It is often said that a marathon, by its nature, is an endurance test that seeks to challenge the limits of one’s body. Well, this past Sunday I ran my 1st ever full marathon, the Cape Peninsula marathon, a 42km race held in Cape Town which starts in Greenpoint and ends in Simons Town. Running this race really got me pondering on why a marathon is a metaphor for life. I am sure you have heard or seen the quote which says;
Life is a marathon, not a sprint.
Here are some reflections on the life lessons derived from my marathon preparation and on completing the race:
Make A Commitment
At the beginning of the year I spent some time coming up with the habits I want to develop for this year. One of them included making fitness part of my lifestyle. On the 4th of January I started signing up for upcoming Cape Town races online. That is when I made the decision that I should run my 1st marathon. I registered for the Cape Peninsula 42km run for the 15th of February. At the time it was 6 weeks away. Although there was not much time, I was quite confident I would be ready. Registering for the race was a significant milestone, it meant I had made an official commitment to run this race. The only way to turn back was not showing up on the day. Similarly, in life, if you want to achieve your goals or missions, the first step is to make a commitment to what you want to achieve. Exercising regularly, eating healthier, fostering deeper relationships, learning a new language, saving for a holiday, and many other life goals. All these require you to make a commitment before anything else happens.
Get Accountability Buddies
I told a few of my friends that I had signed up for a full marathon. This made me accountable to them. They may have not known it explicitly but my friends made me accountable every time they asked me, “how are you feeling for the marathon?”, “how are the preparations going?” or when they mentioned, “your race is coming up, just a few weeks to go.” I really felt I could not fail to show up for the race given that I would have to explain to each of my friends my reasons for not running. Accountability buddies will help you achieve your goals and missions in life. You must identify people who will hold you accountable, and help push you toward success. I have written about this before here.
Preparation is key for anything you do. A marathon is actually completed weeks before you run it, during all the practice runs you do. My preparation was not as thorough as it should have been. I should have probably run a distance close to 42km once or twice before the actual race. I did, however, run every weekend, with the furthest distance being 21km. Cape Town has a strong fitness culture and there is always an official road run or trail run happening every weekend. I managed to do 6 official runs from the 1st weekend of January till my marathon. Those runs helped me build up my endurance, physical and mental ability to take on the marathon. The runs also made me build up the habit of showing up for an official race every weekend. By the time I had to show up for the marathon this past weekend, it felt like the same old routine that has been happening over the last 6 weeks. Again, most things in life require preparation. Take some time before you reach your final destination to get yourself ready while you can. Exams are coming up in a few months, start preparing now. You want to start your own business one day, start preparing now. You want to get married one day, start preparing yourself now. The list goes on, everything you want to achieve needs preparation. There is no shortcut to achievement. Life requires thorough preparation.
You Can Do More Than You Limit Yourself To
If you asked me 3 months ago if I thought I would be ready to run a marathon by the 15th of February, I would have probably said “impossible” The longest distance I had ever run was 21km and the thought of having to run double that distance would have just made it seem like a very difficult task. Now that I have completed a marathon, I am confident I can do it again, not only that, I can be better prepared and complete it in a faster time. That mental barrier of never having done something has been broken. It really got me thinking about how many other things in life I think are too difficult to accomplish right now, yet I am probably capable of accomplishing them if I just do them. You can do more than you limit yourself to most of the time, you just have to believe in yourself and show up. Just do it!
Show Up (Walk the talk)
Even after registering for the marathon I still had the option of not showing up on race day if I doubted myself, but I did show up. Showing up and taking action is the main difference between talkers and doers. That is why “Action Bias” is one of my favourite NoDaysOff values. How many times have you heard people talking about their hopes and dreams, only to meet them a few months later still talking without any actions, or talking about different hopes and dreams. In life if you want to learn and grow, you must make showing up a habit, you must be very disciplined about doing what you say you will do.
Pace Yourself (Long-Term mindset)
For 10km runs I average about 4 minutes 30 seconds per km. For 21km runs I average about 4 minutes 45 seconds per km. A marathon is long, its not a sprint. Going into the 42km run, I knew from the start that my normal pace would not be sustainable over the whole run, so I paced myself. I ran at about 5 minutes per km for the first 30km, and about 7 minutes per km for the last 12km of the run. My goal was to finish the race, it was my 1st marathon, and finishing itself was a great accomplishment. If I had tried to run at my normal pace for shorter races I may have over exerted myself and failed to finish the race. Often in life, you are keen for things to happen quickly, but most things of value take time. You need to have a long-term mindset. Whatever your goals and missions are in life at the moment, don’t rush, take your time and pace yourself.
Enjoy Every Moment
I finished the race in just under 4 hours. A lot can happen in 4 hours. Some people say running is a lonely sport. This is true to some extent but not necessarily a bad thing. Running brings you to the present, and you get some time to clear your mind, think about your life, with minimal distractions. There are, however, some aspects of running that aren’t lonely. I got to chat to a few people as we ran the race. These are people I did not know before the race. I was constantly encouraged by people who were overtaking me and I did the same as I was overtaking people. This all adds to the camaraderie nature of runners and the enjoyment that comes with it. As we approached the coastal suburbs, I just couldn’t resist appreciating the views of Cape Town’s mountains and the ocean. Its actually amazing how while your body is going through all the physical pressure of the marathon, you can be in tune with the beauty of the world we live in. In life, you sometimes get so stressed and involved with your goals and missions that you miss out on the fact that you must enjoy every moment of the journey. Do not postpone happiness to the point of accomplishment because you are not guaranteed to arrive there. If you aren’t enjoying what you are doing in life at the moment, make an effort to fix it, you owe it to yourself to do so.
Do Not Give Up (The finish line is often closer than you think)
I mentioned earlier that the longest distance I had run prior to this marathon was 21km. Going into the race I did not know how my body would react between 21km and 42km. I did well on endurance, I could breathe easily for the whole race and in fact, when I crossed the finish line I was breathing normally with no heavy breathing at all. What knocked my body out was the physical strain, which is something I had never experienced before in my life. At the 32km mark, with 10km to go I felt the true effects a marathon can have on the human body. Once Glycogen stores are depleted, and electrolytes are burned up, and any stored proteins that the body possesses are consumed, in order to continue, the body converts any sugars that remain into lactic acid, which now residing in the muscles cause cramps, and charlie horses, and pain. From there your body begins to consume and cannibalise muscle, fat, and anything else it can feed on to survive. That last 10km stretch was the toughest 10km I have run in my life, both my legs were cramping, at some point my right ankle felt numb. This is the point you start to question why you are even running the marathon, and whether you should just stop. I just took it step by step, iced my legs with cold water at each water table I passed and kept going. I knew I would eventually reach the finish line and never allowed the thought of giving up to cross my mind. In life you are often close to accomplishing your goals and missions. Sometimes that last stretch is the most difficult one, however it is also the one closest to the finish line. It is at these difficult times that you feel like giving up. Build up some resilience, and dismiss any thoughts of giving up.
Review Your Performance (Feedback)
After I finished the race and looked at my time of 3 hours 58 minutes, I was happy I had completed my 1st marathon. I looked back at the splits on my RunKeeper and realised I had managed to average 5 minutes a km until those last 10km slowed me down. If I had maintained an average pace of 5 minutes a km, given that my endurance was fine, I could have got my time much closer to 3 hours 30 minutes. This shows me that with adequate physical preparation I can get my body to avoid the cramps in that last stage of a marathon. So my goal for my next marathon, which will probably be next year (I have committed to doing one a year) is to be better prepared and push to get closer to 3 hours 30 minutes finishing time. Review to get feedback is important in everything you do in life. Instead of just moving forward aimlessly, you need to review and look back at how you did or how you are doing in terms of your goals and ambitions. Its only through doing this that you can get important feedback that you can use as input for going forward. Review everything you do regularly, life is short, you do not want to wake up one day and wonder where it all went.
Keep Moving (Next Goal)
I have completed a marathon so what is next? One thing is certain, I am not going to stop running because I have completed one marathon. I am likely to return to the shorter form races, the 10km and the 21km because those are the races I enjoy the most and I have goals to complete a 10km in under 40 minutes and a 21km in under 1 hour 30 minutes. However I have committed to doing one marathon a year, probably in a different location each year, as part of making running a lifestyle it will be great to combine a holiday with a marathon. London marathon, Napa Valley marathon and Boston marathon being examples of races I want to do in future. Also now that I have done 42km, what is the next distance I can take on? The Two Oceans Ultra 56km maybe or dare I say the Comrades Marathon 89km. In life, once you accomplish your goals and missions, you need to keep moving. Set up more challenges for yourself, its great that you managed to accomplish your initial goals, however to keep growing and learning you need to take the challenge further and keep going. The constant pursuit of growth is a fundamental trait of ambitious human beings.
Finally, after completing my 1st marathon and having thought about it for a day or two, I find myself being grateful. I am grateful that I am physically able to run such a long distance. I am grateful for all the encouragement from friends, family and strangers I ran with. I am grateful that I have managed to build up a mindset that allows me to confidently take up big challenges in my life. I am grateful to live in a city with a strong fitness and health culture. I am grateful that through completing this race I may have inspired at least one person to push for their own goals and missions. I am grateful to be alive. We often live with the illusion of control, life is very fragile and is not in our hands, embrace the opportunities you have, enjoy every moment and be grateful because what you have right now, other people never had or will never have.