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

In this last 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.

See all posts in this series.

With complex goals, things will never be perfect, and there’s always a higher peak

When my coaching clients have pursued big visions, they’ve sometimes bumped into unexpected obstacles, or have made errors for which they’ve had to forgive themselves (and learn from) before moving on. And after overcoming them and achieving one goal, they often set a bigger or different goal–another peak to reach. My marathon-related experiences were no different.

After finishing the race, I found myself dwelling upon the things I could have done differently. Perhaps I should have gotten up briefly at 5:30 am to hydrate myself a bit more, or downed a bit more water shortly before the race. Maybe I could have eaten just a bit more rice pasta the night before, or used energy gels with a bit of caffeine in them. Maybe I could have trained differently.

The truth is that any of the above adjustments could have caused additional difficulties, or something completely different could have gone wrong. Indeed, the week before the race, I developed a sharp pain in one of my heels during a relatively short training run, and had to take it extra easy the week before the race. The morning of the race, I awakened with some pain in my left hip—this had been absent for several weeks.

When taking on a complex goal, you just have to recognize that things are never going to be perfect. Depending upon your purpose and values, perhaps it’s important for you to give it another shot, making performance adjustments. Or, perhaps it’s more important for you to celebrate your accomplishment regardless, and then move on to other things.

Then there’s the “progressively higher peaks” phenomenon. Each time I’ve run a longer distance, I’ve found myself focusing on an even longer goal shortly thereafter. I had never imagined myself running a 10K (6.2 mile) race, but after doing a number of 5K (3.1 mile), races, I decided to give it a try. Shortly after that, I became curious about whether I could do a half marathon, and then a marathon. Shortly after completing a marathon, a small part of my brain wondered if I could improve my marathon time, or complete an ultramarathon (even longer than 26.2 mile) event.

The higher peak may involve quality over quantity

I then found myself asking “When is enough enough?” and “How does this fit into my values and purpose?” I decided that rather than running longer distances, my next step in this area of my life would probably be to focus on different and more natural styles of running, such as minimalist (nearly barefoot) running. Additionally, I still have a great amount of work to do on my Chi Running form, which I failed to adhere to later in the marathon. Sometimes it helps to shift from thinking in terms of magnitude, and to focus instead on other factors such as quality, as you set additional goals. This is worth considering if you’re a leader or manager of an already-large organization.

The number of people on the peak doesn’t diminish the accomplishment

As we achieve higher and higher goals, we often find ourselves in the company of others who are aiming for even higher peaks. As I got closer to running a marathon, I discovered more and more friends who had already done a marathon, or who were soon planning to do so. They quite literally seemed to come out of the woodwork! And of course, the day I ran a marathon, so were thousands of other people. Also, as we aim for higher goals, we may inspire others around us to do the same. This creates a necessity to ask ourselves why we’re pursuing higher goals—i.e., making sure it’s for reasons that go beyond comparing ourselves to our peers.

As another example, around the time I wrote my first book, it seemed that very few people I knew had written books. However, within only a few months, I learned of at least half a dozen people who were also working on their first books, and several who were contemplating starting one soon. It suddenly seemed as though my own accomplishment was no longer so “special.” However, did their accomplishments detract from the value of what I had done in any way? Not at all.

Goals are more powerful when they tie into your purpose and values

After running cross-country in high school, I took a break from running for nearly a decade, as cycling and hiking became my favorite athletic activities. I began jogging again because it ties into my health and fitness values, as well as my love for the outdoors. As I got into the half-marathon and marathon distances, however, my motivations ran a bit deeper. After all, 5- to 10-mile runs were plenty to keep me in good physical condition and to provide me with outdoor meditative time in the nearby park and nature reserve.

My reasons for running a marathon also stemmed from my desire to catalyze and create for a healthy and sustainable world. A few years earlier, I had adopted a vegan diet for a number of environmental, health, and ethical reasons. Many friends and relatives asked common questions such as, “Where do you get your protein?” or “How do you stay healthy with such a diet?” Although many individuals have performed much more exceptional physical feats on plant-based diets (100-mile-plus ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, bodybuilder Robert Cheeke, pro cyclist Christine “Peanut” Vardaros, and senior Ironman triathlete Ruth Heidrich, to name a few), I wanted to add myself to the list as one more example.

If you choose to run a marathon—or to take on any other major challenge—you’ll have your own unique set of reasons. Revisit your purpose and values to ensure that you’re investing your time and energy in what’s most important to you.


I hope my experiences have provided you with some useful tools and analogies. Best wishes as you pursue your own big visions!

To review, the primary lessons are:

  • For a tough challenge, there may be many unexpected obstacles—and it won’t always seem “fair”
  • You can’t always just muscle your way through things; sometimes you need to change your form
  • A “project based” approach can be beneficial for a range of challenges
  • Don’t let your competitive side get the best of you, and don’t lose track of the journey
  • Even “solo” projects are easier with the support of others, and you often get back more than you give
  • Sometimes the lowest points come right before the highest points
  • How success is measured is often up to you
  • With complex goals, things will never be perfect, and there’s always a higher peak
  • The higher peak may involve quality over quantity
  • The number of people on the peak doesn’t diminish the accomplishment
  • Goals are more powerful when they tie into your purpose and values

See all posts in this series.

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

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