What Marathon Training Can Teach You About Personal Finance

It started with that dreaded 1 mile run in high school.  Four breathless and excruciating times around that high school track.  My time: just under 11 minutes.

I was not an athletic kid.  I quit ballet at the tender age of 4.  I took a few group tennis lessons as a middle schooler before I realized that my brother six years my junior was easily trouncing me on the tennis court.  I was a straight A student….if it wasn’t for that ugly B in physical education. 

So why did I join the track and field team in high school?  Honestly, I was aiming to attend a competitive college, and it seemed as though you needed to be involved in some sort of sport to round out your application.  Since I had shown zero athletic ability in any sport, the only one I was qualified to do was track and field.  As long as you were willing to put one foot in front of the other and participate, you were in.

I was a pretty miserable failure as a track and field athlete.  I routinely came in last during my races.  There was one time I couldn’t even make it into the long jump pit.  But I ended up sticking with it through the rest of high school. 

Why?  Because I liked being part of a team.  I liked the challenge.  And even if my times were dismal, I was getting better.  My best mile time by the end of my senior year was 7:18, which is far from outstanding for a high school student, but for me, it was magical.

So this love of running has stayed with me ever since.  Through the good times and through the bad (especially the bad), I could always throw on a pair of running shoes and just sweat it out.  I absolutely love the simplicity of the sport. It is my therapy.

I vowed to myself as a high schooler that I would run a marathon one day. As an adult, I have taken part in 5k’s, 10k’s, and a couple of half marathons.  I’ve finally reached a point in my life where I felt ready to take on a full marathon.  I was surprised at how training for a full marathon was an entirely different beast from training for a half.  There is the added time commitment and the attention to detail regarding your nutrition and fluid intake.  In addition, I was physically much more exhausted training, which I’m sure is related to my age in addition to the training itself.

So how does all of this relate to finances?  Well, it turns out that training for a marathon has some great parallels to money management.

1.  You have a goal: Obviously, your goal when training for a marathon is to finish those 26.2 miles on race day.  When it comes to your personal finances, it’s imperative that you set some goals for yourself.  Do you want to pay off a debt?  How about save for a house?  The more specific you are about your goal, the easier it will be to strive for that goal.  If you just have a generic idea of what you want to do with your finances, you’re less likely to make any significant progress.  

2. You have a plan: There are countless ways you can train for a marathon.  You can just wing it (which is NOT advisable).  Or you can hire a running coach, a nutrition coach, and join a running group.  Most people fall somewhere in the middle. The more you know, the better prepared you will be.  There are general guidelines on how to train for a marathon, but the key is to modify these plans so that they work for you as an individual. A financial plan works the same way.  Everyone’s situation is different, so as long as you have the basics of personal finance down, you can personalize the plan to fit your individual needs.  

3. Your plan will not go as intended:  Runners are notorious for getting injured.  Like, all of the time. I have had my share of injuries over the years.  It forces you to listen to your body and make adjustments as needed.  In much the same way, your financial plans will invariably include hiccups along the way.  Expect that this will happen (because it will), learn from your mistakes, and adjust accordingly.  

4. You feel accomplished: This is the ultimate reward of training for your marathon- that feeling of accomplishment when you finally cross that finish line.  Even the training itself is rewarding as you are making incremental steps towards your ultimate goal.  The same can be said for reaching your personal finance goals.  Once you reach your goal, you become much more motivated to reach your other financial goals.  In fact, it’s very possible that you will see this attitude spill into other aspects of your life outside of personal finance.  

What’s even nicer about reaching your financial goals is that you will not suffer the physical repercussions of running a marathon!  I can tell you that mentally, I am proud that I achieved this lifelong goal of mine.  But the physical toll on the body is no joke, which is in turn motivating me to find ways to prepare even better for my next one!


  1. xrayvsn on May 30, 2018 at 3:52 pm

    Saving for retirement is definitely like a marathon and not a sprint. As such you can’t be influenced by the short term noise around you but keep focused ahead to the finish line way in the distance. (by the way I wanted to comment on one of your earlier posts but seemed like I couldn’t (wanted to on the Vet Profession has a math problem). Very similar to the medical profession, no real financial education and we were kind of thrust into the real world.

    • Financial Wellness DVM on May 31, 2018 at 6:42 am

      Humans aren’t wired to look at anything long term, especially now when we’re living much, much longer than any point in human history! I know subjects like saving for retirement aren’t terribly exciting, but so very important.

      Strange that you couldn’t comment on another post: but yes, I think that it is much too easy to borrow the money for the education, but then it’s pretty much left up to us as individuals to sort through the financial catastrophe afterwards. Very unfortunate, especially in the veterinary field where we don’t have the option to “live like a resident” and hope to dramatically increase our income as attendings.

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