Marathoners have to be tough, physically and mentally. But most of them will tell you that the key to your success in a marathon is the mental side of the race. Twenty-six miles is a long haul and your mindset affects your ability to endure the physical challenge.
1. Come out of the gate slower than you want to.
Parents today are in overdrive from the moment they find out they’re expecting. They read books, enroll their babies in “enrichment” activities, and stress out about getting into the “right” preschools. Slow down. While the first few years of your child’s development are important and should be handled with lots of love and care, what your child needs at this point is lots of time with you and healthy doses of stimulation in the form of play. Just like a marathoner who runs the first few miles too fast, only to pay for it later in fatigue and frustration, parents who are overly stressed about achievement in the toddler and preschool years are burning up fuel that would be better saved for a later day.
2. Take the race one mile at a time.
Experienced marathoners will tell you that especially early in a race, it’s a bad idea to think about that hill at mile 20. Sure, you need an overall plan geared toward certain big-picture goals. But worrying about whether your kid will choose the arts or sports in high school while he’s still in fourth grade is silly. What is best for him this year? What would he benefit from and enjoy the most right now? Kids change as they grow, and you may be surprised by the talents they exhibit and preferences they show 2, 4, or 6 years from now. Just run the mile you’re in and deal with the others as they come.
3. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
Runners know that to last through an hours-long race, they must take in fluids regularly along the way to replace what they’re losing through exertion. In the same way, you need to feed your heart and mind in every stage of parenting in order to have the stamina to finish well. A church small group or parent-focused Bible study is a great way to replenish what you’ll pour out for your kids throughout the years.
4. A support system can push you along when you’re sinking.
Some distance runners wouldn’t think of tackling a marathon alone because they know how much they benefit from the steady companionship and encouragement of a partner. When one is flagging, the other can say, “Hang in there! We can do this!” Your supporters—family, friends, and fellow parents—are like great running partners when it comes to parenting. When you are frustrated or discouraged, they can be the cheerleaders who provide the positive outlook your family needs or the runners who assist you up a difficult hill. Draw on the encouragement that your support system provides.
5. Make it your goal to run negative splits.
Some parents burn up so much emotional capital in the early years of parenting that they’re worn out by the time their kids are teens. But that’s when your kids need you most. Runners say the best races of their lives are the ones in which they ran “negative splits”—or ran faster in the later miles of the race than they did in the early miles. By managing their mental and physical resources, they had the power to finish strong. Manage your parenting mindset so your focus, your experience, and your intensity are still growing in those crucial teen years.
Who in your support system are you grateful for today?