudy, misty vistas. It was so green and wet due to the rain, I felt like I was in Kauai. The descent in Ogden Canyon and the nature trail in town were so beautiful. Of course, it was hard to enjoy the beauty as much while I was freezing, exhausted and in pain. However, looking at the beauties of nature and focusing on how incredible this experience actually was, made the difficulty of the experience easier to bear.
Life Lesson: There is beauty and joy to be found in EVERY situation, despite significant adversity. If you only focus on the destination, you’ll miss out on the joy in the journey itself.
#5 Endure to the End
There were times, especially near the end, when I just wanted to stop running. Many people were walking those last couple of miles. I can certainly appreciate their choice to do so. But I had a goal to achieve, and even though I knew that I would not make my original goal, I still was determined to do the very best I could – and for me, that meant to not stop running even if that meant running very slowly.
Life Lesson: Marathons are hard. Life is hard. Many times you’ll want to quit, to “throw in the towel.” But if you persevere, you’ll be rewarded with a great sense of accomplishment and feel empowered.