Four Invaluable Lessons Learned From Over 20 Years of Marathoning

Yes. You read it right. My last twenty-three years of training have resulted in nineteen completed and certified marathons (26.2 miles each). If you’re counting, that would be 497.8 miles of delicious agony. And that is not counting the 12,809 training miles of running I have logged in my journal.

To put it into stark perspective, I could run from Franklin, TN  to Tokyo, Japan AND BACK and still have enough miles left over for a leisurely run to Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN.

Although I can not echo Eric Liddell’s Chariots of Fire sentiment about running, i.e. I don’t necessarily feel God’s pleasure when I run, I do enjoy it and it has taught me  invaluable lessons for my life. Here are four.

1. Rhythm in Life — As an artist, I usually get stereotyped as an undisciplined human being. And I must admit, that my lifestyle is quite eccentric, varied and, let’s just say, casual. The guys in the artist mentoring group I have led for the last ten years teasingly call me “the Jimmy Buffet of Franklin.” I’m not sure what that means, but I’m thinking they aren’t referring to a person of routine.

In the middle of my most shaky and uncertain times, feeling as if my life was like a piece of paper that had been torn into a thousand pieces and thrown into the wind, I could still be found drumming the pavement. Somehow this crazy rhythm of running has helped maintain what little sanity, discipline and success I have attained.

As I force myself out of bed in all kinds of weather and with all sorts of emotion, one foot in front of the other yet one more time, the sound of my steps have been a metronome that provide tempo and harmony in the cacophony of life.

2. Life is NOT a Marathon — I understand what people mean when they use this metaphor, I just don’t personally believe it. Rather, I think that life is a series of sprints. Let me explain. I ran my first marathon when I was just over 30 years old and I did it the “purist” way. Running the entire 26.2 miles and suffering for weeks afterward. I lost all ten toenails. The next three or four marathons were more of the same.

But then I discovered a person that changed my marathon philosophy forever, and to whom I attribute my longevity and love for running these past twenty-plus years. His name is Jeff Galloway and he has revolutionized marathoning with his innovative teaching. His methods transform a daunting marathon into a series of doable sprints.

For example, instead of running the entire way, he teaches that a “run-walk” method produces results that are just as fast, but exponentially less damaging to your body. Incredibly, my first marathon utilizing his method was just as fast as my previous ones. But, the huge difference was normal functioning the very next day. I had little soreness and discomfort – no lost toenails – nice!

By turning the grueling 26.2 miles into a series of six-minute sprints, I realized increasingly faster times, less wear and tear on my body, more desire to do my training runs, and best of all, a sheer enjoyment of running. During the one minute walk (or sabbath, if you will), I would gather my breath, concentrate on relaxing my entire body, talk to my partner, and look around savoring the beautiful scenery in which I have been blessed to run these past 20 years.

This philosophy works equally well in life.

3. Relax! — After running a few miles, the body begins to tense up. You can literally feel it spread from shoulders to your neck and then down your back. Tension is an enemy of the long distance runner.

A running mentor taught me in my first year how to relax. He showed me how to gently hold my thumb and forefinger together – softly caressing each other. At the first sign of pressure, he said to instantly relax my fingers and shake the tension out. It is uncanny how that simple action permeates your entire body and sends a signal of relaxation.

He also taught me to brush those two fingers gently against the side of my running shorts as I run. This not only enhances the relaxation, but also keeps hands and arms low, which promotes relaxation in the shoulders and upper body and gives the added benefit of optimum balance.

I learned early in my vocal training that tension was the enemy of proper singing technique. As I walked through life, I also learned that tension is a primary cause of heart attacks and high blood pressure.

Let’s see, what would be the life application here? Oh yeah, RELAX! and run, sing and live better.

4. Complete Not Compete — The goal for 99.9% of marathoners is not to win. It is to finish, and hopefully, finish well. If you have ever watched the world-class Kenyan runners, you need no further explanation. I will never forget my first marathon, running as fast as I could run, in my Western mind-set of winning is the ONLY thing, watching the lead runner who was from Kenya cross the finish line just as I crossed the HALFWAY point.

With the burden of winning off my shoulders, I focused on completing the marathon, not competing with the other runners. You will never hear an experienced marathoner call the event a race.

I sometimes cannot fathom the blessing, good fortune and remarkable health it has taken to finish every marathon I have started. And to be healthy enough to run nineteen marathons is a feat I do not take for granted. Every marathon (and every training run) I whisper a prayer of thanks that I am able to continue running. Every time I cross the marathon finish line, I feel the wetness of tears (sweat, too) at the realization of the depth of the accomplishment – not of competing – but of completing. Less than 1% of people in the world have completed a marathon.

Traditions are important to me. The ragged hat in the picture above has protected my head for the last ten marathons. Having run the Disney World Marathon twelve times, I have what I can joyfully call a time-honored tradition there. Every time I enter the Magic Kingdom and make the “magical” turn onto Main Street and Cinderella’s castle appears through the mist of a Florida morning, I become a child once more. And every time I run the race, entering the castle, I move to the side, stop for a moment and scream to the top of my lungs.

Some of the runners think I’m insane, but I’ve found there are a few that nod with understanding. You see, if I focus on competing instead of completing, I wouldn’t be able to stop in the castle. And the magic would gradually disappear from my  running — and my life. It is the child-like wonder that gets me up for yet another day, and yes, another marathon. It’s not the finish time, the P.R., or my age ranking. It is the magic.

I know this grates against our “win at all costs” Western mindset.

But the lessons learned from rhythm, sprinting, relaxing and completing not competing may be the very things that help us ALL finish our marathons — runner or not.


For me its running, what is it for you?

24 Responses to “Four Invaluable Lessons Learned From Over 20 Years of Marathoning”

  1. Isn’t it amazing how concepts that are counterintuitive to us often lead to success? Thanks for sharing insight on how the discipline of running (or some other physical activity–for me, it’s walking) can provide stability for our lives. Keep up the good work!
    .-= patriciazell´s last blog ..#47 THE RETURN OF CHRIST: THE PLOT, PART 2 =-.

  2. Great post. As someone who enjoys running and have completed 2 half marathons, this is great information. I am planning my first (and hopefully 2nd) triathlon this summer. I generally look at these races as competing, not to win, but against myself and prior times. I think taking a mindset of completing will be beneficial. I am hoping in the future to run a marathon and possibly the daunting task of an Iron Man. I know a mindset of completing will be helpful in these races. Thanks again for the great post.
    .-= J Bussell´s last blog ..They Really Are Perceptive =-.

  3. “If I focus on competing instead of completing, I wouldn’t be able to stop in the castle. And the magic would gradually disappear from my running — and my life. It is the child-like wonder that gets me up for yet another day, and yes, another marathon. It’s not the finish time, the P.R., or my age ranking. It is the magic.

  4. I love this post Randy! I just started “running” this past year and completed my first 1/2 marathon. I didn’t enjoy it one bit! Now with that said, I will state that since the 1/2 marathon, I’ve looked back and realized that it was all about doing the 1/2 marathon and not about enjoying the journey.

    I have vowed to do it again, only this time with enjoyment and open eyes not the pain or exhaustion that I felt from the lack of training on my part. Reading how running has impacted your life is encouraging to keep this up! Thank you for sharing!

    .-= Lori Mahon´s last blog ..Welcome to! =-.

  5. Great post, Randy! My husband & I have each completed about 6 marathons & 6 half marathons since we started in May ’08. We mostly walk them, but I am taking a marathon/half marathon runner training program to work more running into the mix. It is addictive, isn’t it?! We have learned endurance and consistency is key.

    We are also involved in a ministry called http://www.team413,org, which shares the truth of Christ with endurance athletes nationwide. I highly recommend you get involved!
    .-= Andrea Schultz´s last blog ..‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ by Rebecca Skloot – Books Review =-.

  6. This was encouraging in so many ways, Randy. I’m preparing to run my first 5K next weekend after years of believing that I couldn’t run because I’m not athletic enough. After a gentle challenge from a friend I began training and am still surprised when I survive (literally, am still living and breathing!) after each run. Secondly, as I am in the midst of this sabbatical season from the road I have been learning these same four truths in so many ways. My goal in this time off has been to cultivate and implement balance, rhythm and relaxation in my life. Thank you for the reminder of the importance of these elements and for encouraging me in my journey!

  7. Next time I go and watch marathoners would it be all right to bring my Vuvuzela to cheer you guys on? Good points to ponder and can be applied across all disciplines. Every time I go to WDW* I always stop yell up in the Magic castle your not alone it’s the inner child in us.

    Ted A

    * Trademark of Disney Corporation.

    • @Ted A, I am absolutely sure that a Vuvuzela would rock my marathon world. Much more appropriate at a marathon than the World Cup. Ha!!!

      I love it that you yell at the magic castle as well. I love it.

  8. love this post – I think you also said in an earlier post that running feeds your creativity: therefore no music during runs? I find that to be so true. I ran in High School and never again till age 56! Want to do the Disney half (maybe full) but will need a link to your preferred training schedule as you prep for these events. I have found a pace but need to add more distance now. Any thoughts? – and do you treadmill running in winter? Will not work for me the same as outdoors.

    • @@presrevdoug, Thanks. No music during my runs. But that is because I have been a professional musician my entire life, and music is too much like work. Running gives me a break from it.

      Just click Jeff Galloway’s name in my post and it will take you to his site. His book “Marathon” has been invaluable and I now have created my version of a training program he lays out in that book.

      No treadmill for me-unless it is dire conditions. I love the outdoors and have ran with my running clothes completely sheathed in ice.

      Train easy and learn to listen to your body. Godspeed!

  9. I began running in college when I took a running class for fun, taught by Dr. David Horton– an ultra marathon maniac. I can hoenstly say that running has changed me. Physically of course, but more so mentally and spiritually. Running was something I thought I could never do because I wasn’t “made for it.” In addition to realizing that I could run, the most incredible discovery was that I enjoyed it and found solace in it. Thanks so much for sharing this Randy; as always, it’s encouraging.
    .-= Meredith´s last blog ..None But Jesus =-.

    • @Meredith, Thanks, Meredith. i definitely am not physically made for running either, but I share your enjoyment and solace in running. BTW, one of my profs was Dr. David Horton—but he was definitely not a runner. Ha!

  10. i just ran my first 10km (minimalist) and have learned that distance running truly is a brain game. I’d be interested in hearing about what goes on inside your head when you run :) You are an inspiration in so many areas! Thank you!
    .-= Michelle George´s last blog ..Race report: Canada Day Fun Run =-.

    • @Michelle George, Ha. It is so a brain game. I would say 50% or more of completing a marathon is in your mind. Your mind screams to quit after mile 18. Or at least it does for me.

      Even regular runs, my mind will play games with me. Because I have pain in my ankle at the beginning, I should just stop and go back home. It tells me I will hurt it more if I continue.

      But if I can just persevere and listen to my body as well, I go on and in a few minutes, the pain is gone after warming up.

      There are also ebbs and flows in running. Some days is a complete mind game. The run sucks from beginning to end. But you must learn to put that out of your mind, and start the next run fresh.

      I could go on….

      Thanks, Michelle.

  11. Fasten your seatbelts it’s me again. You remember? The one who can’t reply with a short comment? Well, I’m nominated again.

    You run AND sing too? Is there anything you can’t do Professor Elrod? What are you trying to do? Show off? Brag about yourself? Are you superman or something like that? I thought Spence Smith was but I’m doubting now maybe you are Superman. You are becoming more and more interesting. Really, your wife and daughters are very blessed with you and you with them… of course!

    I love running but also riding my bike. I’m definitely not a competer but a completer. I’m a person who doesn’t think too much. Not always a good thing but that’s what I am so when I started to run I looked for all the information and bought the right shoes and clothes and ran. I don’t care what people say or think I do my thing and I’m happy when I’ve completed it. For me running makes my head empty after a tensed day. I have to say when I mention riding my bike it’s not for a race. We ride bike here as it’s your car. Whenever the sun is shining we go and ride the bike the whole day. It’s one of the best part of the culture of this country. There are thousands of routes to ride.

    All of a sudden I had to think about my dad. I’m slow starter. When I go for a ride my friend would speed up right away but I can’t. It takes a while. But after that I’m at a speed even she sometimes has problems to stay with me. I slow down because it’s no race. But you forget it’s not a race because we are used to ride fast. In the meantime enjoying the nature. My dad used to call that a diesel. Your heart/body needs time to get on speed. So I’m a diesel.

    Just had to think about how faith should be when you wrote about the magic in the castle and the child-like wonder. Our faith should be like that, right? Child-like. Trusting the Lord and be in awe of what He has done and is doing.

  12. Hey Randy, I didn’t know if you knew, but I’m doing my first sprint triathlon in August and reading this extremely helps me. I’m in my 2nd week of training and it is going awesome. I have also tried to keep the mindset of complete, not compete, but it’s great to hear it from someone I respect so much and that has as much experience as you do.

    I also love the metaphor that life is a series of sprints. I couldn’t agree more. Even though I just started pretty intensive training for the triathlon, I feel like my life is in the Galloway part of the marathon. This training has brought such an amazing amount of peace to my life over the past couple of weeks. I feel more “content” about life then I’ve ever felt. Thanks for this post my friend. It comes at a great time for me!

Created by Randy Elrod

Get the latest posts delivered to your mailbox:

Back to top
%d bloggers like this: