I’ve been thinking a lot about marathons lately. Mostly because I just finished running one. But also because, while it was my eight such race, this latest one was just … different.
It was the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, held on October 12 in the heart of downtown. The day was clear, crisp and nothing short of gorgeous. But when I approached that start line, instead of feeling a fierce sense of competitiveness like I had with every previous event, I felt something completely new: pure joy.
So what was different about that day? And why do I have an overwhelming urge to tell you about it?
The lessons I learned from my training, and the ups and downs I experienced leading up to that Saturday, are invaluable. But they’re not just about a marathon in the streets of Chicago on a beautiful day. They’re also about the challenges we face in our personal and professional lives, whether at work, at home … or somewhere in between.
We all run our own marathons, and there is great value in sharing those lessons we learn with each other. That’s why I need to tell you about mine.
Start with a clear vision. The first thing I ask my clients to do when discussing goals is to clearly define what it is they want. And many times, it’s not nearly as easy as you might think. For example, it would have been easy for me to say, “I just want to cross the finish line.” But that’s not enough detail. It mattered to me that I had an enjoyable experience, that I felt great and enjoyed my surroundings along the way. I pictured myself exhilarated and rejuvenated, instead of exhausted and struggling to get to the finish line. And you know what? That’s exactly what happened.
Don’t expect miracles overnight. Most people will tell you, “I could never run a marathon! I’m so out of shape!” But the truth is that months of training are involved, and that’s true for almost anything you want to accomplish. Want to start your own business? Need to make some big changes in your life? You don’t wake up one day and make it happen. It takes preparation, training, and dogged determination.
The struggles are worth it. My body wasn’t ready to run a marathon eight months ago. I had to build up to it. I had to start with three-mile runs, then five, then 10 and so on. There were days when my muscles screamed, “Stop doing this to me!” There were cold, rainy mornings when the paths under my feet seemed to lengthen right before my very eyes. Some days were hard, and other days weren’t so bad. Anything worth obtaining will be a struggle. But little by little, your body and mind will get stronger, clearer, faster, better. Don’t give up.
Sometimes all you have is your attitude. What I noticed about my training experience this time around was that I struggled more, compared with marathons of the past. My last long run leading up to the race didn’t go well, and I was not feeling confident about the physical part of the race. The negative self-talk soon followed, and I knew I needed to work on my inner disposition. This happens to everyone, especially the closer you get to a big event or goal, when the pressure mounts. So I had to change my tone and inner voice, which is not easy to do (especially when it’s so easy to dwell and obsess on the negative). Visualize the experience in a new and positive light, and concentrate on how you want to feel, what you want it to look like and what you want to do right, not what you fear will go wrong.
It’s about the little races within one big one. Thinking about running 26.2 miles is daunting, no matter how much you’ve trained for it. Same goes for long-term projects or huge life changes. So instead of lumping everything into one big goal, it helps to break things down into smaller milestones. For the marathon, I broke the course down in my head to the first few miles as sort of a warm-up. I didn’t let my brain get ahead of my body. Then it was the next five miles, or the first half-marathon, or the next water break.
Your mind and body must be connected. If I would have come to the start of that race without working on my mindfulness practices, the outcome would have been dramatically different. After having a couple of bad longer training runs during the weeks leading up to the race, I was anxious and very unsure of how I would run the marathon. I caught myself talking more about how my long runs had gone poorly, rather than sharing stories about how I was looking forward to a great day. So instead, I spent time imagining what it would feel like to have a great race. I pictured myself feeling strong and running effortlessly along the 26.2 miles course, and turned my attention, intention and focus to what my desire and expected outcome was.
Focus on the joy of the adventure. By the time I toed the line in Chicago, I was truly ready to just enjoy myself, come what may. I had pushed myself as far as I could physically, and because of the questionable training runs leading up to the big day, I just didn’t know what to expect. The only thing I could do was to breathe, maintain a focused and positive attitude, and take pleasure in the actual experience.
And you know what happened? I ran a race that exceeded my expectations physically, as well as emotionally and even spiritually. I ran most of my splits faster than any of my training runs, and my timed results exceeded my expectations. But most importantly, I felt amazing and appreciated every tiny detail along the way … from the cheerful crowds and supportive friends on the sidelines, to the music, weather, sights and sounds that enveloped me along the way. All the training, the preparation and difficulties were worth the end result: pure joy at the finish line.
What’s Your Marathon?
So tell me, what are your personal marathons? What are the big challenges you’re facing, and how are you handling them? I’d love to hear about some of the life lessons you’ve learned along the way. Please leave your comments below.