Sometimes Half Is All the Way: Marathons and Personal Finance

I did it. Well, I’m going to do it. And yes, this might the first sign of mental breakdown, but I’m remarkably okay with that label if it carries me across the finish line. After all, a dash of crazy is a prerequisite for a half marathon, and even more for the full 26.2.

Yep, I’m signed up for the Richmond Half Marathon and made my first training run with the group on Saturday. Apparently I’ll do almost anything in pursuit of a car sticker, or so I’m discovering. Now that I’m passed the quarter century mark and inching ever closer to the inevitable 30, I imagine the window of opportunity will close before I realize it (we’ve made it four years without an “oops,” but the odds can’t be in our favor much longer, heh. And I’m not running my first giant race with a baby belly). So 2012 is the year I woman up, and November 10 is the day I prove it.

I’m running with the novice team – no surprise there – but why I’m a novice instead of an intermediate runner is much more interesting.

Of course I’m no Usain Bolt. However, my pace had essentially nothing to do with which level of runner I am. The novice training teams include pace times from 7:00 minutes to 13:00 minutes or thereabouts, which means some folks are running almost twice as fast as others even though we’re all lumped together. Likewise, the intermediate teams are spread out across the board, and some of the paces match the novice teams. What gives?

Before I took the plunge on the training team, I sat at the feet of Head Coach Ro Gammon for an info meeting. A bunch of us were sitting on the floor of a dance studio in American Family Fitness, all us of trying to look casual without being too ridiculous in a room full of strangers. Coach bounced up and down on an exercise ball with way too much energy for someone her age as she gave us the details. She advised us to sign up for intermediate or novice based not on our time, but on our miles.

Say you run 15 miles a week at a 8:00minute pace. Better stay in novice. Say you run 25 miles a week at a 10:30minute pace. Bump yourself up to intermediate.

Ro emphasized over and over that the training is really about how many miles you have on your legs. It’s not how fast you run, but how far. I had to digest that for a minute. After all, most races are about how fast you can get across the finish line, the end. But once you hit the long distances, your body will give out if you push too hard, too fast. There’s a steady 10-20% a week increase rule for mileage, and if you bust through that, you’re almost guaranteed to get injured during training. And nothing guarantees a DNF like a worn down body.

So yeah, I’m definitely running with the novice folks. I have no interest in biting off more than I can chew and nearly choking myself to force it down. I want the smaller goal of 15 miles a week, even though it means I won’t be as close to running a full marathon, because this gives me a better chance of success long term.

Success depends on wisdom, and wisdom dictates that you don’t ramp up too fast, lest you burn up your mental and physical resolve. For me, it also means not going it alone, and sharing the experience and struggle with others who have set those same, smaller but still noble goals. We’re already breaking down the walls, and I know we’ll be cheering for each other come the full 13.1.

And you know, it all cross-applies to how we manage money and build wealth. Start slow, finish well. Small goals on the way to big goals. Don’t feel the pressure to turn everything around at once. Find a community that will talk you through. Break the taboos and train together. Same principles, just a different sphere.

Over the past year, personal finance has lost its fear factor for me, partially because of my job, partially because of great blogs like Get Rich Slowly, and partly because of personal experience. I’ve demystified the phrase. It’s no longer a phrase that inspires images of cutting back and mumbo jumbo jargon, but has become a natural extension of the way I live my life. Really, that’s what personal finance should be – a path to make and meet your goals and find freedom.

It’s like running a half. Sometimes, halfway really is all the way. Because if you put the miles on your legs and get in the habit, you’re going to keep climbing.


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