How to wing a half marathon

Finishing the Blackmores Half Marathon today at 2:33:06 puts me at the bottom quartile of all the runners that finished the race today. If I were a fund manager and I performed that bad relative to everyone else, I’ll be out of business tomorrow. But this wasn’t about finance, and this wasn’t the Olympics neither. I am not an elite runner but among the thousands who love running and have decided to do the race against all odds.

Which made me draw the parallel between what happens on a race and what happens in the world of saving and planning for your retirement. Some of us are super-prepared for it and totally blitzes it all the way to the finish line, where a yacht and a villa in Tuscany awaits. But for the majority of us, the intentions are there but other things get in the way, like life, work, family, other commitments and Friday night benders.

Not that I was coming into a 21k-run cold. I try to run 7km on Sundays and on a good month, I go to the gym three times a week. But relatively speaking, I’m not in the league of those who wake up at 4am in the morning, stretches done and with an articulated plan on how to attack the race when the gun goes off at 6.20am.

In fact I broke some of the basic rules that I was supposed to follow before a long run. First, I didn’t store up on slow-burning carbs, I ate rice and Filipino dishes yesterday, plus three bowls of coconut-based dessert (called ‘ginataan’) and before I went to bed, I didn’t prep what I was going to wear and bring the next day. And I also forgot to buy bananas for brekky. Instead I woke up, slightly disoriented at 4.45am (the first alarm was set at 4am), spent a good five minutes finding the right pair of socks, then fast-walked it to Central station with coffee and a slice of white bread with peanut butter on one hand. It was a wee bit cold but I forgot to find a sweater I was willing to throw away on the day so ended up wearing one of my favourite green sweatshirts (it cost me $15 so I figured I’ll just have to buy another one – but it’s not the same!)

So what was the plan of attack? I kept it simple:

Rule Number One: Relax. Had I psyched myself to running the entire 21k-plus, I would have broken down at 2k. Instead, I knew that I can comfortably run/jog 5k so I split the run in four achievable target distances.

Rule Number Two: Try not to develop a stitch in the first third of the run. Once you’ve got a stitch, it’s all over. Every step would just be painful. I kept my pace tight and didn’t weave in and out of the slow and fast runners. I tried to run a straight line all the way to the first cut-off point.

Rule Number Three: Get a decent playlist, with your favourite songs playing during the final third leg of the race.

I got the first two rules covered but – and this is what happens when you don’t prep the night before – I was rushing this morning and, of the 20 headphones I had at home, I had to pick the dodgiest one. Result? No music on the third leg of the race because the headphones were cheapoes and my running broke one of the wires. This added at least a good 10 minutes to my time, fiddling around with it and trying to make it work!

Still, I finished. As for the photos, I just have to wait. If I get one decent shot (or two), I’d be very happy. I was, however, stoked, that on approach of the finish line, the announcer called my name. The wonders of technology.

I have now completed three half-marathons and after the first time (which was my best time), I always say to myself that I’ll train more and run harder. But it never happens. Like I said, life gets in the way. Just like in finance, we all want to save more, invest more time in learning about our investments, but we end up spending more time doing the things we also love, like watching reality TV shows and going out to the beach (hah!).

The important thing is you do NOT quit, you just keep running, even if it’s on a slower pace than you want. In the same way, you can’t just give up on doing what you need to do, to make sure you save enough money, even if it feels like an insurmountable task.

Having not trained, I could have just said no. I could have just skipped today’s run and said to myself: “I’ll go on the next one when I’ve got more time.”

Had I done that, I would have missed out on enjoying the beautiful day today: running under the early morning sun, on one of the most picturesque half-marathon routes on the planet. I would also have missed out on seeing my friend and his family, who flew all the way from Brisbane to Sydney just to participate in the run!

Reaching the finish line today taught me once again that you can achieve your goals if you put you’re mind to it.

Okay, there’s a catch. My legs are killing me and I’m pretty sure I’ll be walking funny tomorow, limping alongside others who, like me, have decided to take on the challenge.

But back to finance. Saving for later isn’t a sprint. You can’t just plan for your retirement when you’re fast approaching it or over short periods of time. It is a long, challenging and sometimes agonising pace towards your end-goal. As they say though: no pain, no gain. Not everyone can own a yacht or a villa in Tuscany, but you’ll never know unless you’re in the race, whether you can make that dream come true.