How Paying off Debt is Like Running a Marathon – Actual Experience

charlie_imageLast year, Laurie wrote an article on how paying off debt is like running a marathon, which I thought a lot about in training for a marathon I ran last week.

Since the first of the year I’ve worked pretty hard to train for my fifth half marathon, and made a lot of sacrifices along the way. As my training progressed over the last 16 weeks, I had a lot of time to think. Time to think about how training is so similar to paying off debt. With all the pain and suffering I put on my body, I saw how training (not the actual marathon) is like my journey to debt freedom too.

Here is my opinions on how the marathon experience is similar to my debt freedom race: 

  • Losing weight – weight control for a marathoner is crucial! I live by the fact that “every pound I have on me at the start of the race I have to carry with me over the entire race.” The more weight you have on you at the start, then the harder it is to maintain your top speed for the entire race.
    • Similarity to debt: Fixed expenses are like dead weight to your financial freedom. Weight that monthly weighs you down from Journey to debt freedombeing able to pay off your debt faster. Focus on eliminating the “sweets” from your financial diet and you’ll be that much closer to true financial freedom.
  • Milestones – this past year I trained at a gym that had a .4 mile track around it. It was awesome for training on every day, because I could measure my progress each day. Each day, I made sure that 3:00/lap was my minimum (slowest) pace or my recovery pace. The .4 mile track allowed me to measure every day how fast I was going each lap. No matter if I was running 4 miles one day or 13 miles during my peak day. I liked having the lap be not a full mile, because it gave me a barometer of where I was at along the way.
    • Similarity to debt: becoming debt free doesn’t happen over night. The journey to debt freedom isn’t for the faint at heart either. Most importantly, the debt freedom journey is more mental, then anything else. That is why it is crucial to set mile markers along the way or you will more than likely give up. For instance, in making it from $300k to $0 in debt seems impossible. However, when you break up the debt into yearly goals, like $300k to $250k, seems more manageable and obtainable within a shorter period of time. Focus on making monthly or yearly goals that will serve as mile markers along the way.
  • Pushing yourself – I knew in my training that I wasn’t going to get any better if I ran the same pace and distance every day. Instead I had three days each week where I would run a tempo (medium distance), sprints (short sprints with short periods of rests), and long runs (6 miles up to 13 miles) on the weekends. This variety of training allowed me to push myself and not just run the same as I’ve always done.
    • Similarity to debt: having the fortitude to emerge from debt takes a lot of mental toughness. A lot of times this takes a variety of techniques to make it through each leg of the of debt freedom race. Sometimes you’ll need to focus more on increasing your income. Sometimes you’ll need to focus on driving down fixed expenses. Sometimes it calls for reducing your possessions. Whatever the case, learn to adapt to your circumstances to emerge debt free. Just like I trained my body for enduring long times of pain, then apply the same aspect to your personal finances.
  • Resting – Each week I’d have 3-4 days where I’d either rest or would run at a slower recovery pace. This day of rest gave my body the chance to recuperate and repair itself. If I didn’t, then I’d run the risk of injury or muscle fatigue. Both would jeopardize my chance to run in the race. Not a good result!
    • Similarity to debt: much like Laurie wrote about in her previous article, the journey of running a marathon isn’t a sprint. It requires time and dedication. Also a commitment to know when your body is craving rest too. In your own situation what does financial rest look like? For some it might be going out to eat once this week or upgrading your cable package. Either way, debt freedom doesn’t have to be all pain and suffering. Learn to balance sacrifice with restraint, and you’ll find the journey much more bearable.

Now I’d like to hear from all you runners out there! Have you ran a 5k? 10k? Half Marathon? Marathon? Ultra Marathon? I’d love to hear how your race

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  1. As someone who’s run 3 marathons (training for my 4th) AND paid off a crap ton of debt I can identify with the analogy. As with running, it’s important to pace yourself. If you go too fast, you’ll burn out – find a rhythm, and you can go forever….

  2. Very good comparison indeed! When you’re running a marathon you have goals, to have a healthy life, to lose weight and to be strong enough. Just like paying off debt, your goal is to have a debt free life and to be financially healthy.

  3. LOVE what you said here about resting, Charlie. People (especially those who’ve not run races before :-) ) often don’t understand the cruciality of resting during your training course. And like with running, the rest time changes as you go along and get stronger. We had to take a lot more rest time last year in our debt payoff journey than we seem to need this year, because as each month of being frugal and working toward our goal goes by, we get in better “shape” and things are easier to manage from a psychological standpoint.

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