5 Things I’ve Learnt From Running A Marathon

If you told me last NYE that I would be crossing the finish line of a 26.2 mile race by the end of the year I probably would have laughed at you. At the very least I would have asked how many glasses of bubbly you’d had and whether maybe you needed to slow down. I hadn’t run 6 miles before, let alone 26. To me, a marathon was always something only the fittest of crazy fit people do, an abstract distance, and an elusive concept that “normal” people could run it. But, with only 3 months of training, I did, and there is a lot that I learnt, not just from the race, but from the whole 3 months, which has changed the way I view life, and will face future goals and challenges.

#1: Get Outside Your Comfort Zone

Your comfort zone is defined by what you believe you can or cannot do with ease of mind. Day to day, most of your activities are within your comfort zone, and it’s when we are asked (or forced) to step outside this self-defined zone that we feel nervous. In saying this, if you had never done anything which made you nervous, how many opportunities would you have missed, how many people would you never have met, places would you not have gone and how many things would you not have experienced? It’s only by undertaking these challenges which make us nervous that we can broaden our comfort zone, and therefore open ourselves to even greater experiences and challenges. Running a Marathon was definitely out of my comfort zone, but by training for it, and completing it I not only feel amazing in my accomplishment, but I’ve been given a point of comparison for other challenges. Now, when faced with something scary all I need to say to myself is “Well hey, I’ve run a Marathon, how hard can this be?”

Achieving something outside your self-defined limits not only forces you to broaden these limits, but gives you a powerful belief that anything is possible.

#2: Always Have a Plan, and Stick With It

When you have a whopping challenge in front of you, it can feel very overwhelming, incomprehensible, or impossible to achieve. The only way to combat this is by breaking the challenge up into smaller, achievable pieces or goals, by making a plan and by measuring your progress. When I signed up for the Marathon I knew I could run 6 miles. I couldn’t just continue jogging, hoping that in 3 months time I could bump this number up to 26, I had to follow a training plan which gave me a slow and steady increase in the intensity and duration of my running. I found a training plan which catered for 5 different fitness levels, picked the one 2nd to the left, and followed it (almost) to a T. Tracking all of my runs, speeds, distances and how I felt on completion to monitor my progress also helped me improve, keep on track, and gain a sense of accomplishment.

The day by day and week by week changes were gradual enough that I could always complete them, but as the weeks went by I found myself running 8 miles with ease, then 10 miles, then a half marathon, then 18 miles. The plan also makes you accountable for achieving your goal. If you set out a plan you know whether you are on track or not, and you are accountable to sticking with it, indeed you pretty much have to stick with it to achieve the final goal. If I wasn’t following the training plan I can close to guarantee I would not have been out running almost every day, doing intervals or running up and down hills off my own motivation.

A plan helps you break down a seemingly un-achievable goal into achievable stages, and holds you accountable for staying on track.

#3: Make Yourself Accountable, Publicly

It’s one thing to make yourself accountable to yourself, but one of my biggest motivations, was making myself accountable publicly. As humans we are proud creatures, and enjoy others seeing us in a certain way; we hate to be seen as failures, some of us more than others. Myself, I like to be good at things, I like to be acknowledged for what I’m good at, and I’m very stubborn. By telling family and friends that I was training for a Marathon I was suddenly accountable to everyone else. People were asking about training, how I was going, and how long I had until the race, which gave me the extra motivation to keep training, to prove that I could do it. It also meant I had a great support network with whom I could share my progress and achievements.

Giving Up is a lot harder when you have public expectations you want to reach, and something you want to prove to yourself, and the people you care about.

#4: Want to Achieve The Goal; Give Yourself a Why

You need to WANT to achieve the goals you set yourself, otherwise you will have no personal investment in achieving them, and no motivation. When faced with goals or challenges an easy way to make sure you want to achieve them is to ask a very easy question; Why? Once you have answered “why” you have untapped what makes you tick, and become emotionally invested in achieving your goals. I wouldn’t have said I wanted to run for 5 hours in the middle of an English winter through ankle deep mud and puddles, but I signed up for it anyway. Why? Because it wasn’t just running for 5 hours, it was running a “Marathon”, something understood by society as a pinnacle of athletic fitness and achievement. Because by training up to that goal I was increasing my fitness to a level I had never had before. Because it would get me out of the house and exercising more than I had been, and get me into better shape and feeling better than I had in years. Because it was an achievement that not many other people can say they have done and if I could do it, I knew my confidence would increase in other areas of my life.
When I reached about 20 miles, my body was telling me to stop. I was cold, fatigued, I had cramps in the arch of my foot which would spasm on every step, but I kept going. I kept going because I kept thinking of my “why”. Without the why I would have quitted, probably long before the race, but almost definitely during it, the why gave me the will power to trump the pain and the messages my body was sending me to stop, and allowed me to cross that finish line.
For everyone else on that course that day there would have been 1000 different “Why?s”, it doesn’t matter what they were, but every single person would have had one, and that would have been what kept them running too.

When faced with achieving something, ask yourself why you want to achieve it, The why will be your emotional fuel to keep going, the why will be your willpower.

#5: Don’t Over-think, Be open to new challenges and take opportunities.

Sometimes people get stuck with a tunnel vision view of their future. There’s nothing wrong with long term goals, but there are problems with having blinkers on, shielding you from all the shiny things in your periphery. If an opportunity comes up that you weren’t expecting, be open to taking it, even if it steers you slightly away from that long and steady path you were following.

Re-evaluate your goals and your path often and see if that’s still where you want to be travelling, or if making a change and taking on a new challenge may be what you need. I wasn’t planning on running a Marathon, but when my boss asked if I wanted to join him in it and my boyfriend said he’d be up for it with me, I signed up before I could talk myself out of it. By not over-thinking it, I had paid the entry fee and had decided to start training. After a few weeks I had found my “why” and had become invested in achieving the goal so much that even after my boyfriend had to pull out of training and the race after an injury, and my boss followed soon after I kept going. Even when the week before was pouring down rain, and the course on the day was drenched, I kept going, and I have completed something amazing. If I hadn’t been open to taking on a challenge I wasn’t expecting or if I had over-thought and reasoned myself out of it, I would have missed out on feeling as proud of myself as I have ever been.

When presented with an opportunity that’s not part of the grand plan, be open about taking it on. Don’t overthinking it, just do it.

It has been an amazing journey, a hard one but also rewarding one. I have grown as a person, I have developed physically and emotionally, learnt so much about myself and I’ve already decided to sign up for the Melbourne Marathon in October to reach a new goal of 4 hours, 30 minutes. To that, you can hold me accountable.