I’m better than me

parkrunA couple of years ago, shortly after I quit work, I joined a local running club.

There is a wide range of running abilities at the club (its all ages and both sexes). Some of the runners there think nothing of running a marathon in well under 3 hours.  But there are also many people there who are out of shape, new to running and just looking to lose some weight.

I was a bit worried that in my 40s and after many years working a desk job, I was being hopelessly optimistic by joining a running club. After all, what if I was slower than everyone else and they all laughed at me?

I shouldn’t have worried.  As is often the case, my fears were groundless. I was quickly struck by how friendly and welcoming the atmosphere is. It’s a bit like a social club that does some running on the side.

There are many parallels between improving your personal fitness and improving your personal finances.  Both can be made simple. Both require work. Both are easier with coaching and like minded people around you.

At the running club, one thing I quickly noticed was that everyone kept referring to something called “PBs”.  Initially, I wasn’t sure what everyone was talking about but the penny eventually dropped and I realised that PB is short for Personal Best.

Everyone in the club seemed focussed on their personal best. Clearly everyone has a different genetic inheritance and not everyone can be the fastest runner in the club. There is some friendly competition between the fastest runners but the overwhelming focus is not on “beating” everyone else, it’s on being the best that you can be.

If you can accept this, the idea naturally follows that we are not optimising for status (nor for convenience or luxury).  We are trying to be the best that we can be.  The implication of this is that challenge, effort and sweat are not things to be avoided. They are an essential part of the process.

The club contains some inspiring people. One impressive lady there is in her 60s and only took up running in her 40s.  She now runs for Great Britain in a veterans age category and attends international competitions.  She cycles to training and to local races in all weathers. She runs training sessions turning up every week and is incredibly generous with her time.

People like this lady have helped show me that everything I previously thought I knew about ageing  was wrong.  The decline in our physical capabilities caused by ageing is incredibly slow and completely outweighed by the rapid decline caused by a sedentary lifestyle.

Having read The New Evolution Diet, I’ve come to believe that we don’t stop exercising because we age, to a great extent we age because we stop exercising. If you watch a documentary about hunter gatherers, the men remain capable hunters into their 70s: slim and fit with good muscle definition.  Use it or lose it.

This is all fresh in my mind at the moment because at the weekend I got a new personal best at my local Parkrun. I want to talk about Parkrun i) because it’s a great British institution and ii) because there are so many parallels between physical fitness and getting your finances in shape.

Parkrun (www.parkrun.org.uk) is a 5k running event, held every Saturday at 9am in your local park.  Once you have registered at the website, you can just show up on the day. No need to pay, no need to enter in advance.  You can turn up at your local event or any of the 400+ events that operate all across the UK and, increasingly, the world.

Parkrun is a grass roots organisation started by individuals: real people and not by a commercial company looking to sell product or some bossy government committee. Thanks to the volunteers that help out, the event is completely free and almost 100% free of bureaucracy.

Parkrun-T-Shirt-50The event is incredibly well organised. You get a barcode and so your time is accurately measured and then emailed to you every week.  I recently ran my 50th event and got sent a high quality Parkrun T shirt. The price for all this? It was free.  As are all the best things in life.

Parkrun is running at its most natural. My local Parkrun is an off road course through a forest. There are hills and there is mud and puddles.  You often see deer in the forest and can hear the birds singing.

Parkrun is a easy social and friendly environment.  For anyone who naturally tends towards introversion (I am INTJ), this is a great and natural way of meeting people in your local community. Remember that you are the average of the 5 people around you. Everyone who is there has made a conscious choice to put down the doughnuts and get off the sofa even if only for one day a week.  These people deserve our respect.

Whenever possible I take my children with me to Parkrun. I don’t claim to have this parenting thing down yet but I’ve found that my oldest son will trade time on the Playstation for physical exercise.  No doubt if I was a better parent, he’d be running for the joy of self-development, inner peace and seeing the morning dew on the wild flowers.  I tried pitching him that, but sadly it doesn’t cut any ice with him. More tangibly, one Parkrun buys him an extra hour of killing aliens on the Playstation.  I go with what works.

It’s much more powerful to show your children what to do rather than just tell them what to do. Not only does my son get the exercise himself, he gets to see his Dad running and the subliminal message I hope he takes from this is that exercise is a normal and regular part of life to be sought out and not something to be avoided as you get older. My children would love to pronounce me old and decrepid and send me off to the glue factory, but it’s harder for them to do this whilst my 5k time remains better than theirs.  Their day will come.

Parkrun teaches me humility every week.  I got my personal best this week and I came 17th out of a field of 279 people.  But I was still soundly beaten by at least one guy who looked 20 years older than me (ouch) and by a young girl (double ouch).  These are valuable lessons for the male ego.

Your PB is a bit like your net worth. There is always someone quicker than you…just like there is always someone richer than you. Unless you are Mo Farrah or Bill Gates, you have to make peace with this. Personally, I have no problem with the idea that I suck.  But that doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on getting faster or richer: my goal is to achieve the best self that I am capable of achieving.

Everything on this site is true. But because it’s on the internet, I guess that a lot of people don’t believe it.  After all, the whole concept of financial independence seems too good to be true.  So wherever possible, I try to show not just tell. Here is a screenprint of my official Parkrun result email:

Parkrun result.png

I think of my finances a bit like I think about my fitness.  I want my money to work hard and to grow as much as possible. Sure I could afford to relax and stop focussing on my investment returns.  But over time I’ve come to enjoy the process of getting wealthier not just the outcome.  When it comes to finance, I don’t compete with anyone else but I am always trying to improve myself.

I know from giving financial coaching that one of the worries people have is whether they’ve left it too late to learn about investing or to achieve financial independence.  The answer is that it’s never too late to learn. We are where we are.  We can’t change the past but we can always focus on being the best we can be.

So, like exercise, personal finance is a path to self-improvement.  I sometimes think that some of the angry comments you see on FI sites might be missing this point.  I’m pretty sure that the reason that some people describe the MMM site as “preachy” (mistakenly, I think) is that they feel on some level as if MMM is judging them.

I’m not judging you. I don’t think I’m better than you.  I don’t know most of the readers of this site. But here’s what I do know: we can all get better.

And I’m better than me.

21 comments

  1. suffolkshandy · · Reply

    Respect for that time young man. I am looking into park run but initial aim is to a) get my rear to the start line and b) finish by any means necessary. Ty for posting.

  2. Steve · · Reply

    Inspiring stuff to be reading on the last day of my 30s… I feel slightly better now! Thanks!

  3. I just ran 5 rounds around a local track couple of days again on an impulse and in part due to me being on leave as well. I must say regular exercise of any form can be difficult to start off for someone like me who has neglected any exercise for last few years. The times when I had regular exercise in my life are when I was in a Uni running club or in high school uniform groups/Physical education sessions. Regular Running/exercise on your own takes a certain motivation and force to shake off the inertia (similar to investing). And life moves along with work responsibilities and adult burdens and exercises falls further and further down the priority list such that exercise requires an impulse for me to carry it out. Same for daily diert I guess.

    Enough reflection. Time to shake off the bum wrinkles and check out my local park run!! Motivation is key! C’mon!

    1. Thanks for the comments Suffolkshandy and Steve. And FIREplanter, I like your style and love your call to action!

  4. This is a great post & you have an amazing site I look forward to reading more from you in the future!

  5. zeejaythorne · · Reply

    This is what I love about the running community. We all want everyone to do what is best for their body and just encourage and support one another. I can’t look at you and know how fast you’ll be. You can’t look at me and know that my legs inexplicably feel like lead this morning and the fact that I feel like I’m running through rising dough means that I mentally won the day even if my time is awful. This parallels so much with FI. I don’t know where you started and what your financial health is like. I just know that you are trying and your trying does not harm me – it just encourages me.

  6. I’m finding running really hard in my fifties. Partly because my mind tells me I should be as fit as I was in my thirties but my body – especially my knees – tells me otherwise! I also can’t say I’ve ever really consistently enjoyed doing it, although some of the highs after some of the runs have been enough to keep me motivated to keep trying. I’m also going to check out Parkrun as I like your description of it and agree with many of your reasons for attending – social, motivational, taking action and implementing a routine. (Plus it will make justifying my Friday night pints a bit easier.)

    1. Good for you…I hope you enjoy Parkrun and report back. If your knees keep giving you problems then cycling may be better as its really easy on the body.

  7. FI Warrior · · Reply

    Yes, I was just going to make the point that each to their own, some people find running very off-putting, but are Ok with swimming or something else, so readers should keep the principle in mind, the main point is health. With most people only engaging with others in stressful, superficial, probably contrived work scenarios and then staring at screens for entertainment to de-stress at the end of the day, health is neglected, mental as well as physical.

    On the parallel to FI, it is the weirdest feeling when someone aggressively tells you you’re deluded if you think you can be financially dependent before ~60 without extraordinarily random/lucky circumstances. This actually happened to me, I don’t know what I said that hit some guy’s personal trigger, but it would have been mild as the conversation was with a stranger in a social setting. The individual implied I was lying (at least to myself) that this was even possible and clearly found me irritating for the suggestion. So I learned to shut up in public, because most people can’t handle the truth, they simply assume you’re judging them by effectively saying their financial problems are their own fault. I remember standing there dumbfounded, shocked at being called a liar and thinking ”Well if it’s impossible, how is it that I’m living it right now Pal?” But I dropped it because that would probably lead into the ”You should still work to be useful on earth” argument that nobody seems to throw at the pointlessly wealthy elite that rule us. (even when they’re ostentatious about it)

    I love the point about what people can do when they don’t know any different and being from a medical background absolutely agree it’s use it or it’ll atrophy. I saw a documentary clip on a hunter-gatherer tribe in Tanzania where these 3 guys brazenly steal food off a pride of wild lions by brazenly walking up to them without fear, then leaving fast before the lions get over the confusion. The leader was well into his 60’s if I remember correctly. The attitude is totally that if you are still here with the gift of life, you should be living it to the full and as for courage, I don’t know if I’ve seen anything more impressive: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDubMeNlSxc

    1. Yes! Ballsy move by those hunters….

  8. Love it! My gym motto is “Better Than Yesterday” and we call them PRs as opposed to PBs but what high correlation to your story! Our members range in age from 27 to 72 and they do the same programming, but scaled to their strength and ability. You are right that you need to use it or lose it and there’s something incredibly motivating about someone 20 years your senior kicking your butt. Sometimes, we just need to get a taste of what might be.

    As for performance and achieving goals, I just finished reading ““Peak” by Anders Ericsson with Robert Pool and WOW! That book has lead me to set new goals for myself at age 40 by developing a better understanding of what he calls “deliberate practice”. I’m more focused on what I need to improve and have a new focus that I know will lead to many more PRs in various areas of life (fitness, finance, writing and more). I highly recommend it. It’s definitely making the cut as one of my “Top Life-enhancing Books” recommendations.

    1. Thanks for the book recommendation…I recently came across the term “deliberate practice” in So Good They Can’t Ignore You which he credits to Ericsson

  9. Rowan · · Reply

    thank you for the inspiring content! – another parallel between personal finance and personal fitness is that -you can lose it all in an instant but with steady work and determination you will regain it all back. similarly, you can start from nothing and work your way up. it’s all about replacing habits

  10. PhysicianOnFIRE · · Reply

    Good for you! Staying fit is a key component of a lengthy, enjoyable early retirement, even if the exercise itself isn’t always enjoyable in the moment.

    In the US of A, PB in peanut butter. I’ve been to the U.K. We brought 5 pounds of real American PB to our American hosts who were desperate for it. As free2pursue points out, a personal best is a personal record, or PR, which could also be Puerto Rico, or per rectum as in where to put the Tylenol suppository.

    Another thing we have here that’s every bit as awesome as peanut butter is the Brewery Running Series, which combines running, beer, and charitable giving. http://breweryrunningseries.com/ Cue the music…these are a few of my favorite things…

    Cheers!
    -PoF

  11. A very good post – it’s all about taking responsibility for ourselves in all areas, really, isn’t it!

    I took up running 3 years ago at the age of 57, when I ramped down to part-time work. I’d not been on an athletics track since I was 15…

    I do 3K, 4 days a week, and I always run first thing in the morning – when the air is cleanest and there are fewer people around. To protect my joints, I only run on a proper running track. The 10 min walk to and from the track is my warm up/cool down.

    It’s done wonders for my fitness and stamina. I’ve got an old spinal injury, and the increased muscle strength has really helped with that (my physio says the muscles of my back, legs and bum have been transformed, lol).

    @ SHMD – if you’re anything like me, you’ll find that the initial painful knees, ankles, etc, gradually disappear if you persevere.

    Oh – and you know that silly warning which everyone ignores about checking with your doctor before taking up an exercise programme? I actually did it.

    Jane

  12. Excellent time TEA

    Your park run sounds a lot like mine, off road and hilly and a bit through the forest, it’s a very pleasant run. I’ve only done it about 5 times though so am well off of getting my 50th T-Shirt!

    I would think about joining a running club when I’m FI but don’t seem to have the time right now, but I have to say I actually enjoy just getting out there on my own and clearing my head, it’s a great reboot for mind as well as body.

    Cheers!

  13. Mr Zombie · · Reply

    That’s some inspiring writing Mr Tea.

    My Sunday cycling route takes me through a local park run, it’s awesome to see how it’s grown over the last few years.

    I completely agree on your points about humility and ageing because we don’t exercise. I was burying myself up a climb on the bike, pretty sure I was part way to giving my self a hernia, when two older dudes whizzed passed with a breezy “Good Morning” like it was no big deal. I saw a couple of sets of hardened mountain goat legs through sweat but couldn’t reply.

    Office life is a f*cking killer. Too many people sat still working long hours that means they are knackered. Too many people rolling out of bed, into the car, into the car park below work, into the lift and then 10 steps to their desk. And too many people blaming a lack of fitness on age rather than lifestyle. And relax.

    1. “And relax”

      Very funny!

      1. Mr Zombie · ·

        Well spotted 😉

        When I first started in an office I was told that I was thin as I was still young by an overweight 28 year old. And that age would catch up with me. I remember thinking at the time “but you do no exercise”.

        Strange. It’s almost as if people want to blame any one but themselves.

  14. I was a tailrunner at our local Parkrun on Saturday. The tailrunner runs/walks behind the last runner, stays a respectful distance behind, offers encouragement where required, makes sure they are safe etc.

    The lady who was in last place was doing her first Parkrun. She was being encouraged by her son and she found it really tough going. She kept apologising for being slow but we simply reminded her that she might be behind the 250 other runners on the course but she was ahead of about 65 million who were sitting on their backsides eating crisps watching the telly. She has promised to come back this week. If she does and makes it a habit, it will probably transform her life.

    Much like you, TEA, in your own field 🙂

    Well done on the PB!

  15. I feel like the world loves to judge people that are frugal. “Why aren’t you coming out to brunch? You never buy other people drinks at the bar! Why haven’t you been to the Amalfi coast yet?” When someone has the other side of all those assumptions, its so radical that people view it as judgment

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