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 being 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.

paying off debt is a marathon


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.


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.

Update 6/12/2017: It has been eight years since I made this article and I've gone through a number of struggles in my running. I realize these struggles correlate to both running a marathon race and paying off all debt. In the last eight years I haven't run another marathon. :( However, since 2012 I've run six half marathons, and a few 10k's but no long runs like a use to do.

Primarily I haven't run any marathons due to having piriformis issues, tight IT bands, and weak glutes. Not to mention I'm getting older, which I'm sure isn't one of the reasons! :)

Needless to say, I've been trudging on and continuing to stay active and not become sedentary. I realize that as soon as I sit and become inactive that I soon start to lose mobility, drive, and the will to keep progressing or even maintaining stamina and weight control.

As I look at the last eight years I realize how finances are very similar to continuing to stay active and not become like everyone else. Even despite my running injuries and aches and pains I find that finances have their own injuries and lend themselves to becoming financially sedentary. If I or you aren't intentional about a few things, then as you get older or more injury prone, then you can quickly fall into financial traps. Here are a few ways that running injury free correlates to maintaining financial health over your lifetime.

  • Keep cross training – in both running it is so important to not only focus on debt payoff and saving money, but equally it is important to keep developing your multiple streams of income. There is only so much you can squeeze out of your budget. At some point, when you feel comfortable about the amount you are spending on your variable and fixed expenses, then it is important to focus on becoming less dependent on one primary source of income. In our lives we are blogging, doing AirBnB, capturing monthly income from my previous employer's pension, earning monthly dividends from our Charles Schwab Monthly Income Fund, and receiving quarterly distributions from my current employers dividend payout. All of these multiple income sources added up to over $1300 last month by just doing a little extra side hustling.
  • Make running/saving money fun – in running a lot of times that miles can seem repetitive and pointless. It is important to vary up your runs and keep it fun. Otherwise it will feel like you are just pounding the pavement. In your financial life, saving money and making making can be very similar. A lot of times, I or you can take all the fun out of saving, and find ourselves being hermits in our homes. LIVE A LITTLE! Get out and do things with your family. If you don't, then your saving efforts can often feel like your are just pounding miles on the road to financial freedom.
  • Be accountable and open – in running I've seems some of my biggest improvements when I have a running partner to push me. I find the same to be true of my finances. I've started being more open with a few men in my life about where I'm at financially and help me keep a balance of saving, living, and giving. Also, I've used my monthly passive income report to hold me publicly accountable. I use it to show that if I can do a few extra side hustles to make my family money, then you can too. If you don't keep track of your financial health, then start today. It will go a long way to keeping you in good health.
  • Don't wait – a lot of times we think that our health is “to far gone” and it isn't worth it to try. Do you feel the same way about your finances? Does it feel like it isn't worth even trying? You are never too old to start trying to get on a good financial track. You won't regret it!

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. I’ve run 15 marathons but eventually a pretty bad knee caused me to limit my running to about 18 miles a week. Financially I crossed the finish line of FI probably in my forties but kept working because work was really too fun to give up. I loved what I did and while I had a lot of other hobbies it was my favorite. Now I’m early retired and life is pretty awesome.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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….

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