“The better you know yourself, the more control you have over your life,” Matt Fitzgerald wrote in his new book, “Life is a Marathon.” Train for and race 26.2 miles and those hours on your feet are going to make you learn new things about yourself — from how you deal with challenging moments to how you celebrate the victories.
Here are a few nuggets of wisdom marathoners know to be true about the distance — and life:
YOU HAVE TO RUN YOUR OWN RACE
If you chase after the guy who just blew past you, chances are high you’re going to blow up. Like in life, it’s easy to want to follow the pack or keep up with a certain group who are seemingly “winning,” but when the race is this long, you have to run based on how you feel and what you’re capable of — with an eye toward completion. You’re running your race, the way you determined you were going to. Don’t throw your race strategy out the window because another competitor starts at a blisteringly fast pace — stick to your plan and you might just pass him or her in the end.
PATIENCE IS KEY
Whether you’re a new runner or a veteran, patience will always be a deciding factor when it comes to success. The same, of course, can be said for anything in life. Personally, I remember jumping into a trail marathon after reading Chris McDougall’s “Born to Run” and feeling so excited and inspired that I figured I could just run on enthusiasm alone. I signed up for a race that was happening in just four days … I raced and finished, but couldn’t walk for a solid two weeks after, due to intense soreness and blisters. Lesson learned.
THERE’S ALWAYS GOING TO BE SOMEONE FASTER/BETTER/STRONGER
Maybe you even won your race today — but somewhere out there, someone is faster than you. And it wouldn’t be much fun if you won every single race (go with us here). Being the top dog all the time gets boring, and thankfully in both life and marathon running, you’re never going to come out the winner every single time.
THE WORST EXPERIENCES MAKE THE BEST STORIES
Fitzgerald writes about many race experiences, but the one that got him started in triathlons is when the race leader blazed past him as he limped along with his old bike. That race is what got him hooked on endurance sports, eventually shifting to the marathon. The race story that’s the most interesting isn’t the one where everything went right, it’s usually the one where things went sideways and, whether you triumphed or barely made it to the finish line, you have an adventure to talk about later.
MEDALS DON’T MATTER AS MUCH AS YOU THINK
At the time, not hitting a PR or not getting the top-10 finish you wanted may seem like a huge disappointment. But ultimately, running a marathon isn’t really about race day — the benefits you get from that 26.2 miles come from the training and healthy life changes you made in preparation. (Run coach David Roche’s race-day motto is that racing is simply a celebration of your training.) The same is true in life: Big moments like college graduations or job promotions feel great in the moment, but really, they’re just celebrations of all the work you put in behind-the-scenes. Those moments don’t define you, how you live every day defines you.
IF YOU CAN MAKE IT THROUGH ONE MORE MILE …
During a marathon, you almost always hit a wall — same goes in life. That report for work that you’re so close to being done with, the last few pounds you have to lose, that project you promised your spouse you would finish … It’s tempting to give up on things that weigh you down, but what the marathon teaches you is if you just run for another mile, or to the next aid station, things start to look up again. Your emotions in a race ebb and flow, but as long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you’ll get through it. (So get back to that work report and nail it.)
THERE WILL BE BAD DAYS
If you’ve trained for a marathon, you know there are going to be slumps along the way, no matter how good your training plan is or how strong of a runner you are. Not every run will be a personal best, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. The same is true in life — not every day is going to be your best. There are plenty of ups and downs along the way, but without the downs, we don’t appreciate the ups nearly as much.
ALWAYS CELEBRATE THE VICTORIES
The victory may not be winning the race. It might be simply making it to the finish line. Whatever your ‘win’ is, you quickly learn that if you don’t take the time to celebrate it and relish it, it’s already gone. Friends and family might be proud of you for your marathon finish time, the same way they’re excited when you get a promotion at work, but if you’re not proud of yourself and taking a pause to enjoy your moment of victory before moving on to the next thing, listing ways you can improve or what you did wrong, you’re missing the point. Life is too short to miss a celebration.