What Marathons Have Taught Me About Lifestyle Design

Marathon Lifestyle Design

Marathon Lifestyle Design

I just completed another marathon a couple of days ago.  Slowly chugging along for several hours gave me a lot of time to think about how distance running parallels lifestyle design in many ways.

Lifestyle Design is a Marathon Not a Sprint

Okay, I apologize, but I had to throw that in that in there. But it really is. Every time I run a race like this I see hundreds of people sprint off from the finish. It is like when you start a new project, blog, exercise program, studying a language, a new job or basically anything that takes time and work. At the beginning it is always easy and interesting. Your motivation is high and you probably overestimate your stamina and perseverance. When everything is new you can quickly accomplish large milestones with minimal effort. Everything seems great. All you have to do is continue this pace until you reach your goals.

Then comes the pain. It starts getting harder to keep that original pace and enthusiasm. What was once fun and easy is now tedious and insurmountable. This is where most people start to give up. Those early sprinters all quickly start to slow down and end up walking much of the race, or even giving up and quitting altogether. How many dead blogs do you come across? How many people give up on their dreams and ideas that they were so excited about in the past. After that initial excitement of the starting gun goes off, everything worthwhile begins to look a lot like work. Can you keep running when your muscles start to hurt? Will you keep striving even though you want to quit and just turn on the TV?

There is No Substitute for Hard Work

There are no short cuts to becoming a better runner. The more you run the stronger runner you become. While that is not surprising, there is no shortage of people looking for easy solutions in their life. Students who wait to the last minute to study but expect high grades. People who after years of lethargy and over-eating hope for some miracle exercise apparatus to give them six pack abs in minutes a day. The world of lifestyle design is no different. There are many ebooks and training programs promising super-sized incomes on part-time work hours. Call me a skeptic if you like, but anyone making money online has likely paid their dues by learning everything they can, lots of trial and error and good old-fashioned hard work. Expecting some miracle ebook to deliver thousands of dollars per month in passive income is like expecting to win a gold medal in the Olympics without training.

Focus on the Next Ten Meters

Running a marathon is difficult. It is hard to stay motivated for several hours of running. I would rather be at home drinking a coffee then running any day. After about 25 kilometers it gets much harder to keep going. Thinking that it is ONLY 17 more kilometers is not particularly motivating when your muscles ache and you just want it to be over. I just focus on the next pylon, tree or any type of marker that is up ahead. I tell myself, “I will run to that point and then walk a little.” I keep making very small goals like that for the entire race until I am finished. After all a marathon is only about 4200 ten meter increments.

Running a business, blogging, learning a foreign language, losing weight and almost anything worth accomplishing in life can be broken down to a series of small goals.  The goal of writing a book can be overwhelming and downright discouraging. However, writing for 30 minutes a day is doable. It is amazing what a small and consistent effort can accomplish over longer periods of time.

Consistency Trumps Sporadic Bursts

We all get occasional jolts of motivation. New Year’s is a great time to witness short-lived resolutions that started with the best of intentions but quickly fade away. We get too busy, we make excuses, maybe we are just too tired today. Tomorrow sounds like a better time. Then a bunch of tomorrows get strung together and we notice we haven’t run for weeks or months.

Don’t overdo it in the beginning. Take it slow but strive for your lifedesign goals on a regular and consistent basis. It is better to run three 20 minute runs than one 60 minute run. It is better to write one blog post a week for seven weeks than seven posts in one week and six weeks of nothing. Do a small and manageable amount and keep at it.

Stop Making Excuses

About seven years ago, I met a couple in their fifties who just started running. They were weak runners with no background in sports so they were both pretty slow. We started joining the same races and met several times a year. Even without any regular training I was always faster in shorter and distance runs. That lasted for about two years. The couple both continually upped their training regime to the point of joining a running club, finishing 100km races and regularly running 50 plus kilometers a week.

Needless to say, my sporadic training is not enough to keep up to these two despite the fact that I am almost 20 years younger. Age, money, education or any other excuse you have do not matter at all. Effort and talent are the only ingredients required for success. Chris Brogan regularly talks of the hard work it has taken him to become an overnight success. Gary Vaynerchuk is renowned for his insane work ethic. It is no surprise who crosses the finish line.

It doesn’t Have to Be Fun

Going for a run on a cold day when it is raining and you really don’t feel like it is not enjoyable. In fact, it can be very miserable. I don’t expect pleasure and happiness every time I tie up my shoe laces. Most days when I run, I would much rather be sitting on my sofa drinking a glass of wine. I don’t run because it is fun, I run because of how it makes me feel after I am finished. I love feeling strong and healthy, that feeling only comes from exercise.

I have a problem with the word ‘passion’ because most people think that there is something that will give them pure enjoyment 100% of the time, for the rest of their lives. That is bullshit. Nothing is always enjoyable, particularly when it is done too often. Finding enjoyment in running, work, blogging, business, studying is all about focusing on the results. The goal is to cross that finish line. When you cross that line after 42.195 kilometers you are not thinking about all of those times you didn’t want to run but did anyway.

I get value from running and that is why I do it. I also enjoy getting my ideas out on this blog, so that is why I continue. However, my ‘passion’ is not to sit behind a computer screen for several hours a day. Some days, I would rather do other things but I keep pushing for the small accomplishments. I get immense satisfaction every time I publish a new post, complete a run, learn a new riff or song on the guitar, or make something new. Happiness comes from knowing I completed or achieved something, even if the process was frustrating and time-consuming.

You are Competing with Yourself

I don’t expect to win a marathon, nor am I ever going to get a gold medal in the Olympics. So why run?  I just want to see the results of my efforts. When I train a lot, I run well. When I don’t train much, I don’t run well. The final time or speed makes little difference. I just want to do the best I can on any given day. I will pass many people and many people will pass me. The speed of other runners doesn’t affect my satisfaction at all. I run only for myself. It is all about personal excellence and that is not relative to what others may or may not be achieving.

Don’t worry if other people are more successful than you. It doesn’t matter. The only thing that counts is how hard you are striving towards your own goals each and every day. Celebrate when you get your first customer, first comment on your blog or first consulting gig. Then celebrate again on your fifth, tenth and twentieth. Who cares if competitor X has 50,000 RSS subscribers or 10,000 Twitter followers. If you are happy with the effort you are putting in, then don’t worry about the rest of the world.

It’s All About People

Every race in any country of the world seems to bring out the best in people. Everyone cheers each other on. Hundreds of volunteers work hard to support and motivate runners. The entire atmosphere of any race is friendly and exciting from start to finish. People don’t get angry at each other or bicker like they do in their normal lives. People don’t ignore each other. It really is a different world. We all could run our own 42.195 kilometers in our own free time and avoid the entrance fees, but the real value of the race is to join like-minded people and do it together.

Sports like running get people together for training and meeting up on race days. We are not there to exchange business cards or sell each other anything. We all just want to do our best together. If only everything in life worked like that.

Lifestyle Design Is Not a Sprint

We are all looking for shortcuts in life. We want to make more money in less time and have more fun doing it. Imagine if you could wake up tomorrow and become a millionaire, look 10 years younger, or get down to a healthy weight. An instant solution like that would be worth a lot of money to a lot of people. In fact, you are probably bombarded daily with ads and emails promising similar things with a penis enlargement thrown in for good measure. If it sounds too good to be true, it most definitely is. Enjoy the process in everything you do and slow down to the speed of life. There is no finish line other then death. Strive to consistently improve yourself and follow your own path in life.  Don’t wait for some imaginary event or accomplishment to bring you happiness. It doesn’t matter how much of a better runner I become or how successful my businesses are. I gain immense enjoyment knowing that I try my best everyday. Lifestyle design to me is about doing as much as I can every day, not as little as possible.

Enjoy the Article?

Go ahead, you know you want to! :-)

Subscribe for articles and interviews about achieving your dreams and making a difference.

My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

23 Responses to What Marathons Have Taught Me About Lifestyle Design

  1. Karen says:


    First, Congratulations on the recent marathon!

    This post really hit home with me on a few areas. Specifically, these sentences stood out:

    “Expecting some miracle ebook to deliver thousands of dollars per month in passive income is like expecting to win a gold medal in the Olympics without training.” This is so true. As a newbie blogger, I’m guilty of this and have come to realize that I’m spending more on my site than what I’ve seen coming in. From now on, I’m having a moritorium on my ebook spending. You’re right when we see the successes now, but don’t fully appreciate all the hidden work behind the scenes. It’s so easy to get suckered in by the sale pitches though.

    Also, when you say: “Don’t worry if other people are more successful than you. It doesn’t matter. The only thing that counts is how hard you are striving towards your own goals each and every day. ” I firmly believe in this and think that the only competition you have is with yourself. There is no use comparing yourself to the Joneses because someone will always have more money, more followers, more Twitters, etc. You’ll never be satisfied comparing yourself to another person.

    Great advice!

    • John says:

      Thanks for the comment Karen!

      I think it is a good idea to invest time and money into learning and training. Not all investments in online education are bad. In my post, I was referring to many the websites and ebooks that make outrageous claims. The people making money online know what they are doing. That knowledge came from a lot of hard work and experimentation. The problem is the products that tell you how easy it is.

      • Karen says:

        Yes, I’m a strong believer in education, as well.

        The problem, as you state, is when the claims can’t be backed up. Unfortunately, I’ve fallen victim to buying something overpriced when I so wanted to believe that it would help me in my blogging. It only made the blogger richer. I’ve learned my lesson to take a step back and really evaluate objectively what’s been sold and not to fall for their marketing hype.

        Of course, there are the excellent products being sold by people who “know their stuff” and want to share what they’ve learned. The catch is to know the difference between those people and the others. 🙂

        It’s all good. Everything goes into the experience pile. How else are we to learn?


  2. Ken Kurosawa says:

    Congrats on your marathon!
    You nailed it, we all have to stop ‘making excuses’ and work diligently toward our goals.
    Reminds me of the story of the tortoise and the hare.
    .-= Ken Kurosawa´s last blog ..How to Improve Your Odds of Achieving Your New Years Resolution =-.

  3. Graham Phoenix says:

    Thanks for the post. You can succeed at anything with a combination of two things, intention and effort. The intention is essential, it’s what gets you to the end of the marathon, but the effort is the key, as you said it’s not a sprint. But it can all be fun, even when you think you hate it. What you feel is just what you decide to feel. Make it all easier on yourself and make it fun. Do it in a different way. Look how many people run marathons in silly costumes. Go on, have ago!
    .-= Graham Phoenix´s last blog ..Earth Pilgrim… in 10 easy steps. =-.

    • John says:

      Hi Graham,

      Thanks for the comment. I agree that most things in life can be made more enjoyable if you have a different perspective. I love doing physical work because it gives me a good work out. I enjoy boring monotonous work because it gives me time to think. However, nothing is ever ALWAYS fun.

      It was cold and rainy on the day I ran. There is not much fun in that. My muscles ached and I couldn’t walk freely for a couple of days. Again, not much fun. I don’t think the objective is to make everything fun. I enjoy running marathons for the sense of accomplishment and for the exercise. Sometimes the results of our efforts are good enough.

      Gene Simmons of Kiss once said that it is okay to be a garbage collector and find happiness in the paychecks every two weeks. The payment is enough. It can send your kids to university, buy a comfortable house and give you the money you need to enjoy your hobbies. You don’t need a ‘passion’ for garbage to be a garbage collector.

      Many people are looking for a life of 100% fun. We have been sold the idea that life should be like a Hollywood movie with lots of money, fans and beautiful models at your side. When that is the expectation, it is no surprise that their are record levels of depression, drug abuse, violence, crime, etc.

      The key in my mind is to find satisfaction in trying your best and in the results of that effort. What you do matters less than how hard you try.

  4. Alan says:

    Nice! I trained for a marathon a few years ago but my knee gave out at 14 miles on one of those long Saturday runs. Have run a few half-marathons since and am hoping to do a full sometime soon. Nice parallel!

  5. John says:

    Hi Alan,

    Knee problems are serious. You don’t want to screw up your knees just to finish a race. I had a knee injury when I first got serious about cycling and it put me out for about 3 months.

    The key is muscle mass. Start doing knee exercises in addition to your runs. A good one is to extend your legs straight out off a bed or chair and put a pillow or book on them. Hold your legs out for as long as you can.

    Then again, I am not an expert at running. There are so many ideas and techniques out there that you just have to experiment and see what works for you.

  6. Nate says:

    I’m with you on the passion thing. There’s no way to stay that excited about something forever, things change. As great as it is to be happy and motivated about something, the best thing to realize is that the journey along the way to the ultimate goal is the best part. Congrats on the marathon! I could never do it, major respect for you.

    • John says:

      Hi Nate,

      Everyone can a marathon. Never say ‘never.’ 🙂 It sounds like there is a New Year’s resolution in there somewhere.

      Distance sports like running and cycling are great meditative training. I highly recommend them to everyone. In our fast paced lives it is a welcome relief to turn off the outside world and just focus on the physical activity.

  7. Anil says:

    As an avid runner, I enjoyed this post and the parallels you drew. Especially the point that it’s not always fun – people don’t always see that you’re behind a laptop quite a bit or have to turn down that Friday night party ocassionally to finish an urgent project for a client or whatever it might be.

    Athletics are the same way, we only see the end result and sometimes forget the hours of practice and work that the athlete put in to get there.
    .-= Anil´s last blog ..Travel Bloggers Share Their Best Posts Of 2009 =-.

    • John says:

      I keep saying that it is not about ‘passion’ or ‘fun.’ Even eating chocolate gets disgusting if you do too much. So many people are waiting for the perfect passion before they commit themselves to the work. The problem is that perfect never comes and they spend their lives never seriously attempting anything.

      Committing to one moderately attractive passion is a far more effective life strategy than waiting for some fantasy dream life to appear. We all can’t be rock stars, but we probably all dream of that. Even being a rock star is not all fun and excitement.

  8. Earl says:

    When I first started exploring the idea of lifestyle design, I naturally was looking for the fastest and easiest path to my goals. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that a steady, determined effort helped me progress faster and farther than spending a year attempting to implement every ‘quick path to success” plan I could find.

    You are exactly right as to why so many people give up on what they were once so motivated to do…one sign of hardship, a major challenge or simply not having fun all the time doesn’t fit into many people’s idea of lifestyle design…

    • John says:

      I think we underestimate the value of those hardships. The harder the work, the more we enjoy the results. Things that come easy are not valued highly.

      Fly across the country in a few hours and most people will complain about the lousy food, bad service and crowds at the airport. There is no appreciation about the miracle of flight because it is so cheap and commonplace. Walk across the country over a period of a couple of years and you will think it was the greatest journey of your life.

  9. I’m sitting here looking at a $1 pack of smokes in Yogyakarta while recovering from a seriously infected knee. Also waiting to catch an overnight train to Jakarta.

    This post really hits home. I especially like the concept of it’s not a sprint, only competing with yourself and the next 10 meters. I’ve read a lot of bloggeries recently but this one really hits home.

    Thanks for putting such well articulated thoughts on the web.

    All the best in 2010!
    .-= Boring Life Rob´s last blog ..Yogyakarta to Jakarta by Night Train =-.

  10. Abbie says:

    Having run a couple marathons myself, you have totally hit the nail on the head – I couldn’t agree more!

  11. Mari says:

    Thank you so much for this inspiring, truthful post. I definitely needed it today.

  12. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Congrats John. I like to run but not more than a few km’s at a time. Like you say, training and determination are the only way to get it done, there is no shortcut.

    Have an awesome 2010! 🙂
    .-= Diggy -Upgradereality.com´s last blog ..Grow Old – Become a Centenarian =-.

  13. I agree, getting through a marathon or similar challenges is about the people. “We all could run our own 42.195 kilometers in our own free time and avoid the entrance fees, but the real value of the race is to join like-minded people and do it together.” Well put. I think it is similar to learning a new language. You may be able to learn a lot for a text book or software program, but the real joy comes form building personal connections.
    .-= Joseph Joel Sherman´s last blog ..Connect – Learning Azerbaijani from 10,071 kilometers away =-.

  14. mina says:

    awesome post. congrats on completing the marathon – i’m hoping to do a half marathon some day!
    .-= mina´s last blog ..antigua =-.

  15. Love the post John. Congrats on finishing! Slow and steady wins the race!

    Looks like you lost some weight there in the “After” pic!
    .-= Financial Samurai´s last blog ..The Best Post on Craigslist, And It’s All About Love And Money =-.

  16. Alvaro Perez says:

    What a good article. I really enjoyed it. It couldn’t come to me in a better time. I’ve unconsciously been trying to get shortcuts getting into professional activities that I don’t like/enjoy. The promise of quick money shouldn’t be the #1 factor to consider so now I’m getting back to the basics: in my case, a steady income from an activity that I enoy and some free time to do my blog or make some outdoor sales, but not these latter as a main source of income. By the way, I used to run and enjoy it….I should get back to it.

Leave a reply

Please enter your real name and not an alias. People like to talk to real people. I'd love to hear from you, but please comment to extend the conversation, not promote your business.

CommentLuv badge