12 Lessons for Life from My First Marathon

We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.” – Emil Zatopek

Yesterday, I ran the Vermont City Marathon. It took me 4 hours and 31 minutes. My decision to run the marathon was based entirely on my lifelong dream of accomplishing such a feat. It was about realizing a dream and proving to myself that I could do it. However, along the way, I realized numerous other benefits. I got into the best shape of my life. I made some new friends. I found countless hours to reflect on my life. And I learned some valuable lessons.

Here then, are the 12 Most Important Lessons for Life I Learned During My First Marathon.

  1. Dreams are not meant to be wasted. We all dream of things that we want to accomplish in life. And they all have the same thing in common: They begin by taking one small step. For me, the first step was to read a book about running a marathon. That’s it. From there, I put the book into practice and began working hard to fulfill my dream. It became completely within reach by simply taking one small step at a time. Whether your dream is to write a book, start a business, travel to Europe, or make things right with your children, they all begin with taking one small step. Don’t waste any more time. Your dreams can be accomplished – one small step at a time.
  2. Fuel properly. You can’t complete a marathon without fueling your body correctly. Remember, your body is your home base for life. So fuel it properly by eating healthy. You only get one life and one body to live it in – take good care of it.
  3. Compete Less. Encourage More. Marathon runners are notorious for offering encouragement to one another. They understand an important race principle: there is room at the finish line for all of us. It isn’t all about winning or losing, it’s about the experience and being in it together. As a result, the entire 26.2 mile race was filled with encouragement from bystanders and competitors committed to helping the other guy finish strong. Our world could learn a lot from marathon runners. Imagine how much better this world would be for everybody if we learned to encourage more and compete less.
  4. Drive slower. Roads are shared by bicyclers, runners, and walkers. Therefore, drive slower and more courteous… someone’s life may just depend on it.
  5. Shed the excess. When I started training, I ran with an ipod, headphones, a cell phone, and a small snack. But I learned a valuable lesson about half-way through my training. Shed the excess. Possess less and carry as little as possible. I began running with nothing in my pockets and enjoyed the runs infinitely more – there were less things weighing me down. The same holds true with life. Shed your excess possessions. Get rid of any possessions in your home/life that are not necessary. They are weighing you down more than you think. You will enjoy life infinitely more by carrying as little as possible.
  6. I enjoy silence. Some marathoners like to run listening to music. I thought I did too – until the first time I ran without it. I soon began to love the quietness. I was able to listen to my body and focus on the run. In addition, my mind was freed up to think about my life and evaluate it. Some people enjoy running with noise. But I have grown to love the silence. You just may learn to love silence too if you give it a shot… And I’m not just talking about running.
  7. If you want to make new friends, get a new hobby. Hobbies give us things in common with others. They help form the foundation for new conversations and relationships. If you are looking for new friends, I recommend jumping into a new hobby: learn bridge, join a tennis league, pick up quilting, volunteer, or give spirituality a shot. You will be pleasantly surprised at the new people you will meet.
  8. Run with your head up. Not just as an instruction for proper running technique, but as a metaphor for life. Stay positive and confident. Look where you are going. And soak in as much of life as possible.
  9. If you are running uphill, there is a downhill right around the corner. Downhill runs are easy because everything is on your side – your stride lengthens, you pick up speed, and exert less energy. On the other hand, uphills are tough. Everything is working against you – your stride shortens, your breathing gets heavier, and every step feels like it could be your last. If you feel like your life is running uphill right now, fight through. A downhill is coming right around the corner.
  10. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. The old African proverb contains enormous amounts of truth. At the beginning of the race when I wanted to pick up speed, I ran by myself passing countless runners in the process. But during miles 20-26, when I just wanted to finish the race, I found the necessary encouragement in a small pack of runners. At that point, I didn’t dare leave them. I needed their presence, their pace, and their encouragement too much. The marathon distance would not have been possible without them.
  11. There are plenty of good people left in this world. From the thousands who volunteered at the event to the countless neighbors cheering from their yards offering water, oranges or a sprinkler, the day was filled with good people. They were there with no agenda or anything to be gained personally from their service. They were just there to help and cheer us on. I thank them for pushing us through. But more importantly, I thank for reminding me that there are plenty of good people still living life to the fullest.
  12. Move to the side and allow others to pass. There is no reason to stand in the way of someone preparing to pass you. You need to be courteous, notice those around you, and get to the side so that they can pass and run their most successful marathon possible. Our lives should look the same. Don’t stand in the way of someone who is gifted and hungry enough to pass you – even if you are older or have more tenure. They are just trying to live their most successful life possible… just like you. Let them pass. And cheer for them when they do. Life is far more enjoyable that way!

Your dreams are far too valuable to be wasted. If you’ve got one, start realizing it today. You have no idea how it may change your life for the better.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    Congrats. And I too love running without music. I love the sounds of my feet hitting the road, and the peace and quiet and solitude. It is here that I do some of my best creative thinking…

  2. says

    Congrats for the marathon! Finishing your first one sure feels great. Are you planning for a new one already?

    And great lessons, it’s amazing how friendly people marathon runners are, I had exactly the same experience when running my first marathon last summer. Maybe it’s because distance running is not nearly as competitive as the faster kinds of sports… Ultra marathoners must be really nice ;)

    • says

      everyone keeps telling me that i’ll want to run another one. i’m not sure when that desire is supposed to kick in though. i wouldn’t say i’ve felt the desire to do it again quite yet.

  3. says

    I don’t run, but I understand about realizing dreams. I’ve always been a writer, so my blog is a big part of my dream. It is my re-entry into the writing world after an absence that has been too long.

    You’re 12 points do apply far beyond running, and thanks for posting them.

    Gip
    So Much More Life

  4. says

    That’s awesome. Congrats. I’ve maxed out at 10k, but would love to do a mini-triathlon at some point.

    This list is fantastic. 10 -12 really hit home. Altruistic living is well worth the effort.

    Enjoy your rest…

  5. says

    This is so awesome!!! Congrats!

    I ran my first marathon last year and it was an amazing experience. :) Now I’m trying to decide if I should run another one.

    Keep up the awesome writing.

      • Kareem Dieng says

        I appreciate your lessons! I am not a “runner”. I am 240 lbs. Down from 305. I have been running more lately, and I ran 25 miles (5 hours) yesterday by myself and with no music. I did not train for it, I just decided that I wanted to see if I could run that much. Prior to this run, my longest run was 14 miles (3:15 am-6a 26 degrees and snowing, no water, after a night of drinking) I like to test myself. I’ve found that we can only reach the limits we set for ourselves. I plan on continuing my running and pushing myself to my own limit, which I have set at none. I will definitely run an official marathon soon, and I plan on raising money in the future.

    • says

      i actually found that i could run further without music in my ears and that i enjoyed it a hundred times more. give it a shot. and let me know what you think.

    • says

      I never thought I could do it either, but you will have some of the clearest thoughts that you have ever had when you run without music. You also learn how to get “in the zone” without needing any help (music). It really builds your mental strength, which is 80-90% of running or any endurance sport!

  6. sarah says

    I enjoy silence. Or background noise, as the case may be. I rarely listen to music while doing other tasks because I find it distracting. Although I don’t run (I did try multiple times to start, always to stop because of knee pain), I used to walk to work. A few times I tried music, but I loved the meditative aspects of walking, even with road noise. People asked why I didn’t ride my bike – because it’s too fast. I enjoy the slow, meditative, and quiet walk. My time to be myself and relax. My husband, on the other hand, turns on music ALL THE TIME – walking, making dinner, in the car, while showering…

  7. says

    Joshua,

    I always appreciate your short essays. They are confidence inspiring. I am always able to tweeze out several nuggets of attenuated wisdom and apply those to my life. For that I thank you.

    I am not a runner–although I do exercise almost daily–but all of these lessons are applicable to my life in general. I’m especially enthused by lessons 3, 5, 6, and 7.

    Take care,

    Josh

  8. says

    I ran a half-marathon a few years ago and was certainly glad that I did. (Would have been even more glad if I had trained properly!)

    In all aspects of life, it really is the people who make the difference. Whether they’re helping you, you’re helping them, or you’re just doing something together, the connections that you make are the key.

  9. says

    Congrats on your race!
    As the wife of a serious biker and being a recreational bike rider myself, I thank you for the reminder in #4! He calls himself a defensive biker, and his biking has made me more aware of the riders and runners who share the road with me.

  10. Ketan says

    Congrats. Very nice lessons and their application to life. Liked the “compete less ..” and “let others pass” the most.

  11. says

    Way to go, dude – on both finishing and on this article! This is such an excellent piece.

    I really believe that if you can run a marathon, you can do just about anything. Those 12 lessons are so important and totally comprehensive.

    Do you plan on learning any more lessons in future marathons?

  12. Cindy Rickes says

    My sister-in-laws and a niece and I are going to do a relay in the marathon next year. I noticed the biggest smiles were with the people running relays. Team work is a great way to attain major goals, too. I had so much fun cheering people on. If I don’t run, I am going to attend to cheer. Great job, Joshua!

  13. says

    Congrats Joshua….

    Completing a marathon is amazing. The euphoria afterward is crazy.

    I love your #3 tip. That is exactly why I loved running after my first 10k. So many people supporting everyone rather than an US vs THEM sport.

    Hope you continue the running effort….If I can help, check out RunningSomewhere.com

    David Damron
    The Minimalist Path & RunningSomewhere

  14. Mike Mills says

    Joshua,

    I really enjoyed this post. I ran my first marathon 2 weeks ago and I can relate to every one of your 12 lessons.

  15. says

    Yeah for you!! I have recently started running on the treadmill and have hit 8.1 mph a few times–but only for short spurts. It’s a huge thing for me, to run, because I’d always had knee problems. I’m enjoying it! I have considered a marathon (also inspired by The Biggest Loser marathon) just to see if I could do it. I especially liked #12 on your list–they are just trying to live their best life just like you–well put!!! It’s hard to not take it personal, but most times it’s just not.

    • says

      i ran almost all of my runs at 6.0mph (10 minute miles) – that seemed to be my body’s comfort zone. and since a certain time was never my goal, i never shifted into training modes to improve my speed.

      i’d just find a comfortable speed and go for endurance if a marathon is something you are considering.

  16. tracysimplylivinginspain says

    I’m not a runner, I’ve always hated running because I’ve never had much endurance, but your beautiful article has planted the little seed in me to start. Wonderful life lessons — I’m intrigued!

    • says

      just like cindy said above, many marathons feature 2-5 person relay options. a 3-person relay team would consist of just-under 9 miles per member. that may be a great place to water the seed. plus, it did look like great fun for the relay teams as they would cheer each other on.

  17. Fr. James says

    Joshua,
    I have run 2 marathons and love the built-in minimalism that comes from it just being you and running shoes and the road and time. I may have one more marathon in me but that will probably do it.
    I appreciate you and the good work you do with this blog!
    Blessings,
    Fr. James

  18. says

    Great article! As someone who has run several half-marathons, I can definitely relate to the points you make. I am contemplating a full marathon but haven’t yet made the leap.

  19. chris says

    Great run! While not a minimalist in life (about half way there), I’ve always been a minimalist runner. I have always worn the lightest shoes. I have never worn a watch. I have never listened to an IPod. I run and listen to my body. I work out problems. I enjoy the sound of the trail or the city street.

  20. says

    Man you really capture the essence of running. It is so funny how you think you need music to put you “in the zone”, but running is so much more enjoyable when you are free of everything. It is just you and pain, who wins?! Congrats on a finishing your marathon! I never did anything that long when I ran. I was more of how fast and how much pain can endure versus the other guy, but that was in D-1 competition. Marathon and road runs are great because everyone is so supportive! Good Stuff man!

  21. Greg says

    Congratulations! This has been one of my dreams for the past 30 years. I have ran many 10Ks, but seem to be injury prone. Now at 50lbs in excess, I need to get with it. I love to run – though slowly! I have trained to about 12+ mi
    and I know I can go the distance.

    Thanks for the enthusiasm and inspiration!

  22. says

    Found your website through parenting diabetic kids and was inspired by your story. I commented on your post there, but to say the least my wife and I are in agreement on several fronts. As for marathoning, we ran our one and only (for now) when we turned 40 (4:34, nice, but glad it was over!). It was a wonderful experience for both of us. We trained together, ran together and finished together, hand in hand. Next up: 50 at 50 (my wife says, not a chance.)

  23. says

    I’ve just started running in 5Ks and am looking forward to my first marathon. My key learning on reaching any goal is take it 1 step at a time and don’t stop!

  24. AnthonyC says

    Joshua,
    Congrats on finishing 26.2! There is nothing else like it. I thought all your points were excellent but at the risk of being too presumptuous I’d like to add two more:
    13) Use what is useful and discard the rest. I’ve found that most runners are happy to offer advice: on training, shoes, gear, clothing, and races. Not all of it is appropriate for every runner. Try a few new things out but only keep what works for you. Just like in life minimize and prioritize.

    14) Not every race has to be a marathon. After completing the big 26.2, some people believe that participating in shorter races is a step backward or maybe less fulfilling. Quite the opposite; many enjoy the same sense of accomplishment from completing a 5K or a half-marathon. I’ve found that my favorite race is the Utica Boilermaker, a great 15K race in a small city with wonderful crowds and a fantastic post-race party.

  25. says

    This article has sat in my Instapaper account for weeks now just waiting to be read. It’s now one of my favorite articles to date! Point 5 was great. Thanks for sharing what you learned.

  26. Soniya says

    Wonderfully written, the whole point of comparing life to a marathon is amazing. It simplifies rules of intricacies of life.

  27. says

    Congrats on doing a marathon! I did my first one in 2008, the NYC Marathon, and now I am training for my 3rd one, the Marine Corp Marathon!

    Continue the good work and Lean with your heart!
    Noah

  28. odie says

    I ran my first marathon in may 2010 and it such an amazing experience! love your “12 points” – not only applicable in running but as well in life. KEEP RUNNING!

  29. Maria says

    Thank you for this wonderful blog. I really enjoyed reading about your experience with marathon running. I literally experienced an epiphany when I ran my first marathon. We will all make it to the finish line…eventually, but how we get there is just as important.

    Best wishes and keep running.

  30. says

    With havin so much content do you ever run into any problems of plagorism or copyright violation?
    My site has a lot of unique content I’ve either created myself or outsourced but it looks like a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my authorization. Do you know any solutions to help stop content from being stolen? I’d certainly appreciate it.

  31. Marina says

    Congratulations Joshua on completing your first marathon! I’ve run 7 so far and you’ve encapsulated everything that I love about running in this one essay. It’s hard to be cynical about life and the human condition when in every race you see the runners all around you who have overcome their own challenges and demons to be there. You have the spectators and volunteers who give SO very much unconditionally. I see it as such a privilege in every race to be part of the experience.

    I hope by now you’ve recovered enough to start thinking about your next race. Would love to see you at the finish :)

  32. Orsan Ulusoy says

    As a person who is going to run my first marathon at the end of this month, i found your post very useful and encouraging. They are also valid in everyday life. Thank you!

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