Published on 2012/03/06

Marathon Running And Lifelong Learning

Marathon Running And Lifelong Learning
Like a marathon runner, lifelong learners plan, prepare, work hard and execute to push themselves to success. Photo by Joe.

What do marathon running and lifelong learning have in common?

More than you might think actually!

I’ve been an athlete for most of my life, generally in team sports, and I have always loved it. In the last couple of years though I haven’t been able to compete as fiercely as I used to as the younger generation come through. I was getting old!! I’m only 37 now but when competing against 19 and 20 year olds who don’t have as many miles on the clock I started to think that maybe I needed to change the focus to satisfy my competitive needs. Then I discovered running. It’s very different from team sports, you don’t have your comrades to rely on all the time. I didn’t fancy taking on the “shorter” distances of 5k and 10k. They didn’t (and still don’t) present enough of a challenge for me. My focus became marathon and ultra marathon distances which will lead me ultimately to extreme ultra running.

Preparing for a marathon is precise. Focus is critical, planning & preparation are indispensable. For first time marathoners the only focus should be getting to the finish line in one piece! That’s it. Simple as that. When I started running, I didn’t have a clue. For me it was simply a case of getting out 4 or 5 times a week and running as far as I can, as quickly as I can. I soon learned that it is much more than that. Training needs to be structured to build up the mileage gradually, phased to take you through foundation building, endurance building and speed development. You need to practice and strategize. Then there is the matter of learning about pacing, stride length, energy consumption, nutrition, hydration. Then on to the next challenge, greater distance, better time, tougher course. There is always something to improve on and challenge yourself with.

At this point your probably wondering what the hell does this have to do with lifelong learning? Well, here it is. Lifelong learning is a marathon of a different type. Just like running a marathon, lifelong learning helps you grow and develop socially and psychologically. Both will instill a certain self confidence. A self assurance that people notice. A positive attitude.

A marathon has a finishing line, and for some that is where the odyssey ends. We see the same in the learning community, people decide that they don’t have anymore to learn. For others, it is just the beginning and it is for these people that the most valuable lessons are reserved. It is these people that commit to a life of learning that are happiest. Having an insatiable thirst for knowledge and skill is a wonderful thing. Add to that the value of learning about yourself, working on your own attitudes, your own psychology, your own personal development and you have the perfect combination.

If you choose it to be, running a marathon can be the first step on a journey of self discovery. Most people don’t believe that they can finish a marathon and having that fear of failure stops them from ever trying. This is sad and unfortunate. I have seen people of all ages, shapes and sizes finish marathons. It can be done if you really want to. Learning is the same. Fear of the unknown stops us from ever trying.

So what can we learn from the example of the marathon runner?

  • Choose to make a start towards your first finishing line. Don’t let fear hold you back!
  • Find out what it is you don’t know that you don’t know that will help you on your journey, then go learn it.
  • Decide what you want and what it is going to do for you.
  • Plan and prepare diligently
  • Practice and integrate what you learn.
  • Allow that determination and competitive spirit to shine.
  • Rinse & repeat!

One last thing to remember. As with running, over training can lead to injury and injury can lead to giving up. It happens and is part of the learning process. Don’t let a set back stop you in your pursuit of what you want. Take the spirit of determination of the marathon runner with you on your learning journey. Keep moving forward, one step at a time, one foot in front of the other until you get to your finishing line.

I will sign off with a quote from one of the world’s greatest ultra marathon runners, Dean Karnazes:

“Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; JUST NEVER GIVE UP!”

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Readers Comments

Shazia Ahmed 2012/03/06 at 9:18 am

I was thinking about exactly this metaphor the other day!!! Nice one!

Phil Gunnarson 2012/03/09 at 10:55 am

Would the equivalent of over-training in this metaphor be failing at a test or exam?

    Brian Downes 2012/03/13 at 11:31 am

    Hi Phil,

    Thank you for the question. The answer is both yes and no. Over-training as a runner results in injury, de-motivation and a need for rest and recuperation. In terms of education, yes this could conceivably mean that an exam has been failed and it could also mean that one is doing too much without thinking it through and therefore completing training that is not relevant to the direction in which one wants to go. Either way the opportunity of rest and recuperation allows for a re-assessment of your training and the end goal. Does this make sense?

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