Life Lessons

How to Prepare to Run the Most Important Race in Your Life

Elite runners give their advice on staying in the game of life.

“Happiness damn near destroys you

Breaks your faith to pieces on the floor

So you tell yourself, that’s enough for now

Happiness has a violent roar” — Happiness, The Fray

I was crossing the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge headed into Brooklyn when Happiness, by The Fray came on. While listening to the song, I was thinking about our pursuit of happiness and what that means to us. Happiness can take on many meanings in our lives and evoke a lot of feelings. Ironically, the pursuit of happiness can cause frustration and disappointment when we don’t get what we’re looking for.

In a recent article, I wrote about finding our ikigai or motivation to live a happier and more meaningful life. “It’s the intersection of what you’re good at and what you love doing.” says Hector Garcia, co-author of “Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life.” It’s an important journey and one that is ours alone. No one can run our race but us.

“You can only run your own race. Stay in your lane. Don’t look at what others are doing. Those that look back in the race usually fall off.” — Oprah Winfrey

Preparing for a race requires preparation and dedication. Three of the main things needed are a plan, practice and a goal. When planning a race, a map always comes in handy. It’s always advantageous to have an idea of the terrain you will be traversing. As familiar as you might try to get yourself however, there will be unexpected turns or events we just can’t plan for.

The four dimensions of Ikigai. Source: Toronto Star, diagram by Mark Winn.

Looking at the above ikigai map, our journey to fulfillment will involve finding our passion, mission, vocation and profession. Obtaining these requires endurance. It’s a marathon worth running, the race of your life.

Discovering ikigai brings fulfillment, happiness and long life. How do you know when you’re on the right track? In their book Ikigai:The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles write, “Our intuition and curiosity are very powerful internal compasses to help us connect with our ikigai.” I’ve been following my curiosity as I write articles and have combined my two loves with telling data narratives. As a data analyst, my audience needs insights to make decisions on business challenges. Over the years, I have learned that telling compelling stories with data makes the data come to life — the human element in itself enables clearer understanding. Currently, I enjoy teaching others to do the same and I continue to write about the importance of marrying the story to the data. This evolution is part of my ikigai and my race.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” — Howard W Thurman

Casene DeGrasse ran the Athens Marathon in November 2018. She describes it as her favorite race to date and encourages all marathoners to run it once in their lifetime!

As I thought about running this race called life, I talked with friends who physically run to get their perspective.

Casene DeGrasse has completed 17 full marathons to date and is aiming for a total of 20 marathons by 2020. She imparted a lot of life lessons from running marathons during our interview. First, there are no shortcuts to running a marathon. She uses a 16 week training program to condition her body for the demands she will be placing on it. Second, no matter how great of a run she’s having on a marathon, she admits there will be a desire to stop or question her sanity along that 26.2 mile journey. She describes running as a humbling sport and one that allows you to discover things about yourself and your character that you can build on and grow. Running is a great metaphor for life. You get out what you put in and consistency is the key to improvement.

“Be grateful for each little triumph and victory. Progress, no matter how small, is still progress and a step in the right direction.” — Casene DeGrasse, Marathon Runner

As of June 30, 2019, Elite Masters Athlete Mark Williams has been running 2.5 miles or more for 2,966 consecutive days since 05/15/2011!

Another runner, Mark Williams shared his insights. Like Casene, he said that consistency is key and that running has taught him to never give up on chasing your dreams. In the 2016 Olympic Trials, he competed at the masters exhibition 1500m. Recalling the story, his excitement was palpable. He was on the track with the same credentials as all the other athletes trying to earn a spot on the 2016 US Olympic Team in front of 23,000+ spectators! Imagine that!

“Stay consistent, never ever give up no matter what, and always chase your dream because it is never too late.” — Mark Williams, Elite Masters Athlete

Some days, life can be overwhelming without the pursuit of happiness. Figuring out what we expect to find at the intersection of passion, mission, vocation and profession will require more than a GPS! Like the runners interviewed, we can run our own marathons by breaking the race down into manageable pieces. That way we can see what we’ve accomplished, analyze our progress and move on to the next mile.

Sometimes our race brings us back to a familiar place, home. I was sequestered to design a curriculum for a data literacy program that would benefit the community of my youth. While I was excited about the possibility, my thoughts wandered to the conversation with Casene when she mentioned questioning her sanity during a marathon. Forging out on my own after a successful corporate career is intimidating. Searching for purpose can be scary at times, especially when it takes you off the beaten path. However, the excitement of blazing my own path and feeling a sense of fulfillment when I’m able to help students with their data projects is worth the exploration. I’ve been able to discover so much about myself and see tremendous growth.

While discussing the curriculum design on data literacy, I was reminded of the importance of teaching soft skills in addition to the technical ones. One of the shortcomings of technical programs is that students often gain the hard skills but are unable to flourish because they lack networking skills required to navigate their organizations. Business etiquette and communication are imperative skills. Knowing this, I have been able to weave anecdotes into storytelling with data.

I believe that we should all try things that take us out of our comfort zone. I realize that not everyone is a “wanderlust” even when it comes to the search for a meaningful life and that’s ok. If you are up for a little adventure I recommend taking small steps. Working towards your dreams consistently little by little gets you closer to success. Casene and Mark both agree with me — “Doing anything worthwhile is not always easy but keeping the faith and staying focused as I do in training and competitions is so important.” says Mark. Casene added, “Stay consistent, never give up no matter what, and always chase your dreams because it’s never too late.”

So what should we do in preparation for our races? Have a plan but be flexible. Happiness tomorrow may not look like what you think happiness should look like today. Be prepared to make changes to your route along the way. Stay consistent and never give up. Stay in your lane and focus on your race. Know that there will be times when the course is challenging but break the marathon into segments. Most important tip — Have fun along the way.

“Life is a long journey with problems to solve, lessons to learn, but most of all, experiences to enjoy.” — Unknown

Creating transcendent stories that share the importance of data narratives and how they impact our world. Twitter: @aldatavizguy

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store