When I was a sophomore at Boston College, feeling lost in a sea of J.Crew-clad students and thrown off by a breakup with my first real boyfriend, I decided to take up running. Because I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like doing things by halves (or getting dumped, for that matter), I set a goal that would answer any lingering doubts I had about myself. I would do more than just start running. I’d take on the beast: the Boston Marathon.
The first time I went for a run, I could barely breathe. I’d never done track, never played a competitive sport, and almost didn’t make it to the end of the block. But I wanted desperately to do this, to do something extraordinary. So I just kept going out. And while I couldn’t make it around the block at first, the next time I’d get as far as the fire hydrant, then the tree. Little by little, I began to see hopeful signs. I started to think, maybe I can do this.
After months of hitting the pavement daily, plugging away even through bone-chilling Boston sleet and biting wind, I did complete that marathon. Sixteen years later, I’ve run more than 40 such races worldwide: New York, Chicago, Berlin, Stockholm, Dublin, and St. Louis, to name a few. The act of training for and running marathons has taught me so much about what it takes to set a goal, maintain focus, and follow through and I’ve drawn on these lessons countless times in all areas of life.
Now, in my work as a life and career coach, I help clients who, like me, struggle with finding motivation. And guess what? The marathon metaphor serves as a great teacher. You don’t have to run one to know what resistance feels like. No matter what your particular finish line, the lessons ring true. Try these strategies to help you meet your own goals in stride.
Sure, we could all use a little more flexibility in our hamstrings and quads. But what’s more interesting to me is the idea of stretching our limits. Had I not signed up for that first Boston Marathon, I might never have known the extent of my capabilities. Training for the 26.2 miles taught me a lot about myself. To finish that race, I had to dig deep and muster up the inner reserves of endurance and determination I didn’t even know I possessed. And my entire sense of self was expanded as a result. In retrospect, I see that I had been unhappy not because of the things I lacked, but because of the potential I had not yet fully realized. The lesson here is this: It behooves us to get out
of our comfort zone occasionally, as it’s the only way to see just how far we can go. Is there an activity (scuba diving, singing at open-mike night, starting a business) that you’ve always wanted to try, but lacked the courage to do so? A place you’ve wanted to visit but felt like you could never go it alone? If the mere idea of the given pursuit scares and thrills you, sign up for it immediately. Go. Do. See. You’ll never regret trying, but you will always regret not doing it. GET HELP
The first time I signed up for a marathon, I was so worried about not finishing that I didn’t tell a soul I was running. So while there were no rallying crowds of supporters screaming, “Go, Ann!”, I did hear the occasional, “Ann? Is that you?” from puzzled friends on the sidelines. Why did I do this? I think I was terrified of failing and looking foolish in front of the people who cared about me. This is a don’t-do-what-I-did message: You may be able to handle things on your own, but you don’t have to, and you’ll likely make the going a lot harder. Invite people to support you in meeting your goal. If you can’t find a training partner (say, a friend who will encourage you to keep working on that novel), join a club (such as a writers’ group). But build yourself a small network of like-minded individuals who will support you. Good partners will hold you accountable, lend an ear, and share a fresh perspective, just when you need it most. SHOW UP
Here’s the thing: Most of the time, I don’t even feel like running. It’s not that I’m lazy; it’s just that my mood often gets in the way. I’ll be about to lace up my shoes, when suddenly I’ll think of a hundred reasons I shouldn’t go. Similarly, on race day, I never feel fully prepared. Right up until the gun goes off, I’m usually hoping that the race will be canceled and we can all go to Dunkin’ Donuts. Maybe a huge Nor’easter will blow in, or an earthquake will rumble up. Meantime, I keep on trudging to the start line. I’ve learned not to be too easily swayed by my mood, and I encourage you to do the same. Just get yourself there. Trust me on this: It’s impossible to complete a race if you don’t make it to the starting line. RUN YOUR OWN RACE
Ask a marathoner about how to train, and she’ll definitely have an opinion about whether to carb or not to carb, to start strong out of the gate or pace yourself, to join a team or go solo. There’s no shortage of very strong and sometimes unhelpful ideas about how you should go about running the race, from fueling, gear, training regimens, diet, and so on. It’s exhausting. (For instance, I once met a German man who swore by a diet of raw herrings and Guinness for one full week before the event.) On race day, I try to get very quiet and save my energy. Out on the course, I tune in to what my body is telling me. If I’m thirsty, I drink. If I’m hungry, I eat. We’re partners, my body and me, and we look out for each other. All the while, I’m finding my own pace, cheering myself on, and trying to enjoy the passing scenery. The lesson here? Sure, you can listen to the advice of those around you (and you’ll find that people dole it out freely), but you certainly don’t have to take it. Ultimately, only you can know how you will run any particular race. It’s the same in life as in running. Learn to listen to, and trust, your own intuition. After all, nobody knows you better than you do.