What I Learned About Life From Running a Marathon

by Jimmy Warden

This past Saturday, I embarked on a marathon with my good friend, Dan Gauthier. We were running for a fundraiser that Dan’s work place was putting on and it was a fundraiser to fight hunger in Vermont. Luckily, Dan raised a tremendous amount of money and was able to feed many families as a result of his fundraising efforts. Big ups to you Dan! With that being said, it was the first time that both of us ran a marathon, so it is safe to say that we learned a few things along the way that translate to life, so you’ll find some of those anecdotes in the paragraphs below.

1.) Preparation for something challenging is important.

If there is something challenging that you are facing in life, whether it’s a new job, depression, anxiety, relationship troubles, family health issues, personal health issues, it is important to be as prepared as you can be. That way, you can create some confidence amidst the fear that is present. Anything new that we are facing is an unknown force and our brains often send us messages that come in the form of questions of doubt, so that we can begin trying to maneuver in a way that protects us from the adverse stimulus. In this case, it is the challenging event in front of us that we have never faced before. This is why it is also important to call upon people who have faced the challenge before. Any insight that we can get regarding the challenge that lies ahead can only benefit us. That way we have better ideas of what to do and what not to do if we want to overcome this challenge.

2.) Doing something bigger than yourself keeps you going.

This is an old cliche, but within it there is wisdom. We often think of ourselves during challenging situations because we are trying to protect everything about us. Our self image, our understanding of our own competence, and our ego, to name a few. That is why we often get entangled in negative self-talk and negative thoughts. Once we begin to think outside of ourselves, we realize that our purpose for engaging in something challenging is to bring meaning to not only our lives, but the lives of those around us. In this case, the meaning behind the marathon we ran was to bring food to the hungry in the state of Vermont. This definitely kept us going when we faced physical and mental hardships along the route of our marathon. We knew that the cause was greater than the marathon itself, which kept us going.

3.) The more you control the conversation in your head, the more likely it is that you’ll achieve your ideal outcome.

This is a lot easier said than done. We often have a hard time controlling the conversation in our heads because we create an image of what we would like to happen and when that doesn’t happen we find every reason why it isn’t happening. During this time, thoughts of self-doubt and excuses come into play, which hinder our physical abilities tremendously. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Now, imagine if those same thoughts did a 180-degree turn and they were positive? Think of the possibilities that could come of this new way of thinking and the new prophecies you could fulfill, just by changing the conversation you are having in your head. During the marathon, I experienced some significant lows, but I tried my best to control the conversation in my head by reminding myself that my goal was to finish the race, no matter what it took, and that I would keep going. By holding onto these ideas as fuel, I was able to fulfill my ideal outcome of finishing the marathon despite its tremendous difficulty.

4.) Self-doubt and excuses are poison.

As stated previously, self-doubt and excuses hinder our physical abilities tremendously, which is why they are poison. If you decide that you are going to fill your head with thoughts of self-doubt, self-loathing, and excuses, your outcomes will reflect that. There were times during the marathon, that I allowed the physical pain that I was in to dictate what I was saying to myself. When I ran out of water with more than 5 miles to go, I said things to myself like “I’m screwed” and “I can’t keep going without water”, and as a result I began to walk. As I started to walk, the pain in my body only got worse. Then I started making the excuse “I can’t run because my body won’t let me” when in reality, it was really my mind. I could’ve suffered a bit more than I was in order to keep running, but my self-doubt and excuses of being in pain and not having adequate supplies gave me permission to walk.

5.) Effort can bring you to places you’ve never been to before.

Despite the fact that I allowed my mind to control me for portions of the race, I still feel like I gave it my best effort. Could I have performed better if I controlled my mind better? Perhaps. However, the raw effort that Dan and I put forth took us somewhere that we have never been to before, and that is the finish line of a marathon. A marathon in which there was over 2,000 feet of elevation gain. A marathon in which we ran through farm areas where we smelled nothing but manure when all we wanted was some fresh oxygen. A marathon in which we couldn’t eat anything during the race because our bodies weren’t used to consuming calories while racing (remember that preparation piece?). Despite these factors, our efforts allowed us to overcome this adversity.

6.) You’ll feel bad letting people down, but you’ll feel worse letting yourself down.

This is something I thought of a lot during the race on Saturday. I wanted to quit at times, but I knew I would be letting people down. The thing is, people are usually okay with being let down, as long as the right intention is there, and it is not repeated. Other people can forgive you and we can accept that. However, the person we have the hardest time forgiving is ourself. We regret things that we didn’t do, knowing that if we had just tried a little harder or tried a slightly different strategy, then we would’ve been able to accomplish what we set out to do. We often repress these regrets and they come back to the surface whenever we are in a similar situation that evokes similar emotions. Unfortunately, this cycle far too often repeats itself, and has similar outcomes. On Saturday, I knew I would be letting down the people that had been cheering me on, which would’ve made me sick to my stomach. That would have eventually subsided with the empathy I most likely would’ve received from others, but I would not have been able to live with the regret of not finishing the race, knowing that I could’ve finished it.

7.) Positivity isn’t hokey, it’s powerful.

I have always tried to be a positive person, but it can be difficult to be positive during times of high stress. There were times when our bodies were not cooperating with us during the marathon, but we created a mantra of “just keep going”. Any time one of us said “just keep going” it reminded us that that’s all we needed to do in this time of extreme stress. Once we harnessed our energy and said out loud to “just keep going” we did just that. I know I felt some energy surging throughout my body during those times, which I used as fuel to keep me pushing towards the finish line. This too can apply in life because we all face difficulties throughout our time on Earth. Whether it is a lost job, a lost loved one, or anything in between, if there is any way to put a positive spin on it, there will be more value gained than if we were to stay in that negative spiral that was previously mentioned.

8.) People that are there for you in challenging times are real people and they love you.

Dehydration, self-doubt, pain, and suffering overtook my mind around mile 22. I had no water, I was in tremendous amounts of pain, and I felt like the end was a lot further away than it was. On the bright side, I had two people that were with me physically during this time, one of them being Dan, and the other being Jack Zeilenga. Dan kept me moving by stating our mantra and telling me he wasn’t going to finish alone. I knew from these messages he wanted to bring out the best in me and that’s what he did. He helped me find something that I didn’t know I had, which was more energy to put forth into the race. Jack Zeilenga was on his bike, riding along my side, making sure I wasn’t letting the conversation in my head get too crazy. He even zoomed off, uphill on his bike, in order to get me some water and electrolyte replenishment from a house along the route. Not to mention he ran about six miles with us and biked a few more earlier in the day. The level of character these two men possess is immaculate and I could not have finished the race without them.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also give a shout out to the other folks that helped us along the way. From the McKinstry family cheering us on with pom poms on Elm Street, Margaret McCoy giving us water and Kind bars on Bliss Road, Jill Zeilenga trailing us in her car and waving cow bells with her son Elliot, Caelan Zeilenga running several miles with us, Kim and Zach Brown cheering us on down the home stretch, and Samantha and Harper Gauthier and family cheering us into U-32. We loved every bit of support you gave us.

I would also like to thank my girlfriend, Rachel Branch, who could not be there physically, but was with us as best as she could be by providing inspirational text messages and comments on our live videos to keep us going. All of you are amazing people and we couldn’t have done it without you.

That about wraps up the things that I learned about life by running a marathon (for now). This is why we should try to think about events as more than just events, but learning moments. You never know what you might learn!

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