7 Life Disciplines We Can Learn From Marathon Runners

“Life is a marathon, not a sprint.” – Anonymous

This Sunday is the 37th running of the Chicago Marathon. Every year, this inspiring event runs right by my building on Michigan Avenue, very near the home stretch. As 45,000 participants grace our city streets, I join the 1.7 million spectators cheering them on in pure awe as they fight every obstacle to make it to the finish line.Chicago Marathon Runners

Like many, I try to get out early so I can witness the winners in all categories pass by with full press, helicopters, and police escorts. Each time I see them passing by, I get incredibly choked up as the crowd goes nuts witnessing their amazing inner strength and perseverance as we all share in their great accomplishment.

Chicago Marathon WinnersWhile the winners enjoy the well-earned accolades, I continue to watch the thousands of remaining runners pass, and the emotion remains. I wonder what some of their stories are and why they’re running.  What inspired them to take on this challenge, what did it take to get here, and what does this mean for them?  The curiosity intensifies as they pass by holding signs or personal items, their families and friends running by their side cheering them on, and complete strangers scream, clap, and ring bells hoping to provide some motivation to get them to the finish. What a powerful display of collaboration and sheer joy.

Wouldn’t it be great if we all had a similar experience as we trudge through life? In many ways, our lives are similar to running a marathon—the preparation, the training, the mental preparedness, the self-discipline, the execution, and hopefully, the rewards.

As I anxiously await Sunday’s spectacle, I pondered a few comparisons between running a marathon and living a successful life.

  1. Plan.
    Before running a marathon, you need to create a plan. After all, we don’t just wake up and run on race day. There is so much that goes into the preparation, giving us the greatest possible chance of performing our best. We have to treat our lives the same way. If we just wake up each day inching our way through, we don’t get very far, and we have the least possible chance at succeeding at whatever it is we really want.
  2. Set Goals.
    In our plans, we have to create goals. While some goals may be big ones, like crossing the finish line, we need to break down those goals into bite-sized pieces so they are manageable and achievable. In life, maybe we have a big goal to write that book we’ve been thinking about—sounds overwhelming. Breaking it down into daily or even hourly activities is the only way to stack the deck in our favor and make the goal less frightening and more attainable.
  3. Train.
    Preparing to run 26.2 miles takes extensive training. I’m exhausted just thinking about what these people go through to run this race. Preparing our body and mind to endure this incredible challenge requires smart training plans, good coaches, self-discipline, and commitment. We need to do the same things in life. If we are committed to a particular goal, we need to fully understand what it takes to get there. What training and development do we need? Are there people that can help us to achieve our goals along the way? Are we taking care of ourselves to remain healthy, nourished, and energized? Can we discipline ourselves to push through and stick to our plans? Ask yourself what you need in your own life to train for success.
  4. Find Internal Motivation.
    It’s not always easy to enthusiastically leap out of bed every single day ready to take on whatever life throws at us—and we know it’s going to throw some crazy stuff. Finding that thing that keeps us motivated is critical. It’s that special something that keeps you staying course when things get difficult, reminding us why we’re doing what we’re doing. No one can help us to find that motivation, we have to discover it within ourselves. To live a fulfilling and successful life, however we define success for ourselves, requires establishing these internal motivators.
  5. Stay Focused.
    In running and in life, focus is key. As we pound away, noticing other runners passing us by, we can’t get distracted with their 

    “Where focus goes, energy flows.” – Anthony Robbins

    success. Your path is your path—it’s unique and special and just for you. Be gracious as others become successful along the way. We each have to discipline ourselves to focus on the end results we’ve defined in our own life plans. When we lose that focus, we can get sidetracked and lose precious time and investments we’ve already made. If we change our focus due to a shift in goals, that’s absolutely okay. But stay committed and continue to focus on the amended goal moving toward the desired results.
  6. Visualize Success.
    As runners prepare and participate in a marathon, they visualize themselves running the race, successfully crossing the finish line, and actually feel that sense of achievement even before they complete their goal. This visualization keeps them engaged, and by placing them in the mindset that they have already succeeded, builds confidence, helping to remove mental barriers. Envisioning that we’ve already achieved what we’ve set out to do–imagining what the success feels like, tastes like, sounds like—this mental picture can magically transform us into living that life now. Goals seem more easily realized. It’s a powerful tool if practiced daily.
  7. Celebrate.
    The reward at the end of a marathon is the sense of accomplishment that you’ve completed the race.  Maybe you set a specific time for yourself, or maybe it was just to cross the finish line at all. The reward of achieving the goal is electrifying. But as the runner is actively participating in the race, they likely are celebrating smaller successes along the way. Those smaller achievements and celebrations, which likely align to the goals they broke down in their plan, give continued energy and motivation to the entire experience. We need to acknowledge and celebrate our own achievements along the way. Life is hard and daily challenges or negative external factors can knock us down. Let’s applaud ourselves for having the balls to show up and put ourselves out there—celebrate even the small successes.

I look forward to another great race this weekend. Best of luck to all the runners here in Chicago—you are inspiration to us all!

Photos credit: Tara Jantzen

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