Parallels Between Running and Personal Finance Advice: Listen, Experiment, Self-Assess, Adapt

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I’ve recently taken up the hobby of running (very slowly) and have been making my way through the available Libby eBooks for both tips and inspiration. Running advice feels similar to personal finance advice in many ways. There are some broad concepts that seem to have secured broad agreement, but dig deeper and there are endless different variations within those areas. There is a mountain of advice available from veteran gurus, rockstar professionals, and amateur enthusiasts.

Here are some good quotes from the book 50/50: Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days by Dean Karnazes. His books are more on the inspirational side, as he obviously just loves endurance running and there is less arguing about exact training schedules or nutritional tracking down to the electrolyte. He doesn’t appear to sell his own trademarked method, which means he can take a step back.

Most important to just start and listen.

If I could offer only one piece of advice to runners, it would be this: “Listen to everyone, follow no one.” That’s because each runner is unique, so there’s no single training system, shoe, or breakfast that is equally effective for every athlete. I always encourage other runners to experiment during training and find what works best for them.

Personal finance parallels: The fact that you are interested in learning more is more important than which book you read first. Sure, there are some semi-dangerous quacks out there, but if you keep reading a cross section of the most commonly recommended books, then you should soon gather enough information to discover the general themes. The best book is the book that gets you to take action.

Discover your own unique strengths.

Each runner is unique. There is no single formula for running success that works equally well for everyone. Some runners are naturally speedy and struggle to build endurance; others are the opposite. Some runners are injury-resistant, others are injury-prone. Some runners recover quickly from hard workouts while others take longer.

Personal finance parallels: Some people happen to be talented at skills that are very highly-compensated at this moment in time. Some people are great at sales. Some are clever risk-takers that find opportunities with high upside and tolerable downside. Some are conservative but can focus for long periods of time. Some people are good at not needing to spend much money to be happy. Some people are just better at tolerating corporate bureaucracies.

Take action and prioritize your own specific goals.

“You can have anything you want, you just can’t have everything you want.”

Experiment, expect some surprises, and adapt.

To continually improve as a runner, try to really tune in to how your body responds to training and continuously evolve your training methods accordingly. When you’re a beginner, the best you can do is follow one-size-fits-all training guidelines obtained from a coach, a book, or a more experienced runner. As you do so, however, you are sure to discover that they don’t always meet all your individual needs. Eventually, these general methods will need to be modified and tweaked to better fit your personal goals and approach. As Charles Darwin has written, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

Personal finance parallels: There will always be a fascination with the idea of “early retirement in your 30s” or “millionaire by age XX”, but the real world is much messier. Your business does great. Your business fails. You have a kid (or more). You experience a health scare. Your parents or other relatives need assistance. My life doesn’t translate well to an inspirational book, but I know that paying attention to my finances has made my life better by allowing me to spend more quality (relaxed) time with my family. The game changes, and you have to keep adapting.

I hope that going down the path of running will provide a sense of personal fulfillment and enjoyment, on top of any health benefits. That’s how I feel about personal finance as well. I hope that people know that going down the path of learning about and improving their personal finance practices can help provide a happier, calmer, and more fulfilled life, not just more money.

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  1. Do you have any concerns with the impact on your joints from running? I have similarly been ramping up my running, but know people who were major runners (did marathons) in the past who can no longer do so due to significant joint damage/worn down cartilage. People not very old – late 40s. They attribute it to running. I continue to run for now but it gives me pause/concern.

  2. Finally – blog post overlap between my two biggest vices, personal finance and running 😉
    I love it.
    But here’s an even more obvious one:
    “One step at a time.”

    And @matt – the recent research points to runners having stronger and healthier joints vs the myth that its bad for your knees, etc,expected%20within%20the%20US%20population.

  3. Great article, will check out the book. Know the author from the ultra running circles and was looking at his other books.

    Highly recommend What I Talk about When I Talk about Running by H Murakami. Great perspective or meditations on running.

    • Thanks! This is actually not my favorite book of Karnazes, I enjoy reading about his various antics and adventures more, but this one I feel like he actually tried to include some general advice. That may be why he had to bring on Matt Fitzgerald, another author of a lot of research-based running books like 80/20. I will be sure to check out your Murakami recommendation as well.

      • Dean Karnazes says

        Hey Jonathan, your message is spot on. 50/50 is one of the least favorite books of mine. I tried to include general advice (that is what my publisher wanted at the time) and that is safely why I worked with Matt Fitzgerald. That is more his specialty than mine and the book felt a bit forced and out of place. Anyway, you’re insight on this one was right. Take care, brother.

        • It was understandable to try to mix it up and I still enjoyed the book a lot (just wasn’t my top favorite) . I personally did want to know some of your “Dean’s List” tips. Thanks for stopping by, you are definitely an inspiration to this beginning runner! 🏃

  4. Build-Measure-Learn. Design-Build-Test. This is another iterative learning process in the same vein as other Lean processes. Bottom line is to reduce risk, you need to iterate in small batches/cycles.

  5. I too started running when I noticed pain in my left knee when going up the stairs. Turns out it was weak, which I found embarrassing, and I decided to strengthen it, and jogging was a tolerable (and cheap!) way to do that.

    After starting my new running habit I read that exercise was the only known booster to cognitive health (a study that I’m too lazy to dig up right now) and that’s become my chief motivation. To bring it back to personal finance – it’s not just the ability to retire, but it’s an investment towards the ability to retire on my terms, which means being able enough to enjoy the free time.

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