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Why running a marathon is the most terrible and wonderful thing I’ve ever done

Last week I ran my first marathon in over a year. I’d been avoiding it for one simple reason: it’s a damn hard process. I was under trained physically and mentally. I’ve been jumping between cycling and running and with the addition of a social life and work (which is probably a life in itself) I’d not trained enough. Unfortunately this was the last qualifying run for the Two Oceans Marathon so I had no choice.

Let’s back up a moment:

The afternoon before I was having some lunch with friends and I was asked: “Surely running a marathon is hard?” Dumbstruck I didn’t know how to respond. Of course running a marathon is hard! I don’t always run a marathon because it’s fun or easy (there are fun and easy parts) but mostly I run that sort of stupid distance for the challenge. If you’re unaware a marathon is 42 kilometers or 26 miles and I find driving that in a car to be a painful process.

I finished the marathon is four and a half hours thanks to some careful planning and a whole lot of sugary sweets. I even managed to go out that night so all in all it’s the best I’ve ever physically come out of a marathon. Four and a half hours is a long time to spend in your head and during that time I had some interesting thoughts on how running a marathon is a great metaphor for life and business:

  1. Pace yourself: I ran a very flat marathon and while I’ve been running for three years I still find it difficult to pace myself. My half marathon pace is around 5:45 per km and on a course like this I could have easily smashed a sub 5:30 per km. However I knew with my lack of training I’d never be able to do a full marathon at that pace and if I did I wouldn’t have enough energy to finish the race in a sub 5-hour time required to qualify. This meant one thing: checking my GPS watch every minute or so to check my speed. The process of speeding up and slowing down is hard, not physically but mentally. You’re constantly resisting the urge to sprint but you know that you’ll have no energy left for the second half of the race meaning you’ll probably bomb out. Patience and pacing yourself is something I have a problem with in life as a whole. When a business deal isn’t done in my exact (often unrealistic) timeframe I freak out and want to give up. Pace yourself, it’s all going to work out.
  2. Preparation is important: Without going into the gory details running a marathon will do horrible things to your body. As a man you’ll be chafed in places you didn’t know existed. It’s probably fairly obvious but you only realise how important it is to avoid chafe the first time you get into a shower without making provisions. Preparation for everything in life is important; no more so than when you’re about to embark on a four hour journey unsupported.
  3. A little help from my friends: I was on kilometer 29 and I was struggling. I’d been walking for about a kilometer already and mentally I was in a hole. My body still had enough to go further but my mind wasn’t willing to play that game. At this point two fellow runners who I know through the sport ran past me and got me moving at a consistent pace with them. Maybe I would have picked myself up out of the hole but it was certainly a lot easier with the right people. The Beatles put it perfectly: “I get by with a little help from my friends”.
  4. Ouch: You know what hurts around kilometer 30 in a marathon? Everything. It doesn’t matter who you are but at some point your legs are going to ache from kilometers of pounding asphalt. It’s a horrible place to be and we’re programmed to give up at this point. If you want to give up then read my next point.
  5. It’s okay to walk: You can always walk up a particularly challenging hill if you need. Everyone (the regular people not from Kenya) is going to walk at some point in a marathon. I am by no stretch an amazing long distance runner and probably walk ¬†5 out of the 42km in total but I get to the end. Walk if you need to, you’re still moving towards your goal.

I really recommend every entrepreneur spend some of their time preparing and taking place in a long distance event for the mental strength it provides.¬†Going to sleep knowing you’ll have to do that distance on your legs is scary but it’ll make presenting to that next client or dealing with an issue easier next time. Yes, running a marathon is hard but, much like entrepreneurship, if it was easy everyone would do it right?

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