The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Debtor

I rolled out of bed early yesterday morning, pulled on my shorts, strapped on my heart-rate monitor, and headed out the door. I zipped my Mini to the other side of Portland and there I joined a group of about 100 other hardy souls for a 12-mile run. We're training for the Portland Marathon.

I tried to train for the marathon last year, but I had problems. I did the long weekend runs, and I liked them, but I didn't do anything else to support my training. I didn't stretch. I didn't do the shorter mid-week runs (and if I did do them, I ran too hard). I ate poorly. By the beginning of June, I was forced to stop. I had hurt myself. I made a couple of attempts to return to running throughout the summer, but the injury always returned.

This year, I decided to do things right. Before marathon training began in early April, I spent some time in the gym, becoming accustomed to aerobic workouts. I've done my best to complete every mid-week run. (I run short distances on Monday and Wednesday, medium distances on Tuesday and Thursday, and I do a long group run on Saturday.) I'm even stretching — though still not as much as I should. As a result, I'm healthier and fitter than I was last year at this time — and I'm loving the experience.

Now, I know it's cliché to compare physical fitness with fiscal fitness, but I'm going to do it again. When I'm out there on the trail, my brain has a lot of time to find connections. Here are some of the similarities I see between my current marathon training and my past effort to get out of debt:

    • My training last year was haphazard. I didn't really have a schedule. This year, I have a plan; every day between now and October 4th has a target. Essentially, I have a budget. My initial attempts to get out of debt were haphazard, too, and it wasn't until I developed a spending plan that I was able to make progress.

 

    • The number and distance of my runs increases gradually as the summer progresses, as does their intensity. As my body and mind adapt to the effort, as I become stronger, I'm able to exert more effort. This is exactly the way I paid off my debt. I started with small steps, cutting back on a few things here and there. Then I began to increase my income. By the end, I had cut things I never thought I could live without. So, too, I hope to be able to run farther and faster by the end of the summer than I once believed possible.

 

    • I run first thing in the morning. I get it done early so that I can spend the rest of my day on other things without the need to run hanging over my head. And having done this, I feel great. When I'm done with a 12-mile run on Saturday morning, I feel like the king of the world. I'm filled with confidence. In the same way, I felt empowered when I learned to pay myself first, to save and invest for my future before I paid my bills.

 

    • I've learned that it's important for me to make it easy for myself to run. I try to go to bed with my running clothes on. I make sure my heart-rate monitor is on its charger. I fill my water bottle. Just as it's important to remove passive barriers to making smart money decisions, so too I try to tear down the passive barriers to exercise.

 

    • If I skip a day, I don't let it derail the entire program. I know that it's not the end of the world. My schedule for the next day is still there, and for the day after. When I miss a run, I accept that fact, and I get out there to run again the next day. (Sometimes I look for other ways to compensate for the missed run — biking, swimming, etc.) This same skill was invaluable when I was paying off debt. There were months that I'd make no progress at all, but I learned not to let that get me down. I just tried harder the next month.

 

    • My running program has built-in rest days. As a novice runner, I cannot perform every day of the week; I need rest days so that my body can recover. This is very much like allowing a portion of your budget for indulgences, even when you're struggling to repay your debt. Just as I subscribe to the balanced money formula, I'm seeking balance in my training program.

 

  • My training group has several pace groups. Some people are aiming to finish the marathon in three hours (or less!). Others plan to take five hours (or more!). My target is a relatively slow 4-1/2 hours. My weekday runs are generally at about 11:20 per mile, and my weekend runs are often at 12:30 per mile — or slower. Serious runners might scoff at such paces, but I don't care. My goal is to reach that finish line. That's the same attitude to take with debt reduction or retirement savings. Of course you should do what you can to improve your savings rate, but don't equate slow progress with no progress. Work at your own pace, and keep your eyes on the goal.

This entire blog is based on the metaphor of running a long, slow race. There's a reason I've opted to use a tortoise as the site's mascot. Success isn't measured in how quickly achieve your goal, but in that you actually reach the destination.

When you undertake a personal challenge — whether it's paying off $35,000 in debt or training to run a marathon — go at your own pace. Take your time. Don't give up. Move slowly and surely, and you can reach the finish.

Photo by Vaidy Krishnan. Title taken from the famous short story, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner.

More about...Debt, Health & Fitness, Psychology

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My Journey To Billionaire Club
My Journey To Billionaire Club
11 years ago

Very true. Success isn’t measured how quickly you achieve your goal. After all slow and steady wins the race.

Really debt is a disease and all of us should get out of it…!!!

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
11 years ago

A classic GRS post and it hits the nail on the head as usual. It’s really too true that being physically fit and being financially fit have a lot in common. They are both about long term goals. For instance, what’s the use of working hard to lose 10 pounds if you revert right back to old eating habits and regain the weight? And what’s the use of paying off all your credit card debt if you don’t make permanent changes that will keep you from getting into debt again? Plus, we know for fitness that over exercising and under… Read more »

Tyler @ Frugally Green
Tyler @ Frugally Green
11 years ago

This concept can be applied to any goal. Once you’re out of debt, you can use the same methodology to build wealth. Maybe you want to start a business? It works there too. You can even employ it in building better relationships. I have friends that hate planning for anything because they feel like it’s too regimented and oppressive. They want to feel free to do as they like when an opportunity arises. It took me a long time to realize that choice and spontaneity can be built into a plan. Like anything, balance is required for long term success.… Read more »

mhb
mhb
11 years ago

Thanks, JD. This is exactly what I needed to read today. I had set a goal date when I thought I’d have all my debt paid off, and I’ve been struggling recently with the need to move that goal later because we’re losing some of our income. But we’ve still got some income, we have an emergency fund, and we’re being frugal. Had we been facing these setbacks three years ago, we would have been in serious trouble. Now it’s just a matter of recalculating a few things. My pace is slower, but I’m still going to cross that debt-free… Read more »

Tina
Tina
11 years ago

I’ve found your site recently, and I can’t thank you enough for giving me the basic financial rules that I needed. I liked this post-I’ve never compared my running to my financial goals before, but it makes sense. Good luck with your marathon training! Portland was my first marathon last year and I liked it so much that I’m going back this year:)

Jamie
Jamie
11 years ago

Love the post!

I ran Portland last year. It was my first marathon, and I’m glad it was. The organization is top notch, there’s no 5k/10k/half-marathon to distract from the main event, and the route is packed with spectators. The hill leading up to the bridge around mile 17 will eat you alive though – train for hills!

I always equate financial success with weight loss (I’ve lost about 100lbs). If you eat more calories than you should, you end up fat. If you spend more than you should, you end up with big, fat debt.

Sandy E.
Sandy E.
11 years ago

I’ll be flying from CA to Honolulu this Dec. to participate in a 26 mile walking marathon w/friends and family. I’ve always heard that walkers get the same benefits as runners, but that it just takes longer. Whatever. This is just a good example where speed isn’t the issue, but achieving the goal is. It’s interesting to me how when we become inspired with ourselves after we’ve worked hard to pay down debt, we then want to achieve success in other areas of our lives too, like losing weight, running marathons, reducing clutter, quitting smoking, eating healthy, etc. Basically we… Read more »

Rob Bennett
Rob Bennett
11 years ago

As my body and mind adapt to the effort, as I become stronger, I’m able to exert more effort. This is exactly the way I paid off my debt. This was very much my experience. I think that the hardest thing to convince a non-saver of is how much of a difference effective saving can make. We are all able to see only so far ahead of where we are at the time we are doing the seeing. To someone who has never saved, it truly feels impossible to save 10 percent of income, just as to someone who has… Read more »

Crystal
Crystal
11 years ago

I really enjoyed this post. I like the parallel drawn between marathon training and getting out of debt, since I have just done one and am about to achieve the other. My husband and I just finished our first marathon three weeks ago and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It really did make me feel as if there is nothing in this world that I can’t master if I put my mind to it. It taught me self control, commitment, discipline, how to set and reach goals…all things that are required to get out… Read more »

Hogan
Hogan
11 years ago

J.D., I loved this post! I particularly liked your point about establishing a (time) budget for meeting your fitness goals. I will need to do the same thing with my weightloss efforts as they have also been haphazard. In my case, my time/thought budget will need to account for planning meals and shopping lists, meal preparation, and exercise. I also liked the gentle reminder that, like in “Your Money or Your Life,” there should be “no shame, no blame” when we reflect on our past inadequate (or nonexistent) efforts. I have been very down on myself lately, in that my… Read more »

Salvatore
Salvatore
11 years ago

I just finished my first marathon in San Diego last weekend. I went from a complete non-runner in January to a sub-4 hour marathon! It’s amazing what small steps can do over a long period of time. What I have noticed in the week since I have completed my marathon is that my motivation to run is much less. In my mind there is no incentive to maintain a training schedule since there is no other race in my immediate future. As someone also trying to pay down debts, is this a common experience for those tackling financial goals? When… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
11 years ago

Thank you! I found this post very hopeful. Some of us that aren’t so fast can accomplish the same goal at our own pace when we just stick to it.

Scott
Scott
11 years ago

Great post. I see the correlation between running a marathon and paying down debt. Both require a great deal of discipline and dedication to the goal. When I first started running I had never run more than about 100 yards without having to stop and catch my breath. But, with a detailed training program and the persistence and desire to reach my goal I completed a marathon 6 months after I started running. Paying down debt uses the same principles of discipline and dedication to a plan that make achieving your goal a dream that can and will be reached… Read more »

Matt
Matt
11 years ago

This is the best post you’ve ever written JD. I’ve been a reader for about 6 months now and make it a daily habit to read everything you post. I am currently training for my first triathlon and i too compare my fiscal and physical fitness w each other. I agree 100% that slow and steady win the race. I now take that approach to almost everything I do in life. Please keep up the great work. Good luck with your continued success.

kat
kat
11 years ago

Sigh… While I appreciate the allegory, I’ve actually been thinking lately that I just WISH fitness were as predictable as paying off debt. If you save (or just fail to spend) $5, that’s an extra five bucks in the bank. I can put all the numbers into a spreadsheet with interest rates, monthly expenses, and everything and have a pretty good idea of what things are going to look like a few months down the line. But the battle to lose weight and get in better shape is so much harder for me. Some weeks I eat much better and… Read more »

Jamie
Jamie
11 years ago

Kat – I think you’re going through what most of us do when trying to lose weight. The scale day-to-day and week-to-week makes very little sense. While losing weight, I noticed the same things you do – good scale days can follow unhealthy days, and sometimes healthy weeks aren’t reflected by the number on the scale. I don’t think that’s the best way to look at it though. To stretch out the money/fitness comparison, going to the gym, eating salads all day and then weighing yourself is the equivalent of stock market timing. It might pay off, but it’s not… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
11 years ago

“To stretch out the money/fitness comparison, going to the gym, eating salads all day and then weighing yourself is the equivalent of stock market timing. It might pay off, but it’s not a good long term strategy.” Jamie – I love this analogy. Weight loss really is unpredictable like the stock market. In both cases, the only real benefits come from making long-range choices. You cannot lose weight and maintain it in a healthy way by mainstream “dieting.” The only real solution is to be health-oriented. If you make healthy lifestyle changes without as much emphasis on weight loss, your… Read more »

retired
retired
11 years ago

Eating right is like spending properly the effects are not always immediate. Muscle weighs more than fat but is denser so you might actually gain weight while working out. Picture the body builders, your saving are getting earmarked for different loans, savings, and emergency funds, the longer you work towards them the greater the effects of your “workout”. I lived in Korea courtesy of Uncle Sam. The mess hall was a mile walk from my barracks and work area so I walked 6 miles to eat every day. Now I did not care for the mess hall food, I had… Read more »

J Brown
J Brown
11 years ago

Great quote at the end of the post. I will use it as a reminder to keep going. Truthfully, we are struggling with progress. We have our must pays under control, but want more flexible money to put toward the snowball. We have paid off 3 debts, but still have 4 more to go. We are in the process of selling a lot of little stuff. Since Jan., we have made ~$1k extra. A few more thoughts about the post are that even though the first attempt was unsuccessful, it later became a learning experience for future success. Furthermore, there… Read more »

DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad
DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad
11 years ago

My wife and I were just talking about people who run marathons. We decided that the discipline to train oneself mentally and physically is the true challenge– like many other things in life, running the actual marathon becomes the easy part.

I wish you well in your quest!

My secret ambition is to trek the AT with my daughter . . .

jw
jw
11 years ago

Hey, is anyone else having problems connecting to the “Get Fit Slowly” website? My browser is blocking it as a security risk, saying it is an “attack site”

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

@JW (#21)
Get Fit Slowly has been hacked good and hard. We’re trying to track down the problem, but having little luck. There’s a possibility that we’ll have to re-install the site. 🙁

PW
PW
11 years ago

I have run 7 marathons. However getting out of date has eluded me for sometime. Thanks so much for this post!

Rob Bennett
Rob Bennett
11 years ago

There’s a possibility that we’ll have to re-install the site. I have heard of this sort of thing happening to numerous blog owners. I find it appalling. I made an effort to organize money blog owners to form a mutual protection society against the goons and thugs that seek to do harm to our communities. Some opponents of the idea shot that effort down before it had a chance to gain much steam, but I think that such an initiative is greatly needed. If you ever develop an interest in pursuing something like this, J.D., please let me know. Lots… Read more »

J
J
11 years ago

@kat If you get a lot of satisfaction from playing the numbers for debt reduction there are a few ways to parlay this into weight loss. I used to keep a daily food journal and track the number of calories I consumed. You can also track the calories burned during a workout (but don’t go by the numbers of calories burned on the cardio equipment – they are normally overstated). I used the website Caloriecontrol.org (I have no affiliation with them, just found the website helpful – there are probably others) to help me determine calories in food and calories… Read more »

Kelly
Kelly
11 years ago

I’m going through a tough time with both fiscal and physical fitness right now, and your post really moved me to think differently about my situation.

After all the small steps we took to get in debt (and gain weight) are the same size as the ones we have to take to get out of debt and get fit.

This post is one of the reasons I come back to GRS on a daily basis.

Erin
Erin
11 years ago

And how empowering it is to reach your destination, especially after working so hard to get there. (Maybe that’s why I’ve dug myself so deep into debt – so I can feel empowered once I’ve dug myself out…)

Great post, and good luck training!

Charley
Charley
11 years ago

Good stuff, JD. My first marathon went anything but smooth, two years ago this May. My training was very haphazard and I paid the price on the course. It took me 5:45 to finish and my hip hurt for six months so that I couldn’t run. It was very lonely out there. This year, because my wife and I were expecting triplets (born May 28th) I knew my training would be haphazard, so I only did the half marathon and was fine. It’s all about adjustments and knowing your limits, learning from mistakes, which can be applied to every area… Read more »

Leslie
Leslie
11 years ago

Brilliant post! I’m training for my first half marathon and found the parallels you drew to be instructive. Thanks and keep up the great work!

Dani
Dani
11 years ago

Great post! I, too, am training for a marathon (not til next spring, and for my 40th birthday!) I too, have a “training budget”, and have found that CRITICAL! And, I too, run an 11 minute mile…I feel so validated! You may be interested in my blog. It’s about my journey to this marathon, but it’s not really about running. It’s about life as experienced through the journey to a marathon (a destination I may or may not reach!) I am a new blogger and am slowly learning blogging etiquette – such as I’ve learned it’s not cool to post… Read more »

Jade
Jade
11 years ago

I just had to chuckle a bit about wearing your running clothes to bed. I used to figure skate, and I would quite often wear my skating clothes to bed. Anything for an extra 5 minutes of sleep before that 5:45 am freestyle session…

Anelly
Anelly
11 years ago

I feel like being a turtle and do you know why? Because it’s very difficult to change different habits in my life but i’m still fighting with this and i see few results. But i’m optimistic and probably this makes me to follow my rules. In the end, i’m expecting to be ok.

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