What the marathon taught me

At the age of 30, I had earned a graduate degree, mourned the passing of my mother, took on a stable career as a credit union VP, and generally felt like I was settling into adulthood. The rate at which I had been learning life lessons was slowing considerably. I was beginning to wonder if perhaps- as the poster claimed- all the most important stuff really was taught in kindergarten (or at least shortly thereafter). Aside from what I expected from parenthood, it seemed unlikely there were many more life-changing lessons ahead. And then I began training for my first marathon.

For many years, I had been a distance runner. I started in high school and put forth the amount of work expected from a pretty average runner. I was never very competitive and never believed I had enough raw talent to become a truly fast 5K runner. As I got older, the speed of finishing a race mattered less and running became more about the experience. While marathon training, people often commented that I must have extreme athletic prowess, but I had discovered a truth: The reason only a small percentage of the population runs marathons has nothing to do with special skills. People who are physically capable of running a 5K are also likely to have the ability to prepare for a marathon. What most often differentiates the marathon runner is not talent, but a willingness to put in the hard work for months prior to the race to successfully complete 26.2 miles.

The marathon taught me that hard work, faithfully executed over a period of time, dramatically increases the likelihood of success.

Running a marathon can be a bit of a gamble. Knee pain, unseasonably warm temperatures, or an unexpected hill can be enough to make months of training feel worthless on race day. Even the most well-trained runner will occasionally experience a bad run, slogging mile-after-uncomfortable-mile with the goal of just getting the workout done. Sometimes, those bad run days coincide with race day, forcing a runner to choose between reaching a goal and running through pain. During the run that pain can be excruciating, but it’s a funny thing:  Many runners experience what seems like immediate relief as soon as the run is over. You don’t often see marathon runners take a victory lap; instead, they persevere through the hard spots knowing relief is imminent, and then stop the moment they cross the finish line.

The marathon taught me that while the pain can be very real during the run, it will stop soon after. Push through the difficult parts to reach the goal, then stop and rest as soon as you get there.

Before I committed to my first marathon, I thought about it many times. I was occasionally discouraged by others: Training would take up too much of my personal time; I was already busy enough; if I wasn’t planning to win, why bother? Those responses impacted by motivation. Then, I spoke with the friend that held me accountable to signing up and met the training partner who regularly showed up at my house before 5 a.m., committed to sticking to a plan. About seven miles into my first marathon a little girl who yelled, “you’re almost done!” gave me a smile that stayed with me for miles. More than 15 miles later (when I really was almost done) a stranger’s encouraging words gave me the boost I needed to make it through.

Pre-dawn alarm clocks, strict bed times, and selective eating habits required for marathon training can take almost as much of a toll on a spouse as they do the runner. When I finished what I had promised would be my last marathon with a Boston Qualifying time, my husband congratulated me and said, “One more then, right?” sending a message of support that blessed my pursuit of the Boston Marathon, my ultimate running goal.

The marathon taught me that it takes a lot of people to get you through. It is important to surround yourself with the ones who will help you get there most successfully.

Several years have now passed since I ran that first marathon, and the life lessons have stuck with me. When faced with challenges- whether getting through the next mile or managing an organization- it is good to remember that hard work, perseverance, and the right people can make anything possible.

Jill Nowacki

Jill Nowacki

Jill Nowacki started her career with credit unions in 2001. She has taken on leadership roles at credit unions and state and national trade associations. Now, she uses her experience ... Web: www.humanidei.com Details