In October I completed my first marathon. In the 3 hours and 51 minutes it took me, I had plenty of time to reflect on the experience. Conveniently, I’ve come up with 26.2 things.
And when I read between the lines, it’s a bit of a metaphor-fest for my freelance life.
1 Having some accountability makes you more likely to do something. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have run 26.2 miles on a Sunday morning if I hadn’t entered a race.
2 Training is important, don’t cut corners. You might get away with it for a few miles (or 19 in my case) but it’ll come back to bite you at some point.
3 Like any deadline, the day creeps up on you. What can seem like a long time to prepare soon dissipates when you throw in some weekends away, work commitments and the pre-race taper.
4 Things are almost never as bad as you think they’re going to be. So try not to worry about it, that doesn’t help.
5 Technology and apps are good, use them. Because I didn’t feel prepared, I decided to simplify things and ‘just run’ without a watch, GPS or Strava. This was a mistake.
6 If it’s new to you, a strategy or game plan is probably a good idea. I thought my usual ‘just crack on and make it up as you go along’ approach would serve me well. It didn’t.
7 You need good people around you. It’s hard to do things like this on your own. Whether it’s keeping your morale up or practical stuff, like driving you home because you can’t move your legs.
8 Pace yourself. You know deep down what you’re capable of. Don’t overdo it.
(At this point I hadn’t realised I was overdoing it)
9 Don’t try to keep up with people who are fitter than you. You might be on the same course, but you’re effectively in a different race.
10 Experience counts. You can tell who’s been there before. They know the challenges ahead and they’re ready for them. They know when to take it easy and when to kick on. I didn’t.
11 Everyone is different, focus on yourself. It’s easy to get carried away and focus on what other people are doing. But they might just be fitter or a course veteran. Your yardstick is what you’re capable of, not them.
12 They’re not your competitors, they’re your support network. You know what each other is going through. When it gets tough, you’re there to support each other and say the right things. It doesn’t have to be lonely.
13 Enjoy it. This is an important one. If you’re not going to get some enjoyment out of it, why bother? Soak it up and take in the views.
(I ran around Kielder Water, there were plenty of views)
14 Pain can be temporary. In the 24 hours after my marathon it was “the first and the last”. Gradually the pain subsides, the positives rise to the surface and you start looking to the next challenge.
15 Chunk it up into stages. 26.2 miles can be overwhelming. You won’t get the best out of yourself if you let it get to you.
16 Eat and drink the right things. And not just on the day. More water, less wine. I’m still working on this one.
17 When you hit the wall, find a way to push through. Most people will. I did. It won’t be pretty, but you can do it.
(This is what the wall looks like)
18 What you do on the day is the tip of the iceberg. Months of hard work and sacrifice go into it. The race was just the end result of this effort.
19 There’s a lot of good people out there. Volunteers and organisers, people cheering you on, kids handing you sweets. The support from people who didn’t know me was pretty incredible.
20 Learn from your mistakes. As I came to the realisation that I’d tanked it with a few miles to go, at least I knew where I’d gone wrong, I won’t make the same mistakes again.
(This is what a broken man looks like)
21 Be realistic. Sometimes you need to give yourself a chance and recognise where you’re at. I should’ve probably gone for a flatter course and reigned in my expectations.
22 Be unrealistic. At the same time, why not be a little unrealistic and push yourself?
23 It takes time to recover when you push yourself to your limits. Factor this in. My legs recovered after a few days, but it took a couple of weeks to get my energy levels back and I wish I’d given myself a couple of days off work.
24 Remember why you’re doing it. When it got tough, I reminded myself that people had sponsored me and I couldn’t let them down. They donated over £500 to our local hospice which really puts things into perspective.
25 Sometimes all you can do is walk. My legs would barely move in the last couple of miles. I had to walk at one point to summon the energy to finish. But it’s ok to walk. I was still moving and getting closer to the finish.
26 Give yourself some credit. I tend to focus on what I can’t do or what I’m not good at. I was bit disappointed with my race. I came 101st. My reaction was “there were 100 people faster than me”. My father-in-law nailed it: “but you were faster than the other 500”.
26.2 You’ll find a way to cross the finish line. Some finished before me, some finished after me, but everyone finished (I think). It won’t always be easy, but whatever your goal, you’ll get there in the end.