For years, I’ve wanted to run a marathon.
But The Escape Artist has a guilty secret. For years I’ve
been “too busy” procrastinated and avoided the 26 mile challenge.
In an attempt to fix this, a year ago I publicly declared in You can be too careful that I’d run a marathon.
I was trying to hold myself accountable. But how quickly the time slips by when we are avoiding something!
Why the delay? It certainly wasn’t about the money. One of the things I love about running is its simplicity. You don’t need fancy equipment or anyone else’s permission. And you don’t need to pay anything to run a marathon…you could just run somewhere 13 miles away and then run back…for free. That totally counts.
When I was working, I had a ready made excuse. I was busy! Obviously in the modern world we are all very busy. Which is why no one ever wastes time on Facetweeter, watching TV, complaining or on idle gossip. 😉
Procrastination creeps up on us. We don’t say: I’ll never run a marathon. We say things like:
I’ll run a marathon next year
I’ll run a marathon after I’ve done more training.
The risk is that we say that every year. And so it never happens. Instead of facing this, we invent excuses.
I used to think that I didn’t have time to train for a marathon (although I had the same 24 hours in a day as everyone else). Like all the best excuses, there was some truth to it: my job did keep me pretty busy. But in March 2013, I handed in my notice at work. And whoosh! Suddenly the world was my lobster and my excuse for under-achievement in all areas of life other than work disappeared.
So if I was going to avoid running a marathon, I was going to need another excuse. So The Escape Artist reached into The Toolkit of Procrastination and pulled out another old favourite…health and safety.
By way of background, when I was in my 20s I broke my ankle whilst drunk (its not big and its not clever). Long story short, I lost some flexibility and got knee pain after running / cycling longer distances.
Eventually I found a top quality physio that understood the linkages and straightened me out. There are many things in life that you can (and should) avoid spending money on. But not your health…and a really good sports physio is worth their weight in gold.
But even though I’d been injury free for years, some residual fear lingered. Our brains evolved over a few million years to keep us alive and to breed. Everything your brain tries to get you to do is about survival and replication. The reason we don’t exercise enough is that over almost the entire span of human history, life was a struggle and we didn’t need any voluntary extra exercise, thank you very much.
But although our environment has changed massively since then, our brains have not caught up. And my sub-conscious was telling me not to bother running a marathon. I already had enough food, I wasn’t being chased by a lion and there probably wouldn’t be guaranteed sex at the finish line …so, according to my mammalian brain, why take the risk?
Procrastination is caused by fear. We’re often embarrassed about our fears so we pretend they don’t exist. Instead we invent rationalisations. But, make no mistake, procrastination is about fear.
My fear was that if I ran a marathon, I might injure myself. After all, The Escape Artist is now too old to be in any boy-band (other than maybe Take That).
But, with a bit of work, fear can be over-ridden. As the fitness instructor at my Body Pump class says: sometimes you need to have a little word with yourself. If you want to know what that looks like, check out Gwen Stefani having a word with herself in the video clip below.
It’s not just our survival brain that we need to watch out for. We also need to avoid the trap of perfectionism. Looking for perfect preparation or perfect knowledge before doing something usually results in never starting, never trying.
I’d always admired other people that had run marathons and so often asked them about it. In most cases, they’d tell me about the essential importance of having a full 6 month training programme downloaded from some serious looking site on the internet. They’d talk about their Garmin supergizmo, gel bars, carb-loading and isotonic sugar water. They were naturally proud of their achievement and seemed keen to tell me how difficult it would be for someone that hadn’t done a full training programme. Words like “brutal”, “injury risk” and “hitting the wall” would be bandied around. I’m sure they meant well, but this wasn’t helping. In fact, it was giving my survival brain lots of excuses not to risk it.
But a couple of people at my local (amateur) running club provided examples that transformed my view of what was possible. One was a guy a similar age to me who’d previously been overweight and lost all the excess weight. He’d been offered a late entry a few days before the London marathon, having never run a marathon and done no training. He just did it. Another was the older lady who lives on my street, has done loads of marathons without making a fuss and always seems to be smiling.
Inspired by their example, I entered the Pilgrim’s marathon, which is an off-road trail marathon with lots of elevation change, steep climbs and descents. I entered on 3 September, a full 8 days before the marathon on 11 September. So not a lot of time for a training programme. But there comes a point when you have to man up and just do it.
I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on the internet. You are allowed to train as much as you want before your marathon. And its not like I went from nothing to a full marathon. I started from a reasonable base level of fitness. I’d previously ran the half marathon version of the same event and a couple of long practice runs. But I’d never run the full distance before.
I had one simple objective : not to stop / walk any of the course. My rule was that if I walked, I’d have to go back to the start and do it again. As long as I could run the whole thing, I’d be happy.
But for the 2 days before the marathon, I’d been working as a barman which involved 12 hour shifts standing up. I’m pretty sure you wont find this in any of those professional marathon training programmes you get from the internet.
So it was with aching feet and some trepidation that I cycled to the start. Fortunately, the weather was absolutely glorious. And the countryside along the marathon route is eye-wateringly beautiful. The views from the North Downs are incredible and a reminder that we shouldn’t pave over paradise.
The first miles went pretty smoothly: distracted by the pretty countryside, I hardly noticed the distance slip by. But things started to get tougher after about 18 miles into the race.
It wasn’t just me feeling this. Another runner started talking to me, telling me she had a stitch and asking for advice. The Escape Artist started mansplaining that she should take it easy (as if I were some sort of marathon expert). What a clown. Turns out I should have saved my concern for myself as she breezed past me a couple of miles later.
I saw her again at the finish where she kindly cheered me in on the home straight. She looked well rested, having finished over quarter of an hour before me. So much for women being the weaker sex. Are you getting the analogy here Tim??
One of my biggest takeaways from the marathon was that you have to run your own race. When running a marathon (or saving for FI) you don’t need to compete with anyone else, although you can if that helps motivate you. Either way, it’s no use worrying what everyone else is doing. Better to focus on what you can control.
Running a marathon is about 2 things: 1) getting started and 2) keeping going. The time may be of interest but, for me, it wasn’t the main issue (OK, well since you ask, 4hr 21 mins). For me, what mattered was getting it done.
Like life, running a marathon doesn’t always feels easy in the moment. But it’s not supposed to. If you want to cultivate resilience you have to expose yourself to challenge and seek out discomfort. The confidence that you get from these experiences stays with you forever and allows you to deal better with challenges in other areas of life.
And you can’t beat the feeling of the post-marathon beers, sat on the grass outside the pub in the sunshine, watching the other runners come home.
In summary, there are some things that should be planned meticulously. If you are going to perform brain surgery, its probably best to go to medical school beforehand.
But for almost everything else, its better to dive in and get started. And, for me, running a marathon, learning to invest or starting out towards financial independence fall into the “just do it” bucket.
As Gwen Stefani says: What you waiting for?
Image credit: Kiss My Abs
FI LONDON meet up : The London FI facebook group is holding a meet up in central London in the evening on 6 October. A guest appearance from my fellow blogger TheFireStarter has been promised. Hope to see some of you there!