Dave crossing marathon finish line

Completing & Training for a First Marathon: Life Coaching Lessons Learned (part 1 of 4)

Last October, I achieved a goal that I began to pursue roughly two years earlier: completing a first marathon. In this first post of a four-part series, I share some of the insights I gained along the way regarding success, adversity, strategy, and related topics. I hope that it’s pertinent to you whether you’re actually considering a physical activity goal such as running a marathon, or whether you’re planning other big life goals. If you’re also a life coach, you may also find some information or analogies that are useful to your clients.

See all posts in this series.

There were many ups and downs along the way, and the journey placed some of the highest and lowest moments I’ve ever experienced side by side. This was quite a big deal for me. While I’ve previously taken on some uncommon physical challenges such as bicycling across the country over a 2-month period, and I enjoy outdoor activities, I’ve never considered myself exceptionally talented in the athletic arena. As a child, I was often the last chosen for school athletic teams, and gym was my lowest grade in public high school.

It turned out to be so much more than a physical challenge, and it was a wonderful learning opportunity. Following are just a few of the lessons that I’ve found applicable to life in general.

For a tough challenge, there may be many unexpected obstacles—and it won’t always seem “fair”

Anyone who’s put in the time and effort to train for a marathon deserves to get to the starting and finish line with no major issues, but that of course isn’t the way it always works. The same might hold true for a job pursuit or planned career trajectory, where you work really hard and then someone else gets the coveted corner office. It could happen with a creative work like a book, where you finish your manuscript only to find out another author or publisher has recently released a very similar book. Perhaps you’ve finally gotten your company’s brilliant marketing plan prepared for execution, and then you find out your company must do a major product recall. Such situations call for generating new strategies to get to where you want to go, and in some cases, a bit more patience.

I had at least three major setbacks in my own training, some of which seemed almost absurd. The first time I started to train for my first marathon, I slipped on ice on Christmas morning, while visiting family in Ohio. As I slipped, one foot stayed planted as the movement of my body (I was running slightly downhill) caused the leg to twist, creating a small spiral fracture above my ankle. I had to take a break from running for a few months. Ironically, I slipped just down the road from a gas station named “Marathon.”

On the second training attempt, while visiting an ecocommunity out of state, I had a strangely vivid nightmare in the middle of the night that literally caused me to jump out of the bed and land on the floor. Never had anything like this happened to me, especially given that I rarely have nightmares. I banged my leg on the wooden nightstand and concrete floor in such a way that I had to scale back my training for several weeks.

Well on my way toward a marathon once again, I made it up to around 16 miles on my distance runs, and then developed one of the most common runners’ maladies, called iliotibial band syndrome. Would I have to delay my plans once again? I was starting to get tired of the really long weekend runs, and was becoming frustrated by having to take several steps back.

I thought that perhaps I could just muscle my way through it. I tried taking just a few “short run” days off and then getting back onto the schedule, doing a longer run the following weekend. However, this only made it worse.

You can’t always just muscle your way through things; sometimes you need to change your form

This is the type of thing I’ve coached a few people on—sometimes we put all of our blood, sweat, and tears into something, but our efforts just aren’t yielding the desired fruit. This might be because we’re just not using our strengths and need to recruit additional support or expertise, or it could be because we need to look at how we’re working on a project rather than how much time we’re putting into it. How efficient are we being as we’re working? Are we focusing on important tasks that have a high impact, or are we doing things that aren’t really as important but eat up time and energy? Are we leaving something out? Is our current form sustainable?

In my case, I discovered that even though I was putting in a great deal of time and energy to prepare my cardiovascular system, core, legs, and mind for a marathon, I was doing it with improper running form. After consulting some online running groups and then reading a guide entitled Chi Running, I worked on altering several elements of my form with each run, purchased different running shoes, and even began to do many training runs with a metronome to track my running cadence. The idea was to rely more upon forces such as gravity and tendon elasticity, so that muscles were less likely to be overworked. In other words, work smarter, not harder. It was a lot to focus on initially, but the leg pain began to dissipate, and I got back on track.

Are there goals you’re currently pursuing that might benefit from a change in form, or a different strategic approach?

See all posts in this series.

Dave welcomes phone-based life, career, and transition coaching clients from around the world.

One comment

  1. Nir says:

    I really enjoyed reading this first installment on your marathon training. In addition to hearing more about your accomplishment, I’m very interested in hearing what you have to say about working through adversity and changing strategies in order to ensure you meet your goals. This looks to be a nice piece of writing!

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