skip to Main Content

Luke Carlson shares marathon tips that apply to our marathon of life.

The Marathon Mimics Life

Fall marathon season is upon us.  The women’s world record was shattered last weekend in Berlin, the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon is this Sunday (I’ll be cheering while drinking a coffee!), Chicago Marathon is a week away (with one of the most impressive elite fields ever assembled), and New York City Marathon is in early November.

I’ve run 22 marathons (and plan to make it 23 and 24 with Chicago and New York in the coming weeks).

Over these 22 marathons, I’ve discovered three areas where marathon running mimics life.

  1. Positive self-talk matters.  In his incredible book, What to Say When You Talk to Yourself, Dr. Shad Helmstetter articulates the importance of self-talk (his book does not focus on athletics, but self-talk in general).  In a marathon, this self-talk can be applied by creating mantras.  These short phrases can be repeated to yourself throughout the marathon.  I like to pick three for each marathon that I run.  A few examples:

    • “You love hills” – Perhaps on Summit during the Twin Cities Marathon.

    • “I’m strong, I’m fast, my speed will last” -This is a go-to mantra for local Minnesota Distance Elite Runner and a top American pick for the Chicago Marathon, Dakatah Lindwurm.

    • “This is what you came for” -A favorite of Scott, Discover Strength’s VP of Franchise Development.

      One tip for effective self-talk is to use the third person.  Rather than saying, “I…” consider saying, “You…” Research shows we respond better to self-talk in the third person.  We also should focus on eliminating negative self-talk.  Former American marathon record holder (and Olympic Silver Medalist) Deena Kastor has a go-to phrase for when negativity enters her thoughts, “Replace this thought with a thought that serves me better.” Deena’s book, Let Your Mind Run, is a must-read if you are interested in improving the mental side of your performance, and this quote of hers has become one of my favorites while I’m running a marathon, driving in my car, or trying to fall asleep.

  2. Long-time horizons are the foundation of success, but we must balance this with a here-and-now focus.  In almost any aspect of life, playing the long game is paramount.  However, research indicates that long-term results or outcomes generally don’t motivate us (especially in our fitness).  So how do we balance a long-time horizon with staying in the here and now?  I’m inspired by management guru Tom Peters definition of excellence.  He states, “Excellence is what you do in the next five minutes.”  Ryan Hall, an American marathon record holder, teaches to “run the mile you are in.”  This has become one of my marathon mantras.  University of Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh teaches the importance of “staying enthusiastically engaged in THIS moment.”  This is my go-to self-talk when facing an incredibly long or challenging day or spending time with loved ones.

  3. Measure progress from where you started, not to an arbitrary “ideal” in the future.  You can’t say, “I want to be a fast marathon runner,” and ever be satisfied.  Why?  As you get faster, you’ll simply realize you could always get faster.  This leads to frustration rather than a sense of real accomplishment.  This is analogous to looking at the horizon and walking toward it, soon realizing that you will never actually make any progress.  The horizon represents the “ideal;” it is always moving.  Instead, use your “ideal” of being a fast marathoner to create a goal.  Strive to achieve that specific goal, and then, and here is the key, measure backward toward where you started.  This is the key to progressing your marathon PR but also the key to deriving satisfaction and fulfillment from goals for our business, income, relationships, and fitness.  Always measure backward.

Good luck to those running fall marathons!

Back To Top