I ran my first marathon a few years back. My goal was to just break three hours. Up until the gun went off I was very dubious about whether this was remotely possible. I hadn’t trained rigorously in thirteen years and running at three-hour pace during training seemed fast and I couldn’t imagine sustaining it over 26+ miles.
The result: I ended up running 11 minutes faster than my goal time of three hours. It was a great surprise.
Analysis: Whenever someone knows the outcome of something–whether good or bad–it can create bias in an analysis of the effectiveness of the inputs that created the outcome. I recognize that this applies to the following. With that said, my success in that race has made me look at the things I did to prepare for that race in a highly favorable light. I write them down here because I think they are generally important for anyone to remember and latch on to when setting out into the unknown on the journey to achieve a goal or make a change.
1. Set an immovable deadline
When you run a marathon, you pay some somewhat non-trivial amounts of money to do something on a fixed date. The gun is going off whether you show up or not. This is powerful. There is no debate about it. You’re either prepared or you’re not.
2. Insert yourself into a stronger group
I joined two running groups to get read that met thrice weekly.
3. Show up and take your beatings
The guys in these groups were in incredible shape and kicked the crap out of me on the track most of the time. I still went religiously and took my beatings. It wasn’t until about 10 weeks in that I realized I was beginning to lead a few workouts and no longer felt like I was being punched in the face. This showing up each time to take beatings from people smarter or stronger is important. “Sore today, strong tomorrow.”
You can’t keep getting beaten all the time. The rest between battles is important. Recovery takes as much, if not MORE discipline, than the application of force to something. In running, I see people absolutely overdoing it on recovery days and then getting injured. This happens repeatedly to the same people. The inability to recognize the need for recovery is like a disease in some. This chronic failure extends to continuing to work on studying or some other work-related project late into the night repeatedly and then falling into a pattern of either sleeping in or injuring your cognitive powers the next day because of a deprivation of sleep.
5. Break things into small problems
The actual running of the marathon is daunting. I basically just partitioned the whole race into sections. Especially towards the last half of the race I just started counting street lights. Since there are about 20 blocks to a mile I started breaking the race into 2-mile sections by counting to 40 as I ticked through blocks and streetlights. I would look ahead at what seemed to be about 4 blocks and just tell myself, “just make it there at this current pace and then see how you feel.” Any big problem should be subdivided into smaller units like this. We should clearly have a marker to look at each day.
“You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.” –Martin Luther King