How to reach a Milestone…Lessons I learned from my experience running a marathon

Sheng Janssen
in
8 November 2017

For me and for most people I know, running a marathon is a pretty big deal. Perhaps you should first know something about me… I am not a runner. Actually I didn’t like running at all. I previously only ran short distances, and that was more for interval training.Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sporty guy, so I like to stay in shape. But that was it, I didn’t train longer than half an hour. Anything more than that felt so boring or a waste of my time. So how did I get myself to do something crazy like running a marathon or even train for it?

In October of 2017 I ran my first marathon. The TCS Amsterdam Marathon in the Netherlands.

In October of 2017 I ran my first marathon. The TCS Amsterdam Marathon in the Netherlands.

That’s me on the right and Omar on the left

The idea started when a friend of mine asked me if I would like to run a half marathon with him, we’re not even talking about a full marathon yet. So I replied, hell no. I’m happy to run the 10km but no way in hell am I going to run a half marathon. 21.1km, you must be crazy.

A Quick Rewind…

Let me introduce myself. My name is Sheng Janssen and my hobby is surfing. I’m the proud father of a little boy and husband to a beautiful wife. Together with my friend Omar Lovert we own ‘NightMonkey’ and we are specialised in Conversion Optimisation and E-commerce growth.I first started running to stay in shape and enjoy my surfing to the max. Surfing in Holland is not very consistent so you need to do something else on the side to stay in shape. For this I chose to do some running. I really started running in the beginning of 2016. In The Hague we have an event called “RoyalTen”, where I decided to run the 10km.So I was happy… I set my goal and I achieved it, but like most people I did not set the next goal, so unfortunately my training faded away.In January this year I thought to myself, let’s set up some good intentions for 2017(Like most people do after Christmas and New Year’s Eve). Let’s do the RoyalTen again this year and let’s try to run faster. This was without having a clue what my crazy mind was up to.

So back to the story…

At a business event in March of 2017 we met a lot of amazing people, one person in particular, Greg. Greg started talking about running. He had run a marathon before and was enthusiastic and very convincing that we should run a marathon at least once in our lives.He had many stories about the things he learned, the kind of life lessons he discovered during his marathon. He mentioned that it changes the way you look at things. There were so many things he said that I could relate to, so at some point I said to myself: “Okay, why not? Let’s do this. If I’m going to run a marathon then this is the moment to do so. I’m already training for the 10km. I feel fit, so why not?”.
Just like in Business: From time to time, somebody crosses your path whom you respect or who is able to inspire you. And sometimes, they challenge you. Well, listen to that voice. It might be exactly the push you need at that moment to grow.

So what was next?

I made a commitment in front of my colleagues and there was no way I was going to get around it anymore. But how the heck am I going to do this? In the beginning of my training I tried running 21.1km and I was totally exhausted, I felt broken and completely exhausted. So in my mind it I was thinking, how the heck am I going to run double that distance.
Just like in business: One can sometimes feel totally overwhelmed and feel like your next assignment is such a stretch that you have no idea how to accomplish it.
So I started looking stuff up. Googled some training schedules. Talking with my friend Omar. He had more experience with running and is very keen on technique. Omar has a tendency to research everything and I received a lot of good tips from him.Bit by bit, I put two and two together and found a way I was convinced I could reach my goal. A schedule that in my mind would work for me. My training would start three months before the d-day, the day of my marathon.
Just like in Business: You should always reach out to people with more experience in the field you want to improve in. Sometimes as simple as looking in your own network.

Fast Forward to the 1st day of my training…

According to my schedule I had to run five times per week for the first six weeks and then four times a week but the distance would get longer.The first few weeks were fine but then the schedule kept getting more difficult. I wasn’t motivated to run so much anymore. One thing I kept in my mind is to listen to my body, don’t overdo it. You would get nowhere if you injure yourself. So if I felt that my muscles where tired I’d skip a training. This would help me recover better.You will encounter moments where you really don’t want to run/ train. It’s just exhausting. I remember one time it was about 10 o’clock at night. Omar always says, “It’s great to run at night”. I agreed, but in my mind, I just wanted to sleep/ relax or sit on the couch and watch Netflix.Also, let me tell you something about Holland. The weather is often terrible. A lot of wind, the rain…ughh. Those days it get’s really tough to go outside. So how do you motivate yourself to go anyway?I came up with three techniques that worked for me. Let me explain… Eliminate the end distance from your mind and simply put your shoes on and go outside.The hardest thing to do, when you are really exhausted and you just want to go to bed, is to still have to accomplish a big thing. In my case it was to run the full 22km after a full day of work, cooking and putting my 1-year old to bed. The goal here is simply to get yourself to put on your shoes and go outside.The funny thing is that probably your body can easily handle it. So, this is mainly a mind issue and not a body issue (If you are training and already used to some distance). So, I simply ‘tricked’ my brain into thinking I would be running a much shorter distance.Make the distance in your head shorter till it changes your decision.It’s not a question that you’re not going to train, it’s a question of what distance is good for your mind to make your body move and put on your shoes and go outside.For example, 22km is surely too far. So start by asking yourself if 18km is doable or is 15km doable or….. Go until you reach the point where your state changed from I’m not running to OK, I’m going to run that distance (In my case 15km was the tipping point).You can even go as short as, for example just a run around the block. The funny thing was, as soon as I started to run, I felt great. Subconsciously, you know you need to run 22km. But you keep telling yourself, that a much shorter distance would also suffice. In my case 15km.What happens next is… once you almost reach 15km you will say, I’m already running, things are going great, I feel great, I’ll run another 5km.. then you reach 20km you will say. If I run 2km extra I’ve done my entire training. And that would really feel great, right. To accomplish the impossible. So for sure you will run the last 2km. Once you’re done, you’ll feel invincible.
Just like in Business: You know what needs to be done by the end of the day, but your mind and body don’t feel like doing it. That’s how people procrastinate… In such a case you should not focus on finishing the task, but you should focus on starting with the first smallest bit of the task and keep setting small milestones as you are working and gathering momentum. Before you know it, you’ve completed the task.
Split the distance in half, run it one way & simply run back.Say you have to run 22km. Which seems like a real burden for you. You might be like me, pffff… 22km. I really don’t want to run this distance today. Once you split it in half, you might think. Hmm, 11km is not that far at all compared to 22km. Once again you’ve tricked your mind to put on your shoes and go outside and start running.Once you start running everything is fine, right. So here is the trick. You run 11km one way. This should not be too far, right? Once you hit the 11km mark you might feel like you’ve reached your goal. You’ll feel great, so now it’s time to go back home.So you simply turn around and you run the 11km back home. You have no other choice, you just ran 11km away from your house and you must get back home anyway. But in this case it will feel so great and fast. Running towards home always feels easier. You’ll be home in no time and finished the full 22km training… Again.
Just like in Business: You need to set yourself up for success. If you’ve invested enough of yourself in something, you want to see it completed. Another way to see it is to commit yourself in such a way that you have no other choice than to actually accomplish your goal.

Fast Forward to the day of my marathon…

So how did I prepare my body and mind on this day? After a good night sleep, tree hours before the race I had a good meal. Drank enough fluids and about one hour before the race I drank my coffee. It’s known that drinking a cup of coffee before a run is good for you. My mind was not thinking about the distance. Just telling myself that I’ve trained for this. The start will be no problem, just take it easy and enjoy everything around you.

The start…

It was crowded. I could feel the good vibes all around me. I wanted to start with a slow tempo but for some reason, the adrenaline, and all the people around you moving forward just makes it impossible to start off with a slow tempo.

The first 5km…

There was a lot of activities. Bands playing music aside the road. A lot of people cheering. I could hear a lot of different languages. People of all over where participating. For me it’s still unbelievable how many people run a marathon.

10km…

Stil going strong. I was following tree older ladies. I’m still amazed of some people participating who you would never think that they would run a marathon. And even going faster then you. Amazing and respect.

15km…

Everybody is still happy. I’m doing great. I saw some runners stopping to stretch: “Stopping, so early, your are doomed”. If you’re stopping for a stretch at only 15km you are probably not going to make it. Could be injuries, don’t know.

20km…

I’m still doing great. At this point I started to go a bit faster. Found two happy Brazilians (I think, they had a Brazilian flag on there shirt) with a perfect tempo to follow. Which really helped me keep up the pace :-)

25km…

Until this point I think it was the nicest rout of the marathon. I really enjoyed the scenery up to dis moment. But now we were approaching an industrial environment which I didn’t like very much. Luckily they had crazy signs along side of the road which helped me think about something else. I was just enjoying the things people wrote.

30km…

At this point it started to get heavy for a lot of people. One by one people were stopping, walking, stretching. It was crazy, you had watch out for people suddenly stopping in front of you. Luckily, I was still okay.

35km…

At this point my legs where getting shaky. It kind of worried me a bit. I thought to myself “the way my feet feels, 7km is still a long way to go”. Started slow down and hope I wouldn’t get the cramps in my leg.

40km…

I came across some runners that just couldn’t go forward anymore. Some where lying on the flour with the paramedics helping them. I can remember one guy past out on the flour, heavy. For me, at about this distance I started to feel better. The past 5km where very hard. I’ve had lost my smile but it about this point I got my smile back and it was bigger then ever. I started to see the finish :)

42km…

The last 2km, I wanted to go faster but my feet and legs where not listening to my mind :) So, I just kept the same tempo and enjoyed the last 2km. Reaching the finish was such a good feeling. Still not realising the distance you’ve just ran. Something that seemed impossible but now you’ve just accomplish it. It was the greatest feeling ever. When I think about it, it still seems unreal to me that I ran such a distance.During the marathon it was actually easier to keep my mind busy then I thought. There are so many things going on. You just really try to enjoy the scenery, the different happenings. (Side note: I saw a girl holding a banner that said “Don’t forget, you paid for this”. That really made me laugh.)
Just like in Business: You can be really focused on reaching your goals, growing your business, hitting your targets, hustling, but you need to remember to enjoy the journey, observe and be grateful for the things that are happening around you.

The bottom line…

Sometimes to accomplish the impossible you have to trick your mind into thinking you’re not attempting something impossible at all, in order to stay motivated. Keep making it smaller until your state of mind changes from “I don’t want to”, to “Yes, I can do this, no problem”. Chunk it as small as it needs to be. Often, getting started is the greatest hurdle to take. The rest follows by itself. Once your body started moving it’s much easier to keep going.For me running the marathon was a great experience. I had a great time, exhausting, crazy, a bit painful and maybe even a little stupid, but I’ve learned a lot about myself.I hope my story can help someone else to reach a milestone, as well. If so, please share your story. I’d like to know what you have experienced and learned from reaching your goals.And back to you, Greg. I totally agree, everybody should run a marathon at least once in their lives…

Sheng Janssen
Conversion Designer. I design web experiences that optimize conversion.

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