A couple Saturdays ago I set off to run 20 miles. While this isn’t everyone’s typical Saturday it’s become somewhat routine for me as I train for a marathon later this fall. In fact, I wasn’t really dreading this at all. The plan was for this to be “nice and easy”, and while it would take over 2 hours, I expected to finish feeling completely fine. But somewhere around mile 13 I started feeling a little off. I was dehydrated, my legs ached from a hard run the day before, and I just wanted it to be over. Unfortunately I still had 7 miles to go, and by the time I finished my entire body ached and I started shivering even though it was quite warm out. Needless to say that after running 20 miles in two and a quarter hours, I don’t think I moved more than 50 feet that entire afternoon.
Seems enjoyable, right? Even though this particular run kind of sucked, it was definitely the exception and not the rule. Just like playing good Offense and Defense, a good training program for running involves mostly easy work with a few days or hard work (or just feeling crappy, like the day described above) sprinkled in here and there just to make things interesting. Enjoying these types of activities is kind of a theme in my life. So since the way to get good at running is not so different than the way to get good at money, I thought I’d share how I became a runner today. And also explain why that’s a regular expense category!
The Early Days
How does a kid randomly take up running? Back in middle school, my best friend’s dad was pretty into running. One day, he took my friend and me on a 4 mile run, which literally felt like a marathon back then. After the initial shock, my friend and I started running together sometimes. Then high school started and he convinced me to go to cross country practice just to check it out. I agreed, but said that I played tennis and wasn’t interested in joining the team. That changed pretty quickly, and a few weeks later I was all in.
For those unfamiliar, cross country runners are a pretty interesting breed. Typically lean, goofy, somewhat intelligent, a little dorky, and generally uncoordinated with a few notable exceptions. The type of people who randomly start games of duck-duck-goose in the stretching circle before coach comes out to practice. One day, we loaded into vans to go on my first road trip to a race. My teammate’s Dad was driving, and my teammate starts blasting Afroman’s “Crazy Rap” *I DO NOT recommend listening to this song!* which was by far the dirtiest song I had ever heard at the time. Other teammates sang along as I sat there a little alarmed and very amused, with my teammate’s Dad shaking his head while driving his insane son’s team to our meet. Another day a different teammate and his girlfriend, who ran on the girl’s team, were late to practice. Apparently they were at a math review session or something like that. From that day forward, “math homework” became a euphemism typically described by baseball bases. People would brag about how they had graduated from Algebra and were currently exploring pre-calc! I unexpectedly found my home among these people in freshman year, and my life changed forever because of it.
The College Years
After high school, I was hungry for more. I had gotten OK at running, good for my area in my not-so-competitive state, but not quite collegiate caliber at the relatively large university I attended. So, I trained solo for a year, improving significantly and ultimately convincing the coach to let me join the team. Training alone, in a new place, with not a lot of hope of ever joining the team was quite the struggle. Making my collegiate team remains one of my biggest accomplishments in running and in life. Through the process, I learned that I really do enjoy competitive running for its own sake. The process of hard work leading to results was addicting, and really a great metaphor for other areas of life.
The next three years were pretty great. I enjoyed the team environment, as well as the perks of collegiate athletics: free shoes/gear, getting to travel a bit, and laundry service! I know I’m lucky to have had this experience, and I’ll never forget it.
Like when I finished high school, when I graduated from undergrad I knew I still had more in me. I eventually started training for the marathon, which is what I do now. I’ve run 4 marathons (3 good ones!), and my goal is to someday qualify for the US Olympic Trials. Though I’ve still got a few minutes to shave off :).
How to be a good runner
OK, that’s enough about me. Now let’s talk about YOU. Do you want to be a good runner? Or just to know how to be a good runner because it’s a nice thought? Here’s how.
When it comes to distinguishing the very best from simply “the best” in running, it might come down to things like specific interval workouts, types of recovery drinks, and probably above all genetics/upbringing. But when it comes to broadly distinguishing “the best” from “the rest”, there’s really only one thing that matters. Consistency. The best runners train consistently. They run a lot. Most of it is easy running–a pace at which one could whistle (if needed) or at least comfortably hold a conversation. A little bit of it is hard. But most of all there’s simply a lot of it. Take a look at the training logs of any number of good runners and this one theme will emerge, despite variation in many of the other details.
And this is something I love about running. Anyone with the will to train consistently without overdoing it can achieve great results. It’s a very satisfying process. I imagine it’s a bit like a good marriage–it might not necessarily be the most thrilling thing every minute of every day, but there’s a quiet beauty in it that slowly compounds over time, resulting in something really special that only the parties involved truly understand.
So if you want to be a good runner, get consistent. Embrace the basics and practice them regularly. Don’t get caught up in the emotions of a single run or race, and don’t sweat it when something that should be straightforward occasionally turns into a struggle. Just keep marching on, be patient, and you’ll reap the fruits of your labor. And if you want to become financially independent, I recommend generally following the same process.