I have always had an ambition to run a marathon. Every since I was in my early 20s I’ve always wondered whether it was possible for me to just go and run 26 miles without any intensive training, build up or other work. I am now 45 years old and things are starting to ache and creak slightly more than they used to. Don’t get me wrong – I’m an extremely fit athletic 45 year old, used to running between 8 and 10 miles a week, I play golf once a week (walking at least 7 miles), in the summer I play cricket most weeks and in the winter I go to the winter nets for cricket to practice my bowling and batting (for anyone in America reading this, cricket is a much more interesting version of baseball).
Some years ago, my wife decided that she wanted to run the London Marathon and we managed to get her a place the following year. She had never run anywhere in her life and one of her ambitions had always been to take part in the London Marathon. When she discovered that she had a place she immediately began to train.
I am not sure whether my wife quite appreciated how tough running was if you had never done it before, but her first training run was half a mile round the block, and it took her 15 minutes and she came back looking like she was about to collapse.
Fast forward 12 months and I am driving my wife to the train station in order to run the London Marathon. In between that first training run of half a mile in 20 minutes and our drive to the train station, she had completed one three quarter marathon, three half marathons, two training work runs every week since she started working towards the London Marathon, extensive days out at the weekends to get the miles in her legs and complete 10 to 18 mile runs, copious amounts of foot massages and leg massages, and rather a lot of high protein meals.
She was still very nervous and wondering if she actually had it in her to complete the London Marathon.
Well she certainly completed the marathon and managed to do it in 4 hours and 32 minutes, which for someone who had never run anywhere ever before to achieving that sort of speed and stamina within 12 months of starting running is a real achievement, and the whole family were very proud of her.
Ever since that time though, when we have been discussing running my wife has always pointed out to me that I have never experienced running 26 miles, and therefore I was not able to comment on the stamina and endurance levels needed by a runner in order to complete a marathon.
I have completed half marathons, I’ve done Race the Train at Taryn in North Wales (an arduous fell run but still only 14 miles), and when I’ve got lost a couple of times over the years I have run slightly further at about 18 to 20 miles. But I had never done a marathon.
That was until the weekend just gone. I was dropping my daughter off in Chester to go and play in a school hockey match, and because this was an away game in Blackpool I had plenty of time before I was due to meet my wife and other children at the gym for a family workout.
With less than 48 hours notice I decided it was time to put my theories into action and run a marathon. Without any training, without any special diet, warm-up, plan or previous experience of running that sort of distance.
I thought it would be a good idea to wear a woolly hat and gloves, because it was cold, and I also wore my outer shell, which to most runners would be considered a definite no-no.
Some years ago I learnt the harsh reality of running without having any sugary solutions or energy top-ups, so I raised the final two gels from my supplies and decided this was sufficient to run a marathon.
So in order to run my marathon I planned out a route round the bike paths of Chester and Deeside, popped on my trainers, reset my GPS watch, checked my Fitbit for steps and off I went.
The Run (without any food or drink)
It was dark and freezing cold when I left the car park of the Total Fitness gym in Chester at 7:30am, and I was slightly nervous about the whole thing because if anything had gone wrong I would be stuck on a bike path without any way of contacting anyone other than hoping that a friendly passerby would lend me their phone, and I wasn’t carrying any money nor a phone with me.
The first 3 miles were really hard going. I regularly run 4 miles but rarely run anything further than this as I enjoy doing 5k park runs and the occasional 10k, which is 6 miles. So my training runs are normally to head off round the bike path, round the country park and back again and my body knows this.
Needless to say after running 3 miles my subconscious was starting to get aware that this was not the ordinary run as I hadn’t turned round and was heading back home again. However after about 5 or 6 miles my body had got used to the idea that I was running and, as other long distance runners will testify, they start taking on a mind of their own and just run without you needing to think much about it.
I was very conscious that because I wasn’t running as part of an organised marathon I was dependent on my own distances and decisions when to turn round and which route to take in order to get the miles in. I ran down the River Dee towards Queensferry in Flintshire from Chester, past the Airbus factory and the wharf where the wings are taken away by barge, under the major road bridge carrying the A494 into North Wales and towards the old British steelworks at Hawarden Bridge railway station.
My brain at this time had planted the thought in my head that this was probably going to be just under halfway around my route and so I was quite looking forward to getting there, but unfortunately due to the total lack of planning my brain hadn’t quite the distances correct and I arrived at Hawarden Bridge to discover that I was actually only 8 miles into my run.
This meant a quick decision to add an extension onto my planned run in order to get the miles in, and at this stage in the run there were no second thoughts or hesitation. This was the first time in 20 years I’d actually made a decision to have a go at this and I was not going to miss the opportunity. I continued to follow the world famous bike route that takes you round some of the most fascinating parts of the Deeside industrial estate and out to the marshes running alongside a military firing range in the Dee Estuary. I ran across this bit towards a cafe on the far side on the Wirral at Neston and realised that even running to the cafe was not going to get the miles in, and I had to take a decision to run even further. When I started out on this run I was wearing a woolly hat and gloves and a shell, and by about halfway through I was beginning to worry that I had overcompensated for the temperature, I would have been okay with a lot less on than this in order to complete my marathon. However on turning round to head back down the second bike path to Chester I realised that actually I’d made an extremely good decision because it was absolutely freezing with strong wind and rain driving in my face and making it harder to run.
On the way out I suffered from runner’s nipple, which is an extremely uncomfortable condition involving a very sore chest area and seemingly only usually affecting men not wearing bras. However on the way back it was so cold I could no longer feel my chest and so the condition subsided pretty rapidly.
The run back to Total Fitness gym in Chester was fairly uneventful, provided you don’t get mugged on your way through Blacon, and I arrived back at Total Fitness gym looking forward to a huge soya hot chocolate and the largest slice of Tiffin I could find. Unfortunately discovered that my calculations had been somewhat wrong and in order to complete a marathon I needed to put an extra 2.7 miles in.
I don’t know what other marathon runners think about which miles are the hardest, but I had found 17th and 18th miles extremely hard, but after this and before this I was fairly comfortable, running at an 8 minute 30 second pace pretty much all the way round.
However when I discovered that I needed to put an extra 2.7 miles in to complete a marathon my body decided it was going on strike, and as I ran past the Total Fitness gym further up the bike path to get the extra miles in I could feel things starting to decide to stop working.
Runners will tell you about a condition called “The Wall”. This is when your body burns up all your supplies of glucose and you no longer have any energy left to send to your muscles to make them work and propel you forward. I might have the science completely wrong with this, but the effect is pretty horrible as your brain is telling you you should be running, the top half of your body wants to run, the bottom half of your body has completely given up the ghost and is no longer moving.
On the way to completing my 2.7 miles I began to realise that I was heading towards this state, and my speed plummeted from 8 minutes 30, right down to the last half mile being completed at 14 minute mile pace, which is almost a crawl on your stomach along the floor. But I got to the end of 26 miles, drank my hot chocolate and discovered I had done 47,000 steps on my Fitbit.
So what has this got to do with business, being happy and enjoying life?
The answer is fairly simple and probably didn’t need me to go into the detail of my marathon run, but it serves as a good example.
Firstly, I had a plan. My plan was that at some point I was going to have a time free on a day when I would be able to go and spend between 3 and 4 hours running 26 miles. I also planned out that I needed to take some gels with me in order to keep up my energy levels. Finally I also needed to make sure that I knew a route I could take in order to achieve my goal.
Secondly I had the ambition to do it in the first place. It was something I’d wanted to do for many years and I had the determination to see through my ambition and not just keep it as something I dreamt about but never actually did. As the SAS say, I seized the day and got on and did it. Thirdly, I made sure that I actually had the tools in my toolkit to enable me to run 26 miles. Clearly if I was not a runner of any sort and decided to go out and try running 26 miles things might be a little big different and I may not have actually managed to achieve my goal. In fact it would have been supremely idiotic to just go and try running without actually having done any training at all.
So I achieved my goal of running a marathon without doing any major training, I carried out my plans and I executed my idea.
Were my plans perfect? No. Was my ambition realistic? Yes.
When you have ambitions in life sometimes you have to make the effort to go and actually achieve them. Let me give you a quick example. You have an aim that by the time you are 50 you will be a millionaire. Great. This is a fantastic ambition to have and one that should be commended. But how are you going to achieve it? Do you have a plan? How are you going to put your plan into practise? Or is this just wishful thinking and you’re going to get to 50 and say “oh well, I didn’t quite make it as millionaire”?
In order to be happy firstly you need to have ambitions in life, secondly they need to be realistic in terms of what you are actually able to achieve, even if what you are actually able to achieve at the moment may seem impossible. You can have the ambition to go into space and be an astronaut and you can achieve this if you have all the right qualifications and know exactly what it’s going to take to get you into space, whether it’s by the NASA space programme, the European Space Agency or via some dodgy oligarch in Russia. It is no good just having a plan. You have to be actually able to put the plan into practise and go ahead and achieve what you set out to do.
What has this got to do with being happy? Well firstly if you have ambitions and aim to achieve them you must actually set out to do this and not just have it as a thought in your head. So say for example you currently work in ASDA as a shelf stacker but have an ambition to run your own chip shop. What can you do to get yourself towards that ambition? Are you going to achieve your ambition by working in ASDA stacking shelves, going home, eating your tea, sitting down in front of the television and then going to bed? What is it you can do to get you from position A into position B? In this example could you perhaps look for a job working in a fish and chip shop, even if it involves taking a pay cut? In your spare time could you be thinking about locations, looking at fish and chip shops for sale, considering what premises you are going to need to rent and what price it’s going to cost? Once you have a cost in your head how are you going to get the money together to put down a deposit and start paying the rent? What equipment are you going to need to open a fish and chip shop? How are you going to get that equipment and is it possible to buy it second hand or do you need to get it new? If you are going to get it new, how much is it going to cost and how much money are you going to need to save up in order to do this?
When you have an ambition there are so many different things that you are going to need to do in order to achieve your goal, you cannot just sit and think about it, you actually have to put a plan into practise.
I went into a lot of detail about my marathon run because this was a big goal for me achieved in less than 4 hours, and something I feel immensely satisfied having done, despite being unable to walk particularly easily the following day. I did plan, and although my plan was not perfect and I didn’t have enough gels and I didn’t calculate the distance correctly to start with, I still got there in the end and this is another key skill to have in order to be happy.
Never strive for perfection. Perfection is a waste of time in most circumstances. Trying to perfect something before you do it or in this case having a plan but making sure the plan is perfect before you put it into action is never going to end happily for you. You must think carefully about any plans you have, but that is all. Once you are ready to go, go. Do not pause and do not wait until everything is just right. Life is too short and happiness can be in short supply.
Jonathan Fagan is MD of Ten-Percent.co.uk Limited and TP Recruitment Limited, a set of websites involved in a range of recruitment work. Jonathan has been running small businesses for over 20 years and has a number of interests and investments in companies as diverse as transcription, legal recruitment and a bit of marketing. He is an author of a number of guides and books, together with a children’s novel. In his spare time he enjoys playing golf, cricket, coaching girls’ football, operating a parent taxi, lots of running and paddleboarding on Bala Lake and the River Dee. He is a strong believer in a good work-life balance and regular blogs on making money vs enjoying life. Jonathan’s website is https://www.jonathanfagan.co.uk