Lessons from the Scotiabank Marathon

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Toronto, Canada 

   Race day finally arrived. My first road-based marathon, a goal that had been set at the beginning of spring this same year. 

   Amidst a chorus of cheers and pump-up music, the pack of runners took off with me caught up in the midst. The excitement was contagious for those first few kilometers (miles), as we thundered down the streets of Toronto, several thousand strong. Passed the first few aid stations, and along the spectator lined race course.

   It was around the halfway mark, 20 kilometers (13 miles) that the pack really started to separate, with the marathoners continuing on for the grueling back half of the race. It's the back half that separates the trained from the untrained. It's the back half where your mettle is tested. It's the back half where I learned the lessons of success.

The process is painful.

   Around 28 kilometers I found out what endurance athlete's refer to when they "hit the wall". Exhaustion sets in, your legs hardly want to move. And when they do stride forward, each strike of the pavement is agony. This is part of running marathons. But this is also the first lesson of success. The process is painful.

   There will come a point in any large undertaking when pushing forward seems unbearable. The obstacles seem nigh insurmountable. Those challenges have knocked you down, leaving you bloodied and bruised, black and blue. But just like the quote on the guy's shirt in front of me said, Pain is temporary, quitting is forever.

   In the pursuit of any goal that you pursue, you will inevitably face challenges and obstacles that will hurt. To achieve success, you must endure the pain, with the belief that the reward is worth the cost.

Public goals help you push on when you feel like quitting.

   That period of exhaustion, where every step was agony lasted for quite a while. And with each agonizing step, those dark thoughts started to creep into my mind. Maybe I can't do this. Maybe I needed to train harder. Maybe I should quit. These thoughts were only compounded by the series of injuries that plagued my training. Nobody would blame me if those injuries prevented me from finishing the race. 

   These insidious excuses pushed me ever closer to quitting. And the worst part about those excuses? I believed that they were real. Heck, I really was injured throughout most of my training! But, there was one thing more powerful than my excuses. I had told everyone that I would be doing the marathon. Doing. Not attempting. I promised that I would cross the finish line. No matter the pain I was experiencing, I did not want to let down those people who were counting on me to finish. Therein lies the second lesson of success - publicly stated goals keep us accountable.

   It's easy to fall short of our goals when we keep our targets to ourselves. We can rationalize these shortcomings a million different ways, and as long as we're simply talking to ourselves, there's nobody to poke holes in our hollow excuses. That's why we need to publicly state our goals. When we have declared our goals out loud, those around us will keep us accountable for achieving them. 

   That is not to say that you will achieve every goal you announce, but simply that when you feel like quitting, you readily evaluate your reasons. There were several runners that I saw that certainly made their goals public, but for genuine health reasons they were unable to achieve. And that's okay! We shouldn't die in pursuit of a finisher's medal! We just need to be sure that our reasons are valid, and mixed up in the pain and exhaustion, even the smallest molehill seems like a mountain in our minds. And having a public goal helps us make the distinction between real hardship and in-the-moment difficulties.

Break a large task (42kms) down into games.

   Again, we return to those last 12 kilometers, feet hurting, toes bleeding, slapping down on the cracked pavement of downtown Toronto. When 12 kilometers seemed to stretch on forever, my heart pounding inside my chest. My mouth was dry, my tongue felt like sandpaper as I sucked in breath after breath of warm, dry air. And suddenly I wasn't really looking at 12 kilometers, I was only looking at the next water station 3 kilometers away. If I could reach that in the next 20 minutes, I'd be alright. Once I made it, it was only another 3 kilometers to the next drink of water, I could beat those last 20 minutes! How about doing it in 19 minutes. Then 18 minutes. Then, wait, the next stop is the finish line!

   Taking a larger task and breaking it down makes each bite more manageable. But if you add a game element into it, "beat my last 3 km time", the process becomes much more tolerable. Those 12 kms that seemed so far a moment ago was really only 3 short games and the finish line! These games keep us going when our minds would otherwise tell us to quit.

   When you break down your huge goals into smaller tasks, the goal becomes much more manageable. But you can take this concept further by making each task a game, allowing yourself to feel joy over a smaller accomplishment, and motivating you to keep going. And like any sporting series, enough wins in those small games will lead you to the championship!

   I pushed through to the finish line, and had achieved my athletic goal of the summer. But the real achievement isn't found in a new medal hanging on the wall, the real achievement lies in the hours of training that got me to that point. The real achievement is not my finishing time on the race web page, but in the lessons that I learned about success along the way. Lessons that we can all apply to whatever our goals are.

   The process is painful. You won't achieve anything worthwhile easily. There will be hardships and heartbreaks along the way. These painful experiences are there not to break you, but to build you into a stronger version of yourself. A version of yourself that is worthy of the goals you want to achieve. 

   To keep you focused on those goals, you can announce them to the world. The people you tell, of what you are planning to accomplish will hold you accountable. And when you feel like quitting, you will think twice before throwing in the towel, are the hardships really too much to bear? Would you feel comfortable telling all those that you announced your intentions to that your goal really was out of reach this time?

   If the answer is no, and you determine you can continue in the pursuit of success, breaking the remaining journey down into smaller games will help. Each mini game will lead you one step closer to the finish line, and give you a small dose of satisfaction and motivation each step along the way.

   These lessons helped me cross the finish line at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, and they can help you reach your goals. Apply these lessons well, and there's no telling what you can accomplish in your life!

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