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So you want to run a marathon?
Maybe not. Maybe you’ve got something else ‘impossible’ to do. Maybe you want to climb Kilimanjaro? Learn to speak fluent Japanese? Get in the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest jump on a pogo stick?
I’m here to tell you none of it is impossible. After all, I completed a marathon. At age 40. Having never run regularly before. With two kids under age 4 in the house. After finishing cancer treatment the year before. If you want to finish a marathon (or do something else amazing) there is absolutely no reason you can’t.
Simply follow the steps below.
How to run a marathon–or do something else ‘impossible’–in six simple (but not easy) steps:
1. Make a firm commitment
When I decided the time had come to cross ‘running a marathon’ off of my bucket list, I signed up for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Washington DC, and I plunked down $100 to do so. I then had a firm date to work toward and a financial investment to make the pain of quitting a little greater.
Maybe you need to sign up to join a trek to Kilimanjaro, book a homestay with a rural Japanese family, or set up an appointment with the Guinness people. You’ll need to do something concrete to put your plan into motion, though. Audacious goals won’t be accomplished until you’ve made a firm commitment.
What will you do to accomplish your goal on a specific date rather than ‘someday’?
2. Make yourself accountable
I told all of my family, all of my Facebook friends, all of my neighbors, the other moms at the preschool drop off—essentially everyone I knew—that I was in marathon training. This gave me social accountability and would have made quitting super embarrassing. People constantly asked me about how my run went that morning or how many miles I’d logged that week.
When you’re trying to reach a goal that you fear you can’t accomplish, it’s tempting to keep your plans to yourself.
That way, if you stop when the way gets difficult or if you eventually fall short of your aspirations, no one but you knows that you didn’t follow through. This way of thinking makes it awfully easy to quit going when the going gets tough, though. If you want to raise your chances of success, don’t keep your mouth shut about your plans.
Once you’ve made your firm commitment to achieving something impossible, be sure to tell the world.
3. Get the information you need
When I decided to run a marathon, I’d never even run a 5K. I had A LOT to learn (well, everything, really) about running. I didn’t know that I needed to buy shoes that were a little larger than my normal size until I visited the local running store for a fitting. I didn’t know running on the asphalt on the street was better for my body than running on the hard concrete of the sidewalk. I didn’t know about protein powders, energy gels, foam rollers, or Body Glide.
Most importantly, I had no idea how to train for such a massive physical goal. I found a great training program designed for people just like me: The Non-Runners’ Marathon Trainer by David A. Whitsett, Forrest Allen Dolgener, and Tanjala Mabon Cole. Its premise is that marathon running is as much a mental game as a physical one, and it provides exercises to train runners in both aspects. It made the impossible seem totally doable.
If you’re doing something you are not sure you can accomplish, there is a resource like that book out there for you, too. Don’t be too proud to ask around and look like a novice.
Be prepared to learn what you don’t know about achieving your goal, by joining a training group, employing a coach, or finding resources online and in print.
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4. Be prepared to put in a ton of time
Even my non-runners’ marathon plan required me to run 36 miles per week during the peak weeks of my training. My pace ranged anywhere from 9:45/mile for a short run to 13:25 (!) minutes/mile that one time I ‘ran’ 10 miles with an epic hangover. You can see how the hours added up quickly. Any similarly lofty goal is gonna require you to invest regular time if you want to achieve it.
You have the time in your schedule to do anything that is truly important to you. You might need to make some adjustments to the way your life looks right now, but I assure you it can be done.
Make time in your schedule to slowly work toward your massive goal.
5. Enlist some support
Running for all those hours every week with preschoolers in the house meant that I needed lots of childcare help. As a member of a gym with a childcare center, I took advantage of the fact that they would watch my kids for 2 hours per day and got in lots of treadmill miles. When I wanted to run outside, my husband, my neighbors, and visiting friends and family cared for the kids.
But the support I got didn’t just take the form of childcare. I got care packages from friends and family members containing everything from Biofreeze to gourmet pasta and sauce. Friends and family members listened non-stop to tales of all of my aches and pains. On the day of the marathon, I had a big group of supporters standing out in the cold with “Team Orsino” shirts and an even bigger group of supporters sending love and energy from afar. It was awesome.
The people in your life who love you want to see you do amazing things, and they are willing to help you get there. In addition, there are professionals all over the place who can help take tasks off your plate and free up your time to accomplish something wonderful.
When you’re working on an ‘impossible’ goal, make sure to engage the help you need to accomplish the task.
6. Accept your beginner status
A lot of my life has been spent trying to be “the best” at things. I knew I was not going to be the top of any category with this marathon, and it was a great mental exercise in working within my abilities without comparing them to anyone else. If your intention is just to complete a marathon—not to nab an impressive pace or finishing time—that is a goal you can absolutely attain.
Similarly, you’ll want to check your expectations when working towards your big goal. What is the minimum level you’d need to accomplish to achieve success? You aren’t going for perfection here.
Anytime you’re attempting an audacious goal, make sure that you keep your expectations for yourself high, but reasonable.
7. Don’t quit
I wanted to quit a bunch of times during the process of training for the marathon, but I stubbornly kept going. I didn’t quit when I got shin splints and black toenails. I didn’t quit when I had to run through a rainstorm or on snowy streets. I didn’t quit when the forecast for race day called for a high of 37 degrees with 20 mph winds. On race day, I didn’t quit when I’d gone 24 miles and felt like I couldn’t possibly take another step.
As you work towards your impossible goal, you will encounter countless chances to stop. The main difference between those that achieve amazing things and those that don’t is that the achievers kept going.
Don’t quit until you’ve reached your goal.
In the end, my marathon wasn’t exactly pretty. It took me 5 hours and 42 minutes, which isn’t anywhere close to an impressive time for anyone who actually runs. I had achieved what I previously believed to be impossible, though–covering 26 miles on foot. I threw up in the car on the way home, but even that couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. The whole experience was a great reminder that I can do anything (and so can you!)
So what audacious goal are you going to start working on today?