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Why is Retirement Like Running a Marathon? Or Is It?

Like running a marathon, retirement is a long-term goal that takes planning, flexibility and perseverance. Creating a stable foundation for your retired years requires these same qualities.

Why is retirement like running a marathon?

  • Pre-race training and preparation – saving and becoming financially ready to retire.
  • The start – all the excitement and trepidation of retiring.
  • Setting your pace – finding the balance between conserving and spending so your finances last.
  • Going the distance – remaining flexible and adapting to what life throws your way.
  • Defining success – unlike a race, you don’t want to be the first to cross the finish line. What does a successful retirement mean to you?

Why Are Marathons So Challenging?

Often considered the ultimate test of endurance, anyone completing a marathon should feel proud. Not only requiring high physical conditioning, your mental toughness is also pushed to the limit.

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Although many compete recreationally raising charitable funds, this isn't a challenge to be taken lightly. Without extensive training and preparation, even finishing can be problematic.

Eliud Kipchoge is considered one of the best. This Olympic champion holds the world record and is the first man to complete a 26.2-mile marathon in under 2 hours!

He claims the secret to his success is consistency, self-discipline, and hard work. He has also committed years to achieving these accomplishments. 

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How Retirement Planning is Like Running a Marathon

The vast majority of participants in a marathon relish the experience, wanting to do their personal best. For them, it’s not about winning or losing.

Each has personal expectations of how they'll do, not unlike our visions of retired life. Events such as the Boston Marathon have over 30,000 runners each year. Each has trained and eagerly looks forward it.

About 10,000 Americans retire each day! If each year they entered a “retirement marathon”, there would be 3,650,000 entrants! Just like the Boston event, some would be far better prepared than others.

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Retirement planning and preparation start long before you retire. You need to decide what kind of retired life you want, how much you'll need to achieve that and what age you’ll start your golden years.

It involves years of discipline and sacrifice. Back in their early years, some started saving. This may have been through starting an IRA or matching their employer’s 401K contributions.

Early in our careers, money’s always tight. So many other priorities such as paying off student loans, saving for a down payment on a home, a car loan, or just managing living expenses.

Those who were able to start saving earlier began to realize the benefits of compound interest as their “nest eggs” slowly grew.

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At a certain point, these folks began to learn more advanced investment strategies. They may have gotten financial advice from an advisor or trusted friend/family member.

It helped them to better understand their risk tolerance, how to diversify investments, and the value of dollar cost averaging through consistent contributions.

These investment strategies and “sticking-to-a-plan” over the years have much in common with the commitment required to successfully run a marathon.

Why is retirement like running a marathon? The longer you take starting, the faster you’ll have to “run” to catch up.

The Start of Retirement

The start of a race can be exhilarating or filled with trepidation. Have you prepared enough? Will you last the distance? Regardless, at that point, the race is on!

Those first weeks and months after retiring are like no other period in your life! Often referred to as the “honeymoon stage”, you’ve got the complete freedom of time.

No more alarm clocks or reporting to a boss. You can finally do whatever you like, whenever you want.

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Generally, this is also the most expensive time as retirees do all those things, they never had time for. 

These could be a major project such as a home renovation or travelling to their bucket list destinations. So many things to see and do during those heady first months.

Setting the Pace

After the first mile or so, runners settle down and find their pace. The initial excitement dissipates and they’ll need to draw upon all their resources to go the duration. After all, it's a marathon not a sprint!

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To find your “spending pace” isn’t quite as straight forward. This is why it’s crucial to understand your living expenses and budget accordingly.

Unlike a marathon, there are more moving parts, potentially, disrupting our best laid plans. For example, no one knows how long they’ll live, what the financial markets will do, or even future health expenses.

One of the greatest fears is outliving your savings. Even retirees who've diligently saved, may be fearful of how much they can afford to spend.

Going the Distance

Up to now, we’ve primarily focused on the need for financial preparation and physical training. Both very important, but what keeps you running once you hit that 20-mile mark?

Every muscle in your body is protesting and any sane person would stop. This comes down to mindset. In effect, seeing the bigger picture of why this is important to you.

Remaining flexible, adaptable and enduring are what’s needed to go the distance. Stay focused on your end goals. This is one of the parallels of why is retirement like running a marathon.

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Adjustments may need to be made along the way. For example, if you’ve overspent during the “honeymoon”, you might need to reallocate funds. 

Or maybe your expectations have changed and decided to do more while still youngish and healthy. Just like if you run into obstacles on the race course.

Hopefully, you and your partner/spouse agreed on what kind of retirement you wanted. Just like a running mate, support each other. Really, you don’t have to do it all on your own.

Defining Success

While only one person “wins” the race, most of us consider finishing a success in itself!

For some running a faster time is an added incentive. This might prompt more training and improved diet to do even better the next time.

In this respect, retirement is completely different.

For myself, I have no desire to be the first one across the finish line! I’d prefer my life to be filled with good health, happiness, and live to 90 something.

It’s not a race, rather the next stage of our lives. It’s not like we have the option to start over. Everyone can be a “winner”, depending upon our choices.

What are your retirement expectations? This is the remainder of your life and can be as good as you choose to make it.

Closing Thoughts on Why is Retirement Like Running a Marathon

The goal of a marathon and retirement, by extension, is not about how fast you get there. It’s about how strong and healthy you are – financially, physically, and mentally – by the time you attain your goal.

It doesn’t matter what stage you're at. Just like a runner, focus on your own race and supporting your team mate.

This is your retired life. Understand your plans and goals, where you’re at, and where you’re going. Stick to your strategy and you'll come out a winner!

  • Avatar Steveark says:

    Oh wow, I think you brought back my marathon post traumatic shock from all 15 of the ones I ran. Fortunately there is one way retirement is not like a marathon, retirement is fun!

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