Fall is marathon season here on the East Coast: The Washington DC Marine Corps Marathon took place October 30; New York’s was November 6 and the Philadelphia Marathon was held this past Sunday November 20 – traditionally the Sunday before Thanksgiving. (I’m not certain, but it’s quite possible that the route of the Marine Corps Marathon skirted the Washington Swamp.)
There are numerous parallels between completing a 26.2 mile run and attaining financial independence. First off, I am of the mind that many, if not most, people are capable of achieving either or both; I ran my first marathon at the age of 54. OK, you probably won’t place in your age group or BQ (qualify for the Boston Marathon) the first time out, but there’s a likely possibility that you can finish. Some people walk the entire route. Granted it takes them many hours, but they finish. (Disclaimer: do consult with your physician prior to undertaking such a rigorous goal). Both achievements require considerable effort, discipline, patience and time, but the rewards are worth it.
Let’s walk through (so to speak) the steps involved for both
- Set Your Goals
Running a marathon doesn’t just happen: one must set intermediate goals (like a 5K or 10K run) while keeping your eye on the ultimate goal. The same goes for becoming financially independent. Granted there are rare and improbable cases when someone receives an inheritance or wins a lottery, but please don’t pin your hopes and future on either of these.
Set your financial goals and quantify them as much as possible: example: your kids graduating from college debt-free, living without financial worries for the rest of your life or leaving a legacy. Set intermediate goals as well – goals for attaining a level of savings and investments at a given age or stage of life. These intermediate goals are the equivalent to running the 5K, 10K and half marathon races on your way to a full marathon.
- Plan and Prepare
You must plan and prepare to attain your goals. If you are starting out as a total couch potato, running a marathon will likely be a multi-year project. (Again, please seek guidance from your doctor first.) If you have several 5K or 10K runs under your belt, then a training plan lasting several months can get you prepared. I particularly like (and have used) Hal Higdon’s training plans. His novice runner plan lasts for 30 weeks while plans for more experienced runners last 18 weeks. Be aware of the commitment in time and effort. The longest daily run for all plans tops out at 20 miles, approximately 3 weeks before the big event.
Similarly, you must be planning and preparing for financial independence. Educate yourself on becoming a savvy consumer and investor – I’d recommend reading Kiplinger Magazine as a start. Read books on personal finance, seek the counsel of others. Above all, commit to a frugal lifestyle and living well below your means.
- Arrive Early
The last thing you need on the day of your big event it to be stressed out getting there. Arrive early. Parking will be easier and closer to the starting line. Allow for time in the long Porta Pot queues. Stretch your muscles, focus your mind, chit-chat with fellow athletes.
- Pace Yourself / Don’t Start Out Too Fast
The starting gun goes off. The crowds cheer. The loudspeakers are blaring the Theme from Rocky. At the starting line. you get a high five from the mayor himself. You are Pumped! Resist the urge to start out too fast! Relax and loosen up. Stick to your determined pace. You have many miles and several hours in front of you.
You get your first real job out of college and think you’ve made it. Guess what? After taxes, living expenses and going out with your buddies, there is probably not a lot left over at the end of the month. Pace your spending and keep it in check. You have years ahead of you on the road to financial independence. Another parallel: better to build wealth the slow and boring way (think low-cost index mutual funds) than trying to make a quick killing on risky investments.
- Don’t Quit Too Early
The route takes you back to the Art Museum at mile 13. There is this sign, a very cruel sign: Finish line (for the half marathon) to the right, mile 14 (that’s you) to the left. You feel a strong urge to bear to the right and call it a day.
You career progresses and your income grows. It’s very tempting to give in to ‘lifestyle inflation’. Resist. Stay the course. Continue to live well below your means and invest the difference.
- Persist, persist, persist
You hit the wall somewhere between mile 18 and 20. The very definition of eternity is running miles 20 – 25 of a marathon. One foot in front of the other. Keep going. This ‘eternity’ won’t last forever.
The going gets tough financially, too: college tuition, medical bills, a layoff or career transition. Keep at it. And don’t tap your investments if there is any way to avoid it.
- Savor Your Accomplishments
Once you get to mile 25, you start to perk up. The end is in sight! You hear the announcer and sight the finish line. You did it! They drape you with a medal and hand you a bottle of water. Walk around some and go get something to eat. Celebrate with friends and family. And remember that an ice bath is more effective than a hot shower at relieving the pain of sore muscles.
Once you attain financial independence, you have options: downsizing your job, volunteering, pursuing a hobby or passion. A splurge or two is in order, provided you subsequently return to your Frugal and Wise ways.
PS I can’t write about running in Philadelphia in the vicinity of the Art Museum without giving you a link to the Theme from Rocky (Gonna Fly Now) Even 40 years later, it still gives me goosebumps.
© 2016 Paul J Reimold