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How to Manage Money Like an Ultra Runner

ultramarathon_runner

If you’re a long-distance runner, you know that the road (or trail) offers a lot of time for thinking. During my run this morning, I found myself thinking about money and how much my running habit has shaped who I am and informed many of my habits, including my saving, budgeting, and spending. Here’s what I mean:

 

CONSERVE RESOURCES

As a long-distance runner, you learn about conservation of resources. If you spend all of your energy at the beginning of a run, you’ll have nothing for later. This may seem like an easy lesson to learn, but it can take years for people to absorb the concept. Runners often want to be the hero, out in front, leading the pack. We do the same thing with money, spending what we have so we can look successful. Unfortunately, we end up paying for it later when the money runs out and struggle to pay for essential needs.

 

TECHNIQUE MAKES CONSERVATION EASIER

Hills are hard. It’s a fact. It takes more energy to get up a hill and you can’t move as fast as you can on flat ground. Many runners hate hills, but I love them because I have run a lot of them. Years ago, I learned a technique that makes them much more pleasant. I call it the “escalator.” Essentially what I do is approach the hill as if it is an escalator. I choose a slow speed that I know I can manage for the length of the hill, and I maintain that cadence, using the sound of my feet pounding the ground as a metronome.

When it comes to money, I have developed similar techniques that allow me to achieve my savings goals slowly but surely. Rather than dumping my whole paycheck into my checking account, I have given my employer specific instructions on how to deposit my paychecks. The money I know I’ll need for household bills goes to one account, funds for home maintenance go to another, the amount I want to save per pay period goes to my money market account, and whatever is left over goes to checking. This way, the money that I know I’ll need to cover bills and needs is saved and whatever is in my checking account, I know I can use at my discretion.

This method may not be for everyone and not everyone’s employer can offer this service, but the point is that it’s good to find a technique that will take the stress out of saving money.

 

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REFRESH RESOURCES IN SMALL WAYS

Runners who cover long distances realize that feeling fatigued doesn’t necessarily mean they need to stop. Often, you can refuel and recover your energy mid-run. I have been in races where after eight hours of running, I think I have nothing left to give. I want to throw myself on the side of the trail or road and give up. Instead, I’ll eat something, slow down for a little while, or simply think about something inspiring. Before I know it, I’m bounding towards the finish line. It feels downright magical when you experience this type of rejuvenation after hours of running.

The same is true of money. My experiences in college are probably the best illustration of this. My parents were poor, so I was not the college kid spending my parent’s money. I was the college kid scraping pennies together to buy ramen noodles. I survived because I got particularly good at pooling resources that I found along the way. The random five dollars grandpa would send me for my birthday, the fifty cents I found on the ground, the refund on my taxes, and every other odd bit of money that would come my way didn’t go right back out to buy pizza (okay, admittedly, some did) but instead went into savings so that I would have it for necessities. Though fifty cents doesn’t sound like much, all of the little savings I made added up and helped me stay afloat financially during a really difficult time.

 

LARGE GAINS ARE MADE OVER TIME

I didn’t become an ultra runner overnight. I used a plan and worked slowly and safely toward my goal. I started with one mile, worked up to two, soon was able to do five, and slowly built up to marathon distance. Once I was able to run a marathon, I built up to an ultra-marathon. Along the way, I suffered injuries and horrible running days and found myself wondering if I was making any progress at all. I stuck in there and now I’m a seasoned runner with many races under my belt.

You can think about saving and purchasing the same way. Always start with a plan and allow yourself to build slowly. Every little bit you put away is movement toward your savings goals. Don’t lose faith if you find you’re making slow progress or sliding backward. A busted furnace or leaky plumbing can put a dent in your savings, but don’t give up. Keep saving and you’ll get to your goal.

 

YOU CAN’T MEASURE YOURSELF AGAINST OTHERS

This is good advice for nearly every area of life. In ultra running, it’s a necessity. Most first-time ultra runners are just trying to survive. If you can finish an ultra-marathon, you have something to brag about. Those races are no joke. Even seasoned runners have to check their ego at the door because pushing yourself beyond your own personal ability can cause injury, can eat up enough energy to force you to drop out of the race, and will absolutely destroy the race experience. When you’re running, the best thing you can do for your performance is focus on your body and make sure it’s getting what it needs and that you’re keeping the pace you trained for.

When it comes to money, you should be just as cautious about trying to keep up with others. Go at your own pace and buy what you can afford rather than what you think you should have based on what your friends have. A lot of people overspend in order to look like they’re doing well but end up with nothing in savings to support them in a crisis. Create a budget, stick to it, and when you’re financially stable enough to buy the big-ticket items, you will appreciate them so much more.

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Heidi White

About Heidi White

Heidi White is the content and communications manager at VSECU. She is responsible for communicating information and ideas through the written word for the credit union’s internal and external audiences. Her passion is helping people live more joyful lives through timely, useful, and compelling content. Heidi lives in Barre, Vermont.
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