This may be some of the most important writing I’ve ever put down, let me just start that way.

A couple of weeks ago now I ran my first full marathon-it was a terrible and tremendous experience that I am still a little “mental” about even now weeks later, but I thought I would share my takeaways with you.

I do firmly believe that these learnings will serve you all he days of your life in an incredibly profound way. In your leadership, in your relationships, in your darkest hour, the following 5 takeaways will mark you if you take them to heart.

What I want you to understand about what follows it’s that everything I’ve written below is as true for life as it was for the marathon. I’ll say again: it’s as true for YOUR LIFE, as it was for me in this marathon experience.


  • As much as I try to get around it, chose the right attitude about it, I simply can’t deny the fact that I’m resenting myself for not committing to my goals…

I had two goals going into the race: 1, to not take any walking breaks and 2, to finish by 4 hours. I failed to see either of those goals through.

As of now, I won’t ever run that race again and so that was my chance. There’s a lesson here about going for broke because there’s “no looking back”-that’s the mentality I should have had on the last 3 miles of the race.

Literally that’s where I fell apart, that’s where I walked the most, that’s where I picked up the extra 8 minutes-finishing 4:08:59 officially… I feel like I will be forever staring down those extra 9 minutes.

So here’s the 1st principle:

Honor your commitments so you don’t have to ever look back.

  • It hurts but I wasn’t hurt.

As a runner in this type of game, at least in my mind, I was expecting some kind of injury toward the end, just one misstep that would have me really really uncomfortable-like beyond the normal stiffness-and this would be the true mental battle of finishing well or finishing at all.

An injury like something pulled, something popped, something even chaffed badly enough to forge through.

The truth was far less complicated than that: yes, I was sore and stiff, but I was not injured in any way. My discomfort was marginal.

I walked simply because I didn’t want to run anymore. I just wanted to stop. I was having almost a toddler tantrum. That day I learned something very serious about my mental toughness.

You are tougher than you think. You are tougher than even you body tells you or your circumstance tells you or whatever input you’re being given; don’t always buy the input or at least question where the input is coming from.

  • You can’t do this thing alone.

I knew that I would want some people to come out and support at some basic, self-deprecating level, but I grossly underestimated my fundamental emotional need for moral support that day.

In addition to the $100 entry fees, I would have paid people to be at several strategic locations to cheer me on and give me that emotional boost. And I would have been counting on them.

Actually I would have liked to be surprised by some and counting still on others. At a marathon, at really most any organized race, there is this fabulous league of volunteers who hold out mini water and Gatorade cups and they cheer and hoot and holler and it’s pretty cool.

And then you even have your fellow runner standing next to you (perhaps the few unlike me with headphones buried in their ears), which brings a certain emotional solidarity and camaraderie-and seriously even this one can’t be underrated because when you’re pacing, you stay around some familiar faces for quite a time.

But still I needed more. And that’s what I realized about myself… I desperately needed people to be there…

…at mile 19 right before “the wall” and then truthfully at the middle of every mile till the end of the race… mile 22, mile 23, miles 24 through 26 and don’t forget the .2

You can’t do this race alone.

  • Expectations are not reality. If I could somehow insert an audio loop of that phrase repeating over and over again in your head right now, whilst simultaneously getting louder and louder each time, I would.

I ran and I trained and I sweat and I prepped and I practiced-mentally and physically! I told myself all the things I would need to know, I trained really as much as I could, but nothing prepared me for the unexpected turns, distances and feelings that lied ahead.

Why? Because by and large expectations-good, bad or otherwise-will never match reality. So what’s the positive learning?

Always expect the unexpected. 

  • Find a mantra and like a psycho repeat it to yourself (out loud if you’re able). 

Talking to myself, out loud, with headphones in was literally the only thing that made me cross that finish line at a “run” rather than a walk (which to me was the image of actual failure-to pass the finish line walking).

Something remarkable did happen because of the person running next to me, I was walking and this guy about my size and stamina was jogging but just this slow and steady pace, so slow it was barely above my walk and I thought to myself, ‘maybe I should try that’… And so I did.

Mind you I had already totally caved on whatever “pace” I was aiming at before so whatever level I was attempting before this point was already near a crawl, but there was something about this guy’s slow and steady march that I decided to try it on.

And then for no reason at all I just start repeating to myself out loud:

‘just stay right here… just stay right here… just stay right here…’

I’m just telling you folks: this was the moment… this was the emotional (spiritual) breakthrough for me.

This was the moment when my entire life would be served by this one lesson. I said to myself, ‘slow and steady, just small short little steps, just keep trotting, that’s it, that’s it…’

In that moment I was coaching myself, in that moment I was the encouragement, in that moment I was two people: the one running and the one talking to the runner.

My biggest regret is that literally this second person didn’t come out earlier, just 2 miles earlier even and then who knows what happens to my finish time goal. But that’s still not the point, the point is the life lesson:

There is immense power in the mantra, with some positive self talk you can do almost anything. 

One week later and I’m still having a hard time thinking about the race because I did not meet my goals. However, there are pride points too…

I finished just in time to make an appearance 30 minutes later at my new church job. 3 days later it was my 9-year anniversary, a reminder really of what that marriage has produced… FIVE KIDS!

And to have trained and finished a race at this point in my life was actually the whole purpose to begin with.

And then someone said something to me recently that shook me to the core that hopefully gives you equal pause: my unmet goals were still within the plan of a totally sovereign God so dwell on that instead.

I think my ultimate realization is this:

In life, in leadership, in work, you can have an unmet goal and still achieve your purpose, but it’s critical to keep the bigger learning and mission in mind.

Please repost and share if you think there’s someone who needs to read this, thanks!

10 thoughts on “I Ran a Marathon, So Here’s What I Learned

  1. I’m honored to call you a friend. Don’t ever say never… because if you take those emotions and you surround yourself with God anything is possible. Check out The Trails, God is everywhere, you can feel him and he propels you through the wall. Hope to see you on The Trails.

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  2. Ben, that was an epic journey in 26.2 miles! It could take a life time to gain what you learned; these are powerful cliff notes for my life moving forward. Thank you for this inspiring self-GPS navigation to the finish line.
    Looking forward to your sermons.

    Like

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