Completing and Training for a First Marathon: Life Coaching Lessons Learned (part 2 of 4)

In this second post of a four-post series, I continue to share some of the insights I gained in preparing for and completing a first marathon. Topics include success, adversity, and strategy.   Part 1

A “project based” approach can be beneficial for a range of challenges

One of the most interesting congratulatory comments I received from a friend was “I’m impressed that you followed through on your marathon project.” This caught my attention because I had never thought if it in quite this way before. I had often thought only of tangible products, like a book, a piece of music, or a house repair, as a “project result.” Other accomplishments, such as completing a bicycle ride across the country or running a marathon, seemed more like personal feats—more an integral part of my being than a project result.

However, I realized that this approach can apply to various types of desired results, whether it’s completing a marathon, a dissertation, a book, a music album, or a film. Projects, when planned and executed successfully, often share several elements:

  • A clear definition of desired results to begin with, and the willingness to refine them later if necessary
  • A need to grow or increase one’s capacities in some way
  • A need for a plan, where one step leads to another
  • Reliance on other people, even if it seems like a largely “solo” project (more on this below)
  • The results are never a complete reflection of who you are, and should not be confused with your personal identity or potential—often, they are more closely related to your effort levels, and the effectiveness of the strategies or techniques that your chose. Sometimes, the results are impacted by factors entirely outside your control, and aren’t even reflections of these latter items.

Looking at any type of result or personal feat as a project can help us to realize that it doesn’t necessarily take a superhuman person to do it—sure, it may take significant personal change along the way, but usually it just takes more planning, time, and effort depending upon how big our vision is. Over time, the steps begin to add up. There will, of course, be some limitations depending upon skill and talent level (I wasn’t training with any anticipation of qualifying for the Boston Marathon), but you’ll still eventually end up with a result.

Don’t let your competitive side get the best of you, and don’t lose track of the journey

From my prior half marathon times and training runs, I knew that I was probably looking at finishing somewhere around 4 hours, 15 minutes, if I wanted to complete the race with a non-forced smile on my face and without too much pain. During training, I had decided that I was going to take it easy to avoid injury, enjoy the experience as fully as possible, and be happy just to finish.

However, a few weeks before the race, realizing that the new running form had improved my times, I became excited by the possibility of finishing just under 4 hours. I knew that a few friends had completed marathons between 4 and 4 1/2 hours, and I thought that perhaps I could do just a bit better.

The day of the race, I decided that part of my strategy to finish a bit faster would be to lessen my hydration just before the race, to avoid long portapot lines, and then hydrate more to compensate shortly after I started running. This was different than how I had done things on my long training runs—so it shouldn’t have surprised me that my body reacted in an unexpected way to this change. This was exacerbated by that morning’s temperatures reaching significantly higher than they had during my last few long training runs.

Additionally, because I was a bit nervous about hitting “the wall” where the muscles glycogen stores deplete around mile 20, I consumed a bit more energy drink early in the race than I had during my long training runs. This, of course, requires more water to digest the sugars.

Somewhere between 20 and 25 miles, I realized that I wasn’t perspiring as much as I normally do while running, and I also became noticeably thirsty—if you feel thirsty, it means you’ve already started to become dehydrated, and it can take a while to recover from that.

regaining perspective late in the race

regaining perspective late in the race

Between mile 23 and 25, things really became painful, with a bit of dizziness and lightheadedness setting in around mile 25. At that point, I shifted from running to walking for a few minutes while drinking water and regaining my senses. I ended up jogging across the finish line at 4 hours, 19 minutes, smiling with excitement and relief, but feeling pretty beaten up.

Had I stuck to my original plans of not being overly competitive, and just enjoying the race, I likely would have finished in around the same time, and in a reasonably better physical and mental state.

When you take on challenging projects, try not to be too competitive, or the journey may become much less fun.

Dave Wheitner is a certified life, career, and transition coach based in Pittsburgh, PA who welcomes phone-based clients from around the world.

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