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running marathon

The beginning of your career was great: you were gushing over your certification and giddy with excitement about changing lives. As time goes by you might find yourself realising that those good feelings and euphoria just don’t hit you as hard as before and you're wondering: "What have I achieved since I started?"

This question haunted me. I was stuck. I had gotten comfortable and couldn’t see a way out. Rationally, I also knew that as long as I continued doing what I always did (being comfortable), I would never truly know if the extra effort to go above and beyond would actually pay off.

To step out of comfort is to step into uncertainty, and sometimes it's necessary to move from being a personal trainer to a thriving business owner.

I realized that in order to change my tolerance level to taking on more risk and handling discomfort, uncertainty, criticism, and pressure, I had to do something drastic. This is why on Friday, January 26, 2015, I decided to commit to the Virgin London Marathon, which would occur in April of the same year.

That gave me a mere 17 weeks to prepare for what would later become a 26-mile (42KM) life-changing journey. 

Why a marathon?

The London Marathon presented the perfect opportunity to test and smash my limits. I had a hunch that by enduring the discomfort of blistering feet over 26 miles, and overcoming a challenge that would bleed into other areas of my life, other situations, by comparison, would seem a whole lot easier.

Upon announcing my desire to run a marathon to my friends, clients, and other personal trainers, there was a flood of positive support. This goal inspired some of my clients to set ambitious goals themselves.

As expected, there were a number of personal trainers who thought I was certifiably crazy, spouting “concerns” like: “Aren't you going to lose all your muscle?” or “Isn't it unhealthy for you?”, and “You’ll gain weight! You’ll lose your body!”. 

I get it. I thought the same a few years back.

Originally, I thought that their issues were with my choice of exercise, but I’ve since come to the conclusion that they were just as trapped as I was inside the four walls of the gym. They grew accustomed to an environment that offered safety, security, and familiarity - all of which keeps them and us in the same but unfortunately stagnate place.

I had decided that being stagnated and “safe” wasn’t for me anymore.

5 reasons you should also compete in a marathon

A marathon is more than uncomfortable; it’s brutal. That physical brutality brings along with it brutal uncertainty: I thought that I may not even be able to finish the race, and if I do, there is no guarantee I’ll get anything out of it.

That was exactly the kind of mindset I needed.

Running that marathon helped me break out of my personal and professional rut. If you’re also feeling trapped and have nowhere to go, I believe there are five very compelling reasons that a marathon will help you, too.

1. Forces you out of your comfort zone 

No one has ever accused a marathon runner of being a coward. The fact that I showed up and was running in the London Marathon was the single most powerful way I could think of to force myself into a radically different mindset.

It takes courage to get out of one’s comfort zone.

You need a new challenge to gain new insight and new courage. Look to your past experiences as proof: when you transformed your body, you gained the courage to become a personal trainer.

As I faced this looming challenge, I knew that 17 weeks weren’t long enough to train to run five miles, let alone 26. I hadn’t even really run since football 10 years ago.

If I was to really push my limits and not quit when it got too difficult, I needed an extra layer of accountability. I ran for a charity that I believed in and, more importantly, believed in me.

I knew that by broadcasting to the world that I was going to do a marathon, I had already committed. We are all guilty of giving up on ourselves when we don’t have anyone to be accountable to. We’re less likely to let other people down, but when it comes to ourselves it is so much easier to just walk, or in this case, run away.

2. Strengthens your resolve 

You wouldn’t immediately notice it, but we’re indecisive animals (even more so outside of the gym).

Forcing ourselves into a decision is challenging and unsettling, but it also shakes us out of stagnation. Every time you find yourself saying “Maybe”, “Let me think about it”, “You decide”, or “I’ll try”, demand that you make a decision rather than play on the fence. I’ve found that indecision potentially inflicts more pain and stress.

I believe that the more decisions you make, the more confident and decisive you can become. This confidence and assertiveness would carry over into coaching.

I was indecisive about the London Marathon. Signing up for a marathon comes with a resolute and decisive commitment to give your all. It took me several months to accept the place they gave me and fully commit. Looking back, I only wish I had done it sooner.


3. Beats some mental toughness into you 

Training for the marathon began in earnest in January. I didn’t have much time so I trudged through snow and the UK’s bitter winter, logging up to sixty miles a week. With those miles came nagging injuries: blisters in many places and a tight IT band that when aggravated, felt like I had fractured my small toe.

I suffered more setbacks from training for this event than anything else. But through it all, it taught me a level of perseverance that I had never encountered before, even during my early days of bodybuilding.

Most importantly, it taught me that my mind was weak.

It used to be that whenever anything in life came to me as a challenge that was outside of my natural talents and skills, I would be quick to use excuses and blame other people (or things). I knew I couldn’t do the same during marathon training.

There were more times than I’d like to admit when I wanted to stop running. In some cases, I did and stopped to walk back home. I even got a taxi at one point. But the guilt of even thinking about quitting filled me with cold dread.

Deep down I knew I had to keep persevering. I had people that were counting on me. If I was ever going to cross the finish line, I had to put the work in.

“Putting the work in” should sound familiar to you. It’s the very same as what you ask of your clients. You can give them all the necessary exercises and diet strategies, but if they aren’t willing to execute on the information they have little hope of attaining what they set out to achieve with you.

It’s this mental toughness of knowing that through all the ups and downs, no matter how much you want to just quit, you have to keep putting in the work.

4. Re-ignites empathy 

Training for a marathon offers you an opportunity to re-ignite empathy towards your clients. Empathy is having the ability to step inside your client’s mind and their life and understand exactly what they are feeling.

I have no doubt that you have forgotten what it feels like to really begin, to really step in the gym for the first time, and think as a first-timer would again.

Training for a marathon and getting in over your head will be a stark reminder of this.

When clients are expected to do everything alone and just know what to do, it’s usually an indicator of the trainer’s coaching ability (rather, a lack thereof). Intense competition in a marathon mirrors those feelings of hesitation and the low confidence that clients feel and forces trainers to face what these neglected clients often face.

That fear of judgment. The questions of "Will I fit in?", "Am I fit enough?", "Will I be the fattest one there?", "Will I have to look into a mirror and face the truth?", "Will the exercise be too hard for me?", "Will anyone acknowledge me for who I am?", and so on. 

When you can truly understand your client’s feelings, you will not only be able to help them lose unwanted weight or reach any other goal they may want, but you will be able to connect with them on a level that leaves a powerful, life-long impression.

5. Teaches you to follow through 

Passing through that marathon finish line felt amazing. Perhaps “amazing” doesn't even do it justice. Imagine the same feeling you had when you hit your first personal best in the gym, or when your first client let you know that you had changed their life forever.

All of this almost didn’t happen because I almost didn’t make it to the starting line.

The night before I had self-sabotaging thoughts: “There’s no way I could do this.” I wasn’t sure if my left leg would hold out for the entire race. These doubts threatened to overcome me and take me out of the race. It was hard to imagine not completing the race after all the previous hard work, but I had felt nervous and uncertain.

I remember simply telling myself, “Make it at least to mile 19 because that’s where Julie (my physiotherapist) will be if I needed stitching up.”

When the race started, things felt good. I maintained the 8-minute-per-mile pace. My headphones sent positive affirmations and mental toughness to my ears and psyche.

The good vibes soon gave way to muscle cramps, the heat, and the relentless embarrassment of having runners passing you. “How could these people run faster than me? I’m a trainer!” I kept thinking to myself.

By mile 16, my head was Jell-O. I found myself walking and knocking back at least 10 energy gels in the hope that they’d miraculously rejuvenate the spring in my step. They did for a short while until my injury started acting up. I felt a blister developing across the whole sole of my left foot.

The next few miles were agony. There were a number of really sincere supporters on the roadside trying to cheer me on. I returned the favour by yelling, “You try and do this!”

The final hurdle was running past Big Ben. I saw the folks from the charity waving me on. I put on my best brave face and running pose. It was a trick of the mind, but it worked. Before I knew it, it was only one more step and I was over the finish line.

In an instant, all the agony disappeared, replaced by the most sensational drug-like high I’d ever felt.

Finishing that marathon infused me with newfound confidence, courage, and pride. More importantly, it renewed trust in myself. I achieved what I said I would do and didn’t let anyone, including the charity, down. I had spared myself the shame and guilt of stepping down.

And everyone reaped the benefits, but no one more so than me.


Are you ready to get yourself out of a rut? I urge you to try a marathon. It’s one of the ultimate physical tests, but beyond the physical nature of it, you’ll be able to gain a new mindset and perspective that can carry over to your interactions with clients and your business.

And perhaps more than anything, you re-ignite the feeling you once had when you had first begun your career: your thirst for growth.

You owe this to yourself to keep progressing not only in the gym but in life.

Core Collective is building centres of excellence where the top fitness and wellness professionals collaborate to deliver better service and results for our customers, all under one roof. We help fitness and wellness professionals and businesses grow by providing best-in-class support services and facilities, and by fostering collaboration and professional development opportunities. 

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Contributor: Joe Hanney, Core Collective Fitness Manager