What Can Running a Marathon Teach You About Life?

I ran the Chicago Marathon (in 2014). All 26.2 miles of it. It was definitely not an easy feat. Six months prior, I could barely run 10 kilometers.
08/04/2015 03:10 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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Answer by Derrick Fung, Forbes Top 30 under 30, Entrepreneur, Investor, Author

I ran the Chicago Marathon (in 2014). All 26.2 miles of it. It was definitely not an easy feat. Six months prior, I could barely run 10 kilometers. I realize now that I am probably not built to be a long distance runner, but regardless, I think the training and running of marathons can teach us all a lot about dedication, drive, and perseverance.

What is a marathon?

In "runner" terms, a marathon is one of the most challenging and daunting tasks. One must complete a distance of 26.2 miles (or 42 kilometers) in a consecutive manner. The term "marathon" came from the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek messenger. The legend states that he was sent from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon. It is said that he ran the entire distance without stopping and burst into the assembly exclaiming, "we have wᅫ﾿n," before collapsing and dying.

In our lives, a marathon is all our ambitions. It includes our goals, aspirations, and dreams. It's something the challenges us like no other and we strive daily to attain it. It could be running a successful company, or being the first female to voyage to Mars. We all have our own marathons.

How should we run our own marathons?

While running my first marathon, I realized that the marathon is surprisingly similar to some of the biggest goals we have in our lives. I realized that the way runners think about, train for, and run the marathon is very similar to how we should think about, train for, and accomplish some of our biggest ambitions in life.

We're not built to do it

Our bodies are really not made to handle marathons. As you read above, the first person who ran a "marathon" dropped dead — literally — after running it. But why do so many people want to do it? It's because if you prepare yourself both physically and mentally, you can actually push your limits and finish. There are a lot of things we want to do in life that we're "technically" not meant to do. But with hard work and dedication, we can do whatever we put our minds to.

Break down your run

A marathon is 26.2 miles. But if we break it down, we're really just running 10 miles twice, then finishing it off with a simple 10km run. Doesn't seem that bad right? Take this concept and apply it to your goals. Break them down, so they don't seem so daunting. Tackle it each step at a time. And if you need to, take breaks in between. It's not the end of the world.

Picture the finish line

Sometimes when the going gets tough, you need to envision yourself at the finish line. Trying to build a successful company? Picture the day you're at the NASDAQ ringing the opening bell for your company's IPO. Trying to obtain a 4.0 GPA? Picture convocation day when the Dean of your school is acknowledging your achievements. Always picture the finish line, because if you can envision it, it will actually happen.

We're not all meant to finish

There are many people who will give up during the marathon because they were never meant to finish. It wasn't part of their life's plan. Maybe it was a physical limitation, or maybe it was just fate. There was a young man named Kevin Systrom who applied to work at Google. He was turned down and consequently started this little app that helped put filters on photos. He called it "Instagram" — we all know how that story ends.

Prepare for the worst

As a first time marathoner, I was prepared for the worst. I had a fanny pack full of energy gels, drank Gatorade every few miles, stuffed myself with carbohydrates before the race, and made sure I found sufficient bananas (they help with cramps) on my way to the 26.2 mile finish line. I knew that it was going to be tough and made sure I was ready for it. As much as I am a big optimist, I think it's important for us to be realistic sometimes as well. The better prepared you are, the higher the probability that you will "finish" your life's marathons.

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