6 Lessons Learned by Qualifying for the Boston Marathon

I’ve never run the Boston Marathon, nor has it ever really been a goal. But QUALIFYING for it was. And, ultimately, it was something I did.

It was at the 2011 St. Louis Rock n’ Roll Marathon that I qualified for Boston with a time of 3:09:40. I look back on that day with great fondness because I learned so much. Not just that day, but the many days, weeks, and months that proceeded it. Things that have helped me to this day . . . even though I’ve since hung up my competitive running shoes.  I wanna share six of those things with you.

1.) It’s about the journey, not the destination

Although I reached my ultimate destination by qualifying for Boston, it was my journey that both got me there and, honestly, was more rewarding. You may have a goal to lose 20 pounds, but just wanting to get to that destination won’t get you there. It’s the journey.

When you take a trip, you don’t just show up there (at least not in 2020). You’ve gotta pull up Google Maps, Waze, or Apple Maps (does anyone remember AAA TripTik or road maps?!) to find out how to get there. You gotta budget your time and dollars. You then have to get in your car and actually drive. You’ve gotta do the work.

Same with accomplishing a goal. You don’t just “show up”. You’ve gotta plan and you’ve gotta take action. It’s all the steps and preparation before getting to your destination that will actually get you there.

Lastly, ENJOY the journey. Don’t think of your training as an obligation, punishment, or penance. Remember, it’s you that decided to take this trip, so enjoy it. Should you have a plan? Absolutely, but there’s more than one way to get to where you wanna go. Sure, some may be faster, or “better”. But if you’ve time, take it.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but I think most travels begin their vacations once they’ve reached their destination. If you’ve kids, especially boys, I’m sure you’ve seen the movie Cars. One of the characters, Sally, said “Cars didn’t drive on [the road] to make great time. They drove on it to have a great time.” Don’t rush the process, enjoy it.

2.) Trust the process

Your gains or losses will not be perfectly linear. If I had graphed all of my runs and workouts, I’m certain it would’ve looked a lot like the stock market. There were a lot of ups, but there were some downs. Many of the reasons for the ups and downs I understood. Some I didn’t. Some I had control over. Some I didn’t.

My qualifying race was in October, which meant I trained through the summer . . . in Nashville. ‘Nuff said. To qualify for Boston I had to run 26.2 miles at a 7:15 mile/hour pace. I remember some 7-10 mile training runs in August where I couldn’t keep an 8:00 minute pace. Thoughts such as “How the heck am I ever gonna run three times that . . . and faster!?” But I continued to train. I continued to trust the process. And ultimately, it paid off.

If you’ve got a goal to lose 20 pounds, you’re gonna have weeks where the scale is your friend. Other weeks, your frenemy. But stay the course, trust the process, and take action daily, and the fat loss you seek WILL happen.

3.) You can control only what you can control

Even if you do everything the best it can be done, you can’t control everything. You never know what life is gonna throw at you. You may have planned, prepared, and committed to your goal, but then something happens.

Going back to my above example. I may have gotten adequate sleep the night before one of my 7-10 mile training runs. My pre- and peri-workout nutrition (what I ate before and during my run) may have been on point. These things are necessary for running my best. But when “gifted” a 90-degree, 90% humidity Nashville day, fuggedaboutit. I could’ve looked at these days as a fail, but I didn’t. I saw it as feedback. Maybe there was something I could’ve done better. Maybe not. When I toed the line race day, I was well-rested, my nutrition was on point, AND the race-day forecast was in the forties and fifties and slightly overcast. Nearly perfect conditions.

Going back to you now, things are going to pop up in your life. Things you’ve not planned for. The loss of a job or loved one. The start of a new [demanding] job, or an addition to your family. Perhaps a natural disaster or a man-made one will occur. Could anyone have ever imagined a pandemic?!

Regardless, stay the course, control what you can control, and you’ll achieve your goal.

4.) A goal without a deadline is a dream

At the time I qualified for Boston, I needed to run a 3:10 (hour:minute). Not all runners needed to do that, though. But if you were 34 or younger you needed to. When I began training for the 2011 marathon, I was 33 years old. I’ll touch on this a little a bit more later, but I ran my first marathon in 2001. I initially set my goal to qualify for Boston sometime around 2008. I ran several marathons between ’08 and ’11 but kept falling well short.

Race day can absolutely be a deadline, but in my mind’s eye, there would always be another marathon. But I would only be younger than 34, really, one more time. I did NOT wanna fail to qualify for Boston at 34, only to have an “easier” time the following year at the age of 35. For me, I had to qualify for Boston when the qualifying time was its fastest. I had a deadline. And I met it.

If you wanna lose 20 pounds, you’ve gotta set a deadline to achieve it. Otherwise, you’ll just keep putting it off as something you’ll do eventually. Guess what? You never will. And if you’ve tried before, I’m sure it’s something you’ve not yet done. Ouch, right? Set a deadline. And even if you don’t quite reach your goal by your deadline, I promise you, you’ll be a whole heckuva lot closer than if you’d never set one.

5.) It’s not about a lot, but enough

I shared that I ran my first marathon in 2001, but it wasn’t until ten years later that I qualified for Boston. Admittedly, the goal of my first marathon wasn’t to qualify for Boston but to run a sub-four-hour marathon. I ran a 4:46. Not. Even. Close. Over the course of some seven or eight more marathons, I shaved my time down to 3:25. I even ran a few races at or just over this time. But I just couldn’t get over the [15-minute] hump. I felt like I was doing a lot. And I was. Ultimately, though, I wasn’t doing ENOUGH.

Have you tried a lot to lose weight? Have you started exercising? Have you started eating better? Great! That’s to be celebrated. But it’s not about doing a lot. It’s about doing enough. Know this, though. Doing enough doesn’t mean doing more, necessarily. It’s about doing enough of the right things. Which leads me to my next learned lesson.

6.) Enlist a coach

I don’t not like the saying, “Do the best you can do”, but I prefer to say, “Do the best it can be done”. Sometimes the best we can do isn’t good enough. This doesn’t mean you can’t ever achieve what it is that you’re committed to achieving. It may simply mean you need to learn a new skill or gain additional knowledge.

I’d tried to qualify for Boston several times. Admittedly, I knew I wasn’t doing the best I could even, but I certainly know I wasn’t doing it the best it could be done. Although I enjoyed running, and frankly, was pretty good at it, I really didn’t know what I was doing. So, I sought out a coach. He told me what I needed to do and I did it.

If you’re struggling, find a coach. But not just any coach. Find a coach that knows how to do what you wanna do, has done what you wanna do and has coached others to do what it is you wanna do. The coach I sought had himself competed at the collegiate level, qualified for Boston, and coached, with much success, at one of the local high schools.

I’m hopeful one or more of these tips resonate with you. When I’m faced with new challenges, I often look back on my journey to qualify for Boston. It can turn a “Can I do this?” thought into an “Absolutely!” thought. It may require me to change my approach or seek help, but I know it can be done.