How Paying off Debt is Like Running a Marathon
I read a great post the other day over at The Broke and Beautiful Life. I almost blew it off, as the title was “My First NYC Marathon: 2013”. I spent a year or so as a runner, and although it was a great year of challenging myself, I got bored and burnt out quickly with it. Walking is much more fun, IMHO. I’m your typical girl, and I like to talk, so my cardiovascular workouts these days consist often of a long and fast(er) paced walk with a friend, where we can both blab to our hearts’ content.
I was intrigued, however, that someone would actually a) want to, and b) succeed at running 26.2 miles, so I read the post anyway. Aside from being thoroughly amazed by Stefanie’s perseverance, I found within the post a striking similarity between running a marathon and paying off debt. This really resonated with me, as we are working fervently on paying off a marathon amount of debt in The Frugal Farmer family.
The post thoroughly inspired me, so I thought I’d show readers today who are also working on paying off debt, how marathons mimic debt payoff journeys.
1. Paying off debt is often a long, tedious journey.
I loved Stefanie’s line about this regarding marathons. She said:
Watching the marathon is incredibly inspiring, running it is more like a four hour haze of pain and mental struggle punctuated by moments of overwhelming emotion and joy.
Isn’t this what it’s like with debt? When you watch, hear or read of someone who’s paid off massive amounts of debt, you can’t help but be inspired to reach goals of your own, whether monetary or other goals. However, actually running the race? A journey to pay off debt is sprinkled with all kinds of emotions; joy, pain, excitement, anger and frustration.
How to deal: Take it one day at a time, give yourself a pat on the back for each victory, and document your successes.
2. There are days when you feel so swamped with “I-give-upness” that you’re not sure you can, or want to, go on.
Stefanie said it this way about her first marathon:
The proverbial mile 20 “wall” was still ahead. As I reached that point I realized that I had already hit mine four miles back. I was crossing yet another bridge into the Bronx and people all around me were dropping- walking, clutching themselves in pain, stretching out cramps and aches. I wanted to stop so badly. My feet were somewhere in between throbbing and numb.
This too, is true in a journey to pay off debt. I’ve been a part of this amazing personal finance blogging world for nearly a year now. Bloggers and their journeys to pay off debt come and go. They drop from the pain and the hard work of paying off debt, never to be heard from again, and many days, I can’t blame them. Sometimes I even envy them. When you are climbing a mountain, and you’re dog-tired after reaching only 10,000 feet of a 25,000 foot climb, it’s extremely difficult to keep pressing forward.
How to deal: Look back at how very far you’ve come, and how much your stress level has dropped from what debt you’ve paid off so far. Re-commit to completing the race, and look again at your motivational list of “whys”.
3. The further in you get, the more you feel you can’t finish/win.
Here’s how Stefanie put it:
One last bridge later I was back in Manhattan for the final stretch. For a brief moment I enjoyed the peace of Harlem and the beauty of the brownstones and the sliver of sunshine finally breaking through the overcast skies. And then I saw it, ANOTHER long and gradual incline.
Tears began welling in my eyes. I couldn’t possibly push through another. My mind was racing, searching for a motivator, something to grab onto and push for.
Often, when we reach that point in a long, difficult journey when we’re heading closer to the finish line, we convince ourselves that we’ve done “good enough” and it’s okay to stop here.
We tell ourselves lies, such as
“I’ve paid off most of the debt. That’s better than where I was at.”
“I’m in a better situation than most people now. Let’s stop all of this nonsense and start living again.”
How to deal: This is the point in your journey to pay off debt where you have to fight extra hard not to quit. It’s easy to focus on what you’ve accomplished and convince yourself that it’s “good enough”. Instead, look at how little you have to go, and how much you’ve accomplished in the previous months/years. Tell yourself that now’s not the time to give up or quit early, it’s the time to step up the pace and kick that debt burden to the curb!
4. You’re SO close! Don’t give up now!!
When working to pay off debt, that last mile or two is often the most difficult:
I felt like a zombie. Even with the crowds, cheers from friends, and the finish line approaching there was nothing for me but the next step. My GPS watch was already past the 26.2 mile mark but the finish line was nowhere to be found. Where was it? Over one last hill of course! I know now that all that swerving around people on the course adds a couple tenths of a mile to an already eternal race.
This is the part of the debt payoff journey where there’s nothing for you but the next step. You’ve been eating that elephant one bite at a time, and you’re exhausted and stuffed silly.
How to deal: Remind yourself that you’ve only got just a few more bites to go. Yes, you’re stuffed. Yes, you’re beyond tired. But you’re almost there!!! Focus on taking things one step at a time, and the finish line will be there before you know it.
5. You’ve made it!!!
You committed to crossing that finish line, and now you’re there! How does it feel? Let’s ask Stephanie.
People kept asking, “Would you do it again?” And I wanted to say no.
As thrilling as that first half of the race felt and as wonderful as the glory of the finish felt, the pain of the last ten miles was torturous. Maybe if the weather was better or if I had an earlier start time or if any number of other factors were in play I would have a different answer, but I don’t know. Maybe I’m meant to be a half marathoner. Maybe I’m glutton for punishment and will push myself into more races in the future.
For now, I’m reveling in the glory. I FINISHED THE MARATHON!!!
Your road to debt free will be like this. There will be roadblocks, detours and derailments. The fridge will go out, the car will breakdown, and other things will happen that require you to detour from your debt payoff journey and deal with unexpected expenses. If you want to win, you’re going to have to choose, when those derailments happen, to pick yourself up and get back on track again. You’re going to have to choose to win, no matter how difficult that choice is.
I remember when I finished my first 5k. I had just come off of 9 years of crappy health. Some serious medical problems had derailed my life, and I had turned to a life of processed, comfort foods, only adding more “horrible” to how I felt. However, in the months prior to my first 5k finish, I had worked hard to turn things around, and this race, albeit short, was proof that I was okay. I cried at the finish line, because I had set a huge goal, and I had made it to the top of that mountain. And when I read Stefanie’s thoughts as she reflected on her own big win, I cried too. And I suspect I’ll cry again when we cross the finish line of paying off our debt.
Always remember that human beings can do far more than they think they can do when they commit to pushing themselves through the roadblocks and barriers, and use this very crucial piece of information to push yourself through to a life free of the burden of debt.