Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

10 Life Lessons from Training for a Half-Marathon

Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life — and for me, for writing as whole. I believe many runners would agree.
–Haruki Murakami

This morning, I’m running the Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville. It’s the longest distance I’ve ever run in my life.

Half Marathon Training Lessons

Photo courtesy of Flickr (Creative Commons)

I could not have done this without training for the race ahead of time. In fact, I tried to train for a half marathon several years ago and hurt myself due to lack of proper training and preparation.

During my training, I’ve done a lot of things wrong, but one thing I’ve done is stick with it. “All the hard work has been done,” a friend told me. Now, I get to enjoy the fruit of my labor.

Reflecting on my training, I realize there are many parallels between running and writing (and the rest of life):

  1. There are no mulligans. You can never regain a lost day of training. Once you’ve squandered a day, it’s gone forever. Manage your time wisely. Because once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.
  2. Slow and steady really does win the race. Training for a half marathon is more about consistency than a strong, short-lived sprint.
  3. Perseverance trumps passion. On days when I didn’t feel like running, I did it, anyway (and eventually felt better about it).
  4. Use the right tools. When I tried training two years ago, I didn’t bother to buy running shoes and instead tried to train in hiking shoes. Around mile 10 of my training, I severely hurt myself. This time, I made the investment and bought some nice running shoes. They were worth it. (The same is true in writing, but the tools are different.)
  5. Don’t make it too complicated. I don’t have any special socks or underwear. I’m not wearing a watch or fanny pack that will give me magical powers. It’s just me, my legs, and some Star Wars band-aids. I’ve learned that the most important equipment to have is me. Everything else is gravy.
  6. Follow in the footsteps of predecessors. I followed a simple training regimen recommended by a friend, and it kept me on track where I would’ve otherwise wandered off course.
  7. Give yourself grace. There were plenty of weeks when I didn’t get all my mileage in. I didn’t let that stop me from not dwelling on my failures, moving on, and trying again next week.
  8. Never give up. (This is self-explanatory, but if you need a reason, here are some.)
  9. Community is essential. While I didn’t have a group of runners, I did have a community of people that knew I was running the race, and they held me accountable to meeting my goals.
  10. Just finish. This may sound noncompetitive, but I have no desire to win the race or run a decent time whatsoever. I just want to finish. I’m such a fickle, noncommittal person that if I actually follow through on this, it will be a success. (Maybe I’ll worry more about time my next race, though.)

As I think about these things, I realize that they not only apply to writing and creativity, but to all aspects of life.

What have you learned about life from a discipline like running? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Andi (Double Dose of Special)

    Hope you have a great race, Jeff. I’m a veteran marathoner now, so I know how special that first distance race is. Love your list – so true. I’ve always said that running is a metaphor for life.

  • I love to run and ran my first 1/2 marathon about 2 weeks ago. I can’t wait to do another one! I think the one thing I learned as I ran it was the importance of focusing on the step right in front of you. This is a great metaphor for life too. If we get too focused on how much we still have to do…that’s when we get discouraged. Do what you can…as well as you can…right now. Hope you enjoy your race!!

    • Agreed! Almost put that one in here. Just take the next step.

  • I just ran the St. Louis half marathon and so many of the things you listed became so clear! it was the hardest thing I have ever done.

    If I could add an 11, I would say that you should find someone who believes in you to give you motivation. I ran with my girlfriend (who became my fiance 10 feet from the finish line, but that is another story) and she kept me going when I wanted to quit. I seriously didn’t think I could do it but she looked me in the eyes and said “yes you can. We are going to finish this race together. Now let’s go!”

    She was right.

    #3 is SO TRUE!

    Have a great time today!

    • Thanks. Agrees. I had a pacer that allowed me to stay on track. Tell your story!

  • Glad to hear it went well. I’m running a leg of a marathon on Monday. 6 miles. But my goal if possible is to just keep running as far as I can. My aim is 13 miles

    • In my opinion, the first three and last sprint are the hardest. Everything else is momentum.

  • Congrats on finishing your first half marathon – what an accomplishment!! Running is one of my biggest passions, and ever since I started running 3 1/2 years ago I can’t stop. The CMM was my first marathon. I’ve also run the Mardi Gras marathon, the Seaside half marathon, and the Pensacola half marathon. I wrote about my last half marathon experience here: https://www.newlifecalu.com/?p=216. Whether it’s the importance of community, the necessity of fuel, or the purpose of proper training and equipment, every race (no matter the distance) brings to light a different aspect of life. Great post – thanks for sharing your insights!

    • You’re welcome, Kim. What’s your favorite?

      • It’s a toss-up. I enjoy the accomplishment of the full – there’s really nothing like it. The half marathon, though, is so much nicer to your body, and it’s still quite a feat. I’m guessing I’ll stick more with the half marathons, but I still have a goal to break 4 hours on my full (just 10 min. shy of that). It would also be awesome to qualify for and run Boston. We’ll see!

        • What’s been your fav location thus far?

          • I’ll have to go with Pensacola on that one. Probably because I was running familiar territory. It was fairly hilly, which is a good challenge in NW Florida. I had a great support group and my best time.

            The others were good for different reasons.
            Best scenery: Seaside, Florida (of course, you don’t see too much of it if you’re really into the race).
            Best energy: CMM Nashville. I ran it by myself, though, and wasn’t anywhere near prepared for those hills, and when I ran it the starting temp was 73, and it was 85 when I finished. So, while there was great energy, it was certainly the toughest race I’ve had yet.
            Closest to home (at the time): Mardi Gras Marathon in New Orleans – the finish line was 3 miles from home.
            Most friends in the race: Mardi Gras. It’s always more fun to me when I have friends in the race and friends cheering me on. The MG course was a little rough in some spots, but it was completely flat.

            What’d you think of the CMM?

  • awesome lessons and so true! there’s so much packed into running that translates into other areas of life. i’m currently training for a marathon and definitely am learning a lot and can’t wait to see what i think after race day =)

    • You’ll love it (I hope). Don’t give up; it’s worth the pain.

  • I workout regularly, but I’ve always hated running. One of my coworkers does an annual 100 mile event and I think he’s crazy.

    Thank you for sharing the tips. I like posts that take blogging tips from non-writing activities. Great stuff.

    • Yeah man, no problem. Your friend is crazy, btw.

    • Amy Courts

      K.C. you should try running….try training for a race. You might find it utterly addictive, run a half mary, want to push yourself farther, and then end up with dreams of running a 100 mile ultra like your friend. Ha! I did, anyway…

      • i think i’m headed down this path of addiction.

  • Emily

    Borrow a Garmin from someone for a few runs. I was anti-Garmin during my first marathon training, broke down and got one for second time around and it is very helpful. Glad it went so well for you!

    • Yeah I was lost re: my time and pace. When I found my pace guy that was clutch.

  • I started running with a 50 lb weight vest. My goal is to compare how fast I am after a week of no running w/o said vest, a week of running 3 days/5-6 miles with the vest, and see if it really shaves time off after it is off. I heard the marines do it to train, so I thought it would be worth a try.

    •  Interesting. Let me know how it goes!

  • I started running with a 50 lb weight vest. My goal is to compare how fast I am after a week of no running w/o said vest, a week of running 3 days/5-6 miles with the vest, and see if it really shaves time off after it is off. I heard the marines do it to train, so I thought it would be worth a try.

    • Cool

    • Amy Courts

      Benjamyn, I’ve been running for the last 9 months with a growing weight attached to the front of my body (generally referred to as a child…or, scientifically speaking, a fetus). I’ll let you know what happens when the 35lb ball is gone. Maybe I WILL be faster than ever before!? 🙂 Good luck to you!

  • cross country and long-distance running has been a passion of mine since i was 5 years old. i’m doing my first ever half-marathon in 3 weeks, i havn’t been intraining for it long, but i’m training hard (hoping my past running abilities and strong mentality will get me over the line)!

  • Kerrianderson77

    I hit the gym everyday to train for the Komen race for the cure, but I psych myself out thinking that I can’t do it and that I’m not good enough to finish just as I do with my first book, but I still keep going because I love it. I go to he gym to train my body and I read and research to train my mind. It is hard work, but it is worth every bit of sweat and tears that I shed. Great post Jeff!

    • Don’t psyche yourself out, Kerrie. Your mind is stronger than your body.

  • Amy Courts

    HUGE congrats on this HUGE achievement! I didn’t get to run this weekend, but I’ve trained for two half-mary’s and was one month away from the pay day for 10 long months of training for 50k Ultra Marathon last September when I found out I was pregnant and couldn’t run the actual race I’d planned, and you are right about it all: This is one sport that has everything to do with endurance and perseverance, and almost nothing to do with competition (and then only with yourself…watch what goals you dream up, now that you’ve run that impossible distance!). Training hard is trumped my training smart, and learning to listen to your body – this magnificent machine God created – trumps pushing your body. And skipping a day just cause you don’t feel like training…well, it’s always an option but it’s rarely a good one. Every mile means something come race day.

    I think it no accident that the spiritual journey we’re on is best described as a marathon we train and train and train for. And now, YOU have specific and exact knowledge of why. 🙂

    Again, CONGRATS!

  • Congrats, Jeff! Finishing IS an accomplishment! Last year’s Country Music was my first 1/2 marathon and I was bursting at the seems when I crossed that finish line. The whole race, in fact, was such a memorable experience. There’s truly nothing like it.

    Saturday was my third 1/2 marathon and I’m hooked. And, more importantly, I learn something new every time. It’s such a great way to grow as a person, leader and entrepreneur.

    Again, congrats! You deserve it!

  • Dan J. Marder

    Just had my “moment” yesterday while running, in which I forced myself to focus on the present, and not obsess over mile markers, time, etc. Just run and see what happens. I ran the furthest I’d run in 11 years, and decided to sign up for my first ever 10k on Memorial Day. First thing I thought about after the run? “I need to apply this philosophy to a blog post…” Writers. Even when we’re running, we’re writing.

  • Congrats dude!

  • Congratulations Jeff! I recently completed the Tough Mudder which is 12 miles plus obstacles. I trained hard for months but was still pretty nervous. I’m so glad I didn’t psych myself out because it felt so good to cross that finish line and accomplish a goal that at one time seemed impossible. One huge lesson I learned was the value of a supportive community, both before, during, and after tough challenges.

    I wrote a bit more about my experiences here:

    https://nathanrhale.com/you-should-run-a-tough-mudder/