What I (Re-)Learned About Finances While Running a Tough Mudder & Spartan Race

Contributed by Nathan Gehring


I spent this past weekend running a Tough Mudder race on Saturday and a Super Spartan Race on Sunday. A reenergizing weekend it was not, but it was a ton of fun! I had spent the past six months training for these two races, knowing that doing them on back to back days would be quite challenging. What I didn’t realize was that all this training and the race days would remind me about an important financial life lesson, one that I have a tendency to forget.

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity, but in doing it.” – Greg Anderson

Simply put, the lesson I had forgotten was that often the journey is more important than the destination. I spent six months preparing, six months sweating in the gym with hard workouts and six months burning pavement and trail while running. At almost every one of those workouts, I reflected on the goal of completing both races on the same weekend. For six months, that destination drove my journey.

On this journey, I’ve made new friends and have connected with a wonderful community at the CrossFit gym I attend. I’ve made pretty remarkable fitness gains and have achieved things I would have never thought I could. (I hadn’t ever done a pull-up in my life, but now can do them with some ease.) I eat healthier, am stronger and could probably run a marathon next weekend if I had the desire to do so. These are all parts of the journey.

The destination of running these two obstacle races back to back was also a ton of fun. I ran the Tough Mudder solo and got to meet interesting people along the way. I had feared many obstacles along that race (Electroshock Therapy!), yet had fun doing all of them. I completed that race far faster than I expected and had a great time doing it. I got to run the Spartan Race with my wife, which was also great fun and a very different experience. We overcame obstacles together, spent time pacing with another couple and I had a blast. It was a great destination.

Yet, after the Tough Mudder Saturday, my first reaction was “that’s it?” And again Sunday after the Spartan Race, I couldn’t believe the ease of reaching the destination. I was underwhelmed. I had a great time at both races, but expected something more out of the races. More challenge, more effort, more pain. What had driven me through all that work on the journey was the idea that the destination races would be so grueling that the work was necessary. The destination did not live up to all the work that was put in during the journey.

The same can often be true as we pursue financial goals. Whether working toward a specific goal – perhaps saving for a car or vacation – or something more general like retirement, the journey can often be as important and fulfilling as reaching the destination.

In fact, there is research to suggest exactly this dynamic. A study published several years ago indicated that the process of planning and anticipating a vacation (the journey) actually boosted happiness more than the actual vacation (the destination) did. In fact, the process of planning a vacation increased happiness an average of eight weeks, whereas, upon returning from vacation, the vacationers quickly fell back to neutral “happiness” levels.

This can be seen in the pursuit of other financial goals, as well. A wonderful example of this that almost anyone can relate to is buyer’s remorse… that sense of regret after making a purchase even of something that was highly desired beforehand. Another example, research has shown that the risk of depression increases by as much as 40% in retirement, despite people spending years saving for and anticipating the day they are able to retire.

The goals are important. Pursuing those goals, whether buying a new car or planning for retirement or trying to complete a race, can offer the motivation for you to develop good habits that allow you to reach those goals. I likely would not have exercised five or six days per week, often with very high intensity, had I not had the Tough Mudder and Spartan Race on my calendar. But finally reaching those goals, the destinations, may not be where the true benefit and joy is found.

Don’t forget to enjoy the journey along the way. The journey is living; the destination is simply the next milestone along that life journey.

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