When it comes to my marathons, there are two typical responses: “Wow! I would never!..” and “Cool! I did too. How was it?”. Between them, there is a whole spectrum of the beliefs and perceptions about our determination and grit.
I do not think anyone in the Western type of society – cars, elevators, and grocery stores with carts – is ever ready for a marathon by default. No one can just register for a race – and run it. No one is a “lucky,” “privileged,” “charismatic” or “natural-born” marathon finisher. No genetics will work by itself (not sure what it should be regarding running, but probably long legs and slim body). What we see at races – dozens of thousands of people are running and finishing – is happening because of their strong will and deliberate training.
Grit, not talent, brings us success, says Angela Duckworth, a TED-speaker and author of a best-seller “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”. To run a marathon, talent alone is not helpful. Besides, preparing for a marathon is not just about running. It is a goal setting, a strategy, identifying resources, careful planning, deliberate practice, and strong commitment. Do you want to finish at any time or at a particular time? What training plan seems realistic? What do experienced runners recommend? How many times a week you can run? Do you have the right shoes and clothes? How will you get to the start? What will you take with you? Weather conditions? Time to recover? Food and drink? It is also intensive mental work: encouraging and motivation, finding your strengths and working out your weaknesses, staying strong, talking to yourself, listening to your body and your mind.
I remember distinctly when I first looked at my 18-weeks marathon training plan. I could not imagine myself running 14 miles. I did a half marathon before, but everything beyond that point looked blurry and frightening. However, one mile more seemed worth trying. Then fifteen – again, just one more mile. Twenty miles still seemed unbelievable, but seventeen – well, possible. You are building up your endurance, stretching your abilities mile by mile. In a half of the year, you shuffle your 20 miles routine runs between grocery shopping and taking kids to a play date. Moreover, you are much more concerned with your pace than with your sore legs. They were not sore so much anymore.
It is not just about sports and athletics. It is about everything we want to achieve in our life, in personal and professional areas. I believe it is a very similar approach. Marathon is a great exercise of how to jump over one’s head, hitting a goal that requires a long-term commitment and strenuous efforts. In a way, marathon achieving is an excellent training of achieving. It is about creating an entire infrastructure for the goal reaching, in all possible perspectives and dimensions. You get to know yourself; you grow self-awareness, you strengthen your perseverance tremendously.
Why can’t we apply such approach more often? I believe there are two major pitfalls:
First, we stick to a fixed mindset, as it is very convincingly described in a book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success“ by Carol Dweck. We judge ourselves, our abilities and potential from a very limited, as-on-today point of view. In that perspective, there should be no marathoners at all. In a fixed mindset, people do not even consider anything they cannot do today. All the dynamics and increasing amount of opportunities getting available as a result of growth are completely overseen. By the way, grit is also a skill, which might and should be trained.
Second, our goals are not challenging enough to take them seriously. They are not too hard, and thus they do mot make us thinking strategically, planning properly, and committing to it. They are not impossible today – so we are not looking for advice and guidance, we are not asking for help and mentoring, we are not digging into all details and specifics of how to get there. We are slack from the very beginning.
As a disclaimer: indeed, there are medical conditions that can prevent you from running long distances. However, I am pretty sure that running a marathon is much more achievable for most of the people than they think.
So – why won’t you run your marathon, whatever it might be?