Life Lessons Learned from Marathoning

In case you haven’t gathered this from the fact that it’s all I talk about, I’m training for my sixth marathon. As I ran the other day, I got to thinking about all the lessons I’ve learned from marathoning — lessons that are just as applicable in life as in running. Lessons like…

You can’t expect rewards if you don’t put in work. 

You can’t fake a marathon. If you don’t put in the training, the race will eat you alive. Sure, you may finish…but it won’t be pretty. Or even kind-of fun. You’ll stagger across the finish line after 26.2 miles of misery, in a time much slower than your potential. And you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.

That lesson applies equally in all other aspects of your life: school, your career, your relationships, budgeting — everything. You have to work if you want decent results. If you don’t work for what you want, don’t complain about what you get.

“The hard is what makes it great!” 

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That quote, from A League of Their Own, is one of my all-time favorites. Tom Hanks’ character is talking about baseball, of course, but I have repeated it to myself through many a hard tempo run, grad school paper, and challenging teaching day. I also have it hanging on my classroom wall, and I direct my students’ attention to it when I ask them to do something that stretches their brains in a new way. The hard stuff makes it great, whatever “it” is. And the hard stuff makes you great. That hard tempo run makes you stronger and faster. The tough assignment makes you smarter. Coming through a rough patch in your relationships strengthens your bonds. Hard is great. 

Be your best.

The PR pace I’m shooting for in October is slower than Kara Goucher’s recovery runs. I will not win this race. But I’m still busting my bum in training for it, because I want to do as well as can.

Face it now: there will always be someone better than you. Someone is faster. Someone is a better teacher. Someone is stronger, richer, smarter, more generous, more attractive, and funnier than you.

Big flipping deal. Compete with yourself, not with them. Get better every day.

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Conquer self-doubt.

More than once during marathon training, doubt will rear its ugly head. Maybe doubt is what’s keeping you from signing up in the first place. Maybe it will strike in the middle of your first peak week, when you’re not hitting any of your goal paces. “I can’t do this,” you’ll think. “I should just drop to the half.”

Don’t.

The only way to defeat that doubt is to keep pushing through. Finish your training, no matter what that little voice in your head says. Show up to the starting line. And when that same voice starts whining at mile 20, ignore it again. Get to the finish. Cross the line. Show that doubt who’s boss.

That applies to anything in which you doubt yourself. Terrified of that presentation you have to give? Don’t let yourself believe that you’ll screw it up. Get up, do the presentation, rock it. Afraid of committing to that relationship? Try it. Risk it. Or you’ll never become that best you that we just talked about.

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A few kind words can make a major impact.

This happens in every race: I feel like death. The finish is still far away. I start doubting myself. Then, some spectator — some person I have never seen and will never see again — shouts a few words of encouragement. The words aren’t profound — “Lookin’ good!” ‘You got this!” “Great job!” — but their effect is. I feel stronger, faster, better, and I can keep pushing forward — all because of a few kind words.

Isn’t this something we should all apply more often in our lives? Say something nice to someone every chance you get. You never know the impact your words might have.

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And perhaps the most important lesson marathons have taught me:

Pee when you have the chance.

Because there’s nothing worse than re-e-e-ally needing to go and having nowhere to do it.

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What are some of your most important life lessons?

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11 thoughts on “Life Lessons Learned from Marathoning”

  1. Wow.
    I have been thinking a lot about speaking kind words. School hasn’t gotten off to a great start, and I have yelled…..a lot. So I decided that I wasn’t going to yell and I was going to praise more. HOLY SWEET TURN AROUND! We have had two of our better days thus far. Thanks for the extra push to continue.
    Also, thanks for your kind words today when I say you (two days in a row!) I have recently been thinking about how often I get compliments, and it kind of made me sad. So thanks for the *heart flutter*

  2. i think everybody (in the world) needs to read this post. i was thinking a lot about hard work lately and that in life there really are no short cuts. and its pointless to compare yourself to others who may appear to be ahead of you (career wise, family wise, during an actual race) but in the end the competition is with yourself. run YOUR race 🙂 and btw 6 marathons is AMAZING 🙂

  3. Great post Cassie!!! Obviously my running has been going not so great so this was a little reality check to keep me grounded! I also appreciate the point about self doubt. My student teaching starts this week and I know I will do great but giving presentations and lessons to 6th graders is going to be a whole new animal!

  4. Thanks for this post! My life has gotten super busy in the last couple of weeks and last night I broke down due to stress. I need to remember that, yes, it will be hard, but it will be worth it. Your writing is fantastic.

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