Life’s A Marathon – Where Are You At?

At a recent road race, I heard another runner pass on some great words of encouragement:

“You’ve put in your deposits with all your weekly training runs, now you’re just cashing it in to buy that dream you’ve been saving up for.”

There’s a lot of truth to that statement.  Even more, I think, than the guy who said it really intended.  Running a marathon (or even a half marathon) is a big deal.  So are our financial goals.  And there are a lot of parallels between the two that serve as good reminders and reinforcements of good habits.  So since I love to run, and I like good financial habits, I thought I might write about them both today.  =)

Finishing Marathons And Reaching Financial Goals Are Not Exclusive

This is Paula Radcliffe, though I dream of being this awesome.

It’s worth noting that the number of marathon finishers in the US is growing by leaps and bounds.  According to RunningUSA, in 2000, there were 353K marathon finishers in the US.  By 2011, that number was 518K, and 2012 is expected to further surpass that number.  (Even if there’s some double counting with people completing more than one, those are still huge numbers of finishers in the US!)

And these finishers come in all shapes and sizes.  World class athletes like Paula Radcliffe do not have a monopoly on the ability to propel themselves 26.2 miles in a single go.  Some of us might need smaller sub-goals first.  That’s okay.

Same goes with financial goals.  Wherever we sit financially, there is a goal that is within reach.  Maybe it’s not your ultimate goal – but there is some goal within reach.  And once you reach that one, you go for the next one.  Until you hit your ultimate financial goal.

Define Your Goal And Commit

By registering for a race, you are committing to meeting that goal by a specific date and time.  You pay a (sometimes hefty) fee, with the knowledge that if you don’t put in the work, those dollars are sunk costs.

With your finances, committing to a goal might look a little different.  But it needs to start with spelling out exactly what your goal is and when you want to reach it.  A date.  The act of committing can be as simple as sharing your goal with someone who will be supportive while also holding you accountable during the process.  Spouse, mother, father, sister, brother, friend.  They are all great places to start for accountability.  Or share your goal here on our blog.  We’ll check in with you if you feel like you can’t share it elsewhere.

Figure Out How You’re Getting There

In running, it’s called a training regimen.  Most runners approaching a race like a marathon have a schedule of runs that they’ll follow to make sure they’ve got the distance and the pace they want to achieve as race day approaches.  Do it.  As the runner was saying, this training regimen is like weekly deposits into your savings account.

A financial goal isn’t going to look any different.  (Though you likely won’t sweat as much.)  You need to plan out how you’re going to get from where you are to where you’ve committed to be.  It’s a concrete plan, and you need to be accountable to that plan.

Reaching Your Goal – Race Day

You Can’t Control Everything

There are things you can’t control in life – and the weather is one of them.  Race day might arrive and it’s cold and rainy or hot and muggy.  And you can’t change it.  The only thing you can do is train through as many different weather scenarios as you can.  If you only train during perfect conditions, then anything short of perfect is going to be tough because you won’t know what to expect or how to adapt.

Life happens along the way to reaching your financial goals, too.  Things come up.  And it can be difficult, but you deal with them, and keep pursuing your goals as much as is possible.  When money is easier to come by, maybe you can get ahead of schedule on your goals, but when it’s tight you might need to rely on the ground you gained earlier to prevent falling behind.

Pick A Good Team

Many marathons are starting to include pace teams in their races.  A pace team is a group of runners that commits to running the race at a specific pace, generally with one semi-professional runner who will set the pace (and hold a sign or banner) for the group.  Picking a pace team that’s too much of a stretch could be setting yourself up for failure because there’s nothing that dooms a race more than killing it in the first few miles only to crash early.

In finances, your pace team is the financial peers you choose to surround yourself with and compare yourself to.  Even if they are not in your every day life or “live in your computer”.  These are people that you don’t need to impress with shiny new toys, and who are trying to meet their own goals themselves – even if it’s not the exact same goal (like the marathon).  The mutual support from your pace team can help make the hard patches seem less painful.

Hitting A Wall

In running it’s known as “the wall”.  When your glycogen stores are depleted and you need to rely on something greater to get you through to the end.  But just like a financial goal where you feel you’re stuck – this is where grit and determination come in.  They join with the plan, and the pace team, and you figure out a way to get to the end – even if it’s going to take you a little longer than you had originally hoped.

Message on a poster at a race I ran: “Don’t give up now – You’ve been training longer than Kim Kardashian was married!”

Cashing It In

When the finish line is literally in view, I like to kick it up a notch and finish strong.  A finisher’s photograph with your head held high, and a huge grin on your face is such an emotional difference compared to stumbling across the finish line on your hands and knees.

And when you reach your financial goal, do the same thing.  Hold your head up high and celebrate it.  If it was anything like running 26.2 miles you’ll have earned it.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

Once you’ve seen that you can reach your goal – and felt the inevitable high that went along with reaching it – get ready to repeat the whole process again.

There are some other personal finance bloggers out there who have recently committed to running their first marathon or half marathon.  Shanynn at Frugal Beautiful and Ginna at My Pretty Pennies – good luck to you both!  You’re clearly putting in the work, so I know it’ll pay off!

Have you ever run a marathon or a half marathon or some other tough endurance exercise?  What other lessons and parallels do you think we can draw between the way we approach fitness goals and financial goals that will help us succeed at both?  

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