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Money Lessons from Marathon Running Training and Fitness

What do running a marathon and financial planning have in common? More than you'd think!

By Jane Mepham

This morning I struggled to complete my easy one hour run, something I normally do on autopilot. At 40 minutes into the run, my back was hurting, my legs were on fire, and mentally, I was ready to give up and turn around. What kept me going were the words of my coach, “The first three weeks back are going to be tough, but don’t give up if you want to succeed.”

Jane Mepham

Jane Mepham

This is day one of the three weeks.

Getting your finances in order takes time and dedication. For most people, it’s working with a financial advisor to understand where you are and where you want to go. Then getting a plan in place for that goal. For others, it starts with a budget, or a one-time plan that gives you a road map for moving forward.

It’s a process that needs to be maintained. Once you have your finances on cruise control, it gets a little easier to go. You might need to do some course correction every now and again, but it gets a lot easier moving forward.

The toughest thing is simply to get started.

I have completed a couple races, all the way from 5ks to half-marathons. One of my goals is to complete a full marathon. When I started contemplating this goal, I realized I would need the help of a running coach. I knew how important it was to work with an expert. This person would guide me on the path, helping me avoid injuries and improving my overall fitness, endurance and speed. If I’m going to spend the time training, then I want to be at my best.

This is very similar to getting your personal finances in order. It helps to work with the right expert, whether it’s a financial coach, financial advisor or groups that will help you get on the right path for your situation.

A financial coach will educate you on the basics of personal finance. He or she will help you craft a budget, come up with a plan to pay down debt, and generally empower you to be more responsible with your finances. This article from Smart Asset goes into more details on what a financial coach does.

On the other hand, a financial advisor is your financial planning partner. He or she will help you craft a plan based on your desired future state and will help you work towards that goal using the financial resources you have available.

According to this 2019 CNBC-Acorns survey, fewer than one-fifth of Americans work with a financial advisor. Choosing the right person for you is important. You want to make sure they have the right knowledge, can address your specific needs, and they have enough empathy to understand your situation.

There are numerous articles that have been written about selecting an advisor or a coach. This article from Forbes Advisor defines the different types of services offered by advisors and includes other online organizations that will list advisors. It also goes into some questions that will help you define what you are looking for as well as identify an expert that can help you. Keep in mind that the best advisor or coach is the one that will help you reach your goals.

To get to your preferred financial fitness level, you’ll need to take some very intentional steps – just like I need to do to get back to my physical fitness level.

Stay focused on your WHY

The only reason, I was able to complete the last 20 minutes of the run was focusing on my WHY. I want to run a full marathon, and it’s not going to happen unless I get out and run. It’s that simple.

Ask yourself WHY you are saving, or why you got on the financial plan you were on before. Focus on the mental picture you’ve built up of your expected outcome and you have a high chance of success. Here are some examples

  • If your WHY is saving for your kids’ college, they’ll most likely graduate debt-free. This will give them a great foundation for the rest of their lives.
  • If your WHY is to save and invest aggressively so you can retire at age 50, you’ll have a lot of time to pursue other activities outside of work.
  • If you are a member of the FIRE movement, then your WHY is the financial freedom that comes from quitting your job before age 65. A great outcome of this is being able to make lifestyle choices, that are not tied to a job.

If you hold on to your WHY and the mental picture of the outcome, you have a high chance of being able to get back on the right path, or to get started if you are at the beginning of your financial journey.


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Use past success for motivation

After my painful run this morning, I looked at some of my stats from about two months ago, and the difference was startling. My fitness level has gone down considerably, but at the same time, I can see what I’m capable of achieving as I have had some major wins in the past. Focus on wins you’ve had in the past, to motivate you to keep moving. Consider the following examples.

  • Being able to pay a $5,000 medical bill because you had the emergency funds saved. That’s a major win for anybody.
  • Being able to take that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Machu Picchu in Peru, because you saved $300 dollars per month for more than a year. 
  • Seeing your kids’ college fund triple in five years, because you focused on saving consistently.

Use these examples as motivating factors “to get back on the horse” if you’ve fallen off or to get started.

It pays to be patient

Training for a marathon is hard work and calls for a lot of patience. It’s even harder mentally when you’ve fallen off and must restart the training.

A big portion of this is directly related to how patient you are willing to be. Consider that it took Warren Buffet about 20 years to become a millionaire and he did not become a billionaire until his 50s. If it took one of the best investors that long to be successful, you owe it to yourself to be patient and wait for a positive outcome.

Back to the Machu Picchu trip. It would have taken close to 17 months of consistent saving to come up with the required funds. This is close to two years of saving $300 dollars every month forgoing things that would readily consume that money. That’s the kind of patience it takes to achieve those types of financial goals.

Be vigilant about the process

Your financial life, just like the stock market, has its own ups and downs. We cannot control the market, but there are some things we can control in our personal lives, with our eyes firmly focused on the goal.

We may not avoid the downturns completely, but hopefully, we can minimize the effects and the negative consequences if we pay attention. When you have things on cruise control, it’s easy to get derailed, or side-tracked if not paying attention.

For example, setting up an automated investment plan for your kids’ college is an example of having your plan on cruise control. In this case a certain amount of money to be withdrawn from your checking account into the college account and invested directly. Being vigilant means logging into the account every six months to a year to ensure the account is still working as expected. It also means periodically reviewing college costs, keeping in mind how the market is performing, and adjusting the monthly amount accordingly. If you have an advisor, this is a service they’ll provide ensure you stay on track with your goals

Another classic example happens if your income changes, either going up or down. A check-in on this will involve possibly adjusting the emergency fund saving strategy, adjusting retirement contributions, or looking for opportunities to cut costs or invest more in some areas. This is an example of being vigilant and ensuring your plan does not get derailed.

The lesson is clear, guard what you’ve gained financially, be vigilant about it, pay attention, don’t set it and forget it, and if you happen to fall off, “get back on that horse right away,” for a high chance of success.

If you haven’t started on this journey, today is a great day to get started.

About the Author: Jane Mepham

Jane Mepham is the founder & principal advisor at Elgon Financial Advisors, a registered investment advisor in the state of Texas. She enjoys simplifying the complexities of the financial system for immigrants and foreign-born individuals nationwide. She loves to partner with her clients as they define the ideal version of their future and then work with them towards that goal.


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Email Jeffrey Levine, CPA/PFS, chief planning officer at Buckingham Wealth Partners, at: AskTheHammer@BuckinghamGroup.com.