Three Lessons Learned From Running Marathons

This year, after a long hiatus from distance running, I decided to sign up for the Chicago Marathon.  I've run two marathons before.  But this one is different in many ways. For one, between my last marathon and this one, I have had two children.  For another, I am almost a decade older.  And last but not the least, given the above, my fitness levels and stamina are nowhere close to where they were the last time around. Marathon training starts in June and I feel equal parts excited and nervous at any given point in time.  As I reflect on how running two 26.2 mile races has influenced me, I wanted to write about three lessons that stand out:

1. Practice makes perfect : Marathon training is an 18 week program but for all intents and purposes, training for a marathon is a lifestyle.  It involves passing up on going out for drinks on the weekend.  It involves becoming disciplined about the food you eat - particularly the night before your long runs.  It involves tying water bottles around your waist as you run more miles than most people drive on a weekend.  And, really, there are no short cuts.  Your long runs and midweek runs are critical to getting to the finish line on race day.  Ask anyone who ran a marathon without training :) The same philosophy has been applicable to nearly every skill I have built. I have shot and edited thousands of photographs to get better at photography.  I have created and iterated on dozens of roadmaps to get better at product strategy.  I have pushed through every introvert tendency when writing this blog so I could get better at articulating my thoughts and building a narrative.  Next time you encounter self-doubt because someone is better at something, just know there is likely a lot of work that went on behind the scenes and it is not out of reach for you to get there.

2. The "wall" IS imaginary : "The wall" is defined as that point in a marathon when things go from being hard to being really, really hard and your body and mind are simultaneously tested. It's the perfect combination of your mind and body telling you they can’t go any further. How you handle "the wall" can literally determine whether you will or won’t finish your marathon.  Similar to a marathon, there have been several times in life, where I feel like I have hit the wall.  And it felt like everything I had worked for was not going to culminate the way I thought it would.  But pushing through this discomfort has been integral to developing grit.  Most times, pushing through the wall has gotten me to an even better place than I thought I was going to end at.  So, when it seems like you can't go any further, give yourself the challenge of just running a bit longer - to the next tree, to the next job interview, to the next board meeting - and soon, you will find yourself on the other side of the wall.

3. If you want to finish strong, you need to pace yourself : Most of my races have been run as negative splits. It is a racing strategy where you complete the second half of a race faster than the first half. It is defined by the intentional setting of a slower initial pace, followed by a gradual or sudden increase of speed towards the end of the race.  In my career, I have often felt like I am running negative splits.  I have had times where I have intentionally slowed down my pace.  The period when I was going to b-school part-time and the two periods immediately following the birth of my children come to mind.  These have typically been followed by periods where I feel like I am sprinting.  A few years ago, I had seen this sketch of what people think success looks like and what success actually looks like and I have held this in the back of my head every time I find myself worrying that running slower will hurt my finish time :)

Oct 13, 2019 is 165 days away.  Wish me luck and come run with me / cheer me on if you are in the Chicago area!  For those of you contemplating whether you have it in you to go the distance, I will leave you with this quote by T. S. Eliot: "Only those who risk going too far can possibly know how far one can go"


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