I ran my first full marathon as a 40th birthday present to myself. I wanted to do something epic to commemorate four decades on this Earth, and running 26.2 miles seemed to be just the thing.
This past weekend I ran my 11th half-marathon, and I have no plans to stop lacing up and running.
Training for two full marathons and 11 half-marathons have taught me a lot about life.
Here's what I've learned:
1. You get out of things what you put into them. When you get to the starting line of a race, you either trained, or you didn't. You can't lie your way through it. If you haven't logged the miles, it's going to show. Such is the way it is in life. When you don't prepare, study, work hard, eat right, or train, it will show. You have to be willing to "show up" and do the work that needs to be done to be successful. Shortcuts will shortchange you.
2. You really can do more than you think you can. When I first started running, I remember going to the track near the local high school and staring at the oval thinking, "Man, I have to go around four times to make a mile!" Back then, running a full marathon seemed like it would never happen. As I increased my mileage week after week, I even told my friends and family that I would NEVER be able to run a marathon. But then, I started to think that maybe I COULD make a full marathon, and I started training. Don't psych yourself out, in sports, or in life. In the immortal words of A.A. Milne (author of Winnie the Pooh), "You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."
3. You have to learn to enjoy the journey. It took me six hours to run the marathon. Yes, I know I'm slow; I am turtle slow! But hey, I get the job done! While I visualized the pride I would feel in crossing the finish line, I realized that I needed to also enjoy each mile. If you spend your life waiting to celebrate, you'll miss all the moments that make up life. It's okay to look forward to things, but you have to learn to enjoy the ride. If you wait for graduation day to celebrate, you rob yourself of enjoying the four years that lead up to the big day. Every bride I've ever met tells me that they barely remember their wedding day; so why not enjoy the months of planning that lead up to it? Keep your eyes on the prize but learn to enjoy the journey as well.
4. Setbacks are part of the journey. I was extremely lucky during my marathon training; I didn't experience any injuries... until the last minute. A week before the big day, I experienced horrible pain in my leg. An orthopedic surgeon confirmed that it was my IT band, and there was nothing he could do. I asked if I'd still be able to run. Thankfully, I was able to run without doing any further damage, "but it's gonna hurt," the doctor cautioned. I had to lay low the week before the run and it gave me time to think about setbacks and delays. Life is always going to come with setbacks, roadblocks, "flies in the ointment" -- but it's not what happens that counts, it's how you react. Life, as in marathon training, rarely goes exactly the way you plan. Weather happens, injuries happen, sickness happens. The key to life is to learn to manage the bumps in the road. Vivian Greene said it best when she said, "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass... it's about learning to dance in the rain."
5. Self-pride is the best kind of pride. It's hard to explain to people what it felt like to finish my first marathon. Turning the corner and seeing the finish line, seeing my sister at the finish cheering, having an enthusiastic race volunteer slip my medal over my head. The end of the run wasn't about the last 26.2 miles; it was the culmination of nine months of training, 4 a.m. wake-up calls on a random Sunday morning, training runs in the rain, and blisters, sore knees, and sore hips. But the feeling of reaching my goal was worth it all. I couldn't remember a time when I felt prouder of myself, and while it was nice that my friends and family were all proud of me too, it was how I felt about myself that made it all worth it. Challenge yourself sometimes, do something that's out of your comfort zone, make a goal and commit yourself to reaching it. I promise you that the pride you will feel will be worth the journey.
Whether you're an athlete or a student, whether you work in an office or lead a Fortune 500 company, whether you are writing your first novel, raising your first child, or painting your first masterpiece, give it all you've got. Enjoy the journey and relish the spoils.