contributed by Nathan Gehring
Over the past few years, I’ve become a bit of a fitness geek. (This was probably apparent from my previous blog posts What I(Re-)Learned About Finances While Running a Tough Mudder & Spartan Race and The Financial Benefits of Sacrifice.) As I began researching one of my current fitness goals, completing a 50 mile ultra-marathon May 2015 and then 100 mile ultra-marathon May 2016, I was struck by the parallels between financial planning and ultra-marathon planning. Yeah, that sounds like a stretch even writing it, but bear with me. There really are some pretty striking parallels.
This weekend, I spent several hours trying to get a read on what’s necessary to train for an ultra-marathon so I could begin really planning my training. I’ve already been increasing training volume and mileage, but I wanted to get a handle on what is actually required to run 50+ miles. I went into this reading thinking the training planning would be similar to training for other endurance events, specifically a focus on the amount of mileage to run in preparation.
It only took me a few minutes of reading to learn that preparing for these ultra-distances requires a lot more planning than just running a lot of miles. Sure, I’ll be doing a ton of running. But unlike shorter distances, to run really long I will have to spend significant time planning the gear I wanted to carry with me. An ultra-marathon can take 24+ hours to complete including running into and through the night. Conditions can change dramatically over that time period. I will need to start testing gear for hot weather, for cooler weather, for unexpected rain, for running in the dark, for blisters and other small injuries. And I need to plan for how to transport all the gear I find necessary on the 50 and 100 mile treks.
Not only will I have to plan for gear necessary, but also the nutrition. Unlike shorter distances, where water and a few calories along the path can help reach the finish line, in an ultra-marathon I’ll have to replenish thousands of calories and pounds of water and tons of lost electrolytes along the way. Not only do carbohydrates need to be replenished to keep energy up, but fats and proteins would be needed. In addition to water, electrolytes need to be replaced. And all of this has to be accomplished in a manner which prevents nausea or other digestive issues. For the next couple years, I will be testing different nutritional sources. I’ll be determining how much water I lose per hour and how many calories I burn and am able to digest under the stress of an elevated heart rate. Then I’ll be laying out a nutrition plan to carry with me on race day
Then there’s planning for the mental fatigue of this kind of race. All the gear and nutritional preparation can go out the window because of poor decision-making under fatigue and stress. For example, I read that many experienced ultra-marathoners always carry a handheld water bottle. They did this not because they couldn’t carry enough water in a hydration pack on their back; but because as they mentally fatigued, the water bottle offers a constant reminder to drink and eat.
Simply put, ultra-marathoning requires a ton of planning and preparation months and years in advance. And all this planning is done in pursuit of a goal which I may never reach or have to alter dramatically. Fortunately, my years as a financial planner are certain to help me with much of this planning.
So, what does all that ultra-marathon planning have to do with financial planning? Well, financial planning for retirement and financial independence looks almost the same. The planning inputs are different, but many of the same elements carry over.
For one, long-term financial planning is very complex. While saving for short-term goals like purchasing a new TV is pretty straight forward – save X dollars for Y weeks to reach the goal – financial planning introduces all sorts of elements: taxes, investment return expectations, inflation and on and on. In financial planning, all these elements must be balanced and combined in order to make good financial decisions and move people closer to reaching their goals, much like all the different elements of ultra-marathon planning need to come together to successfully complete the race.
The nutrition piece…it’s so much like cash flow planning in financial planning. The nutritional plan is where all the elements are going to come together: how fast I expect to run, how much gear I can carry with me, how much I’ll need to eat and drink based on the amount of time I’ll be on the course. I will use Excel and create a nutritional plan based on these factors. And cash flow in financial planning is where everything is brought together. All your goals and assumptions and expectations flow into a cash flow projection to determine the likelihood you’ll be able to reach your goals, the amounts you can spend or save and how likely it is that you’ll have to make course corrections along the way.
Financial planning is also designed to help people make good financial decisions. Like the handheld water bottle which reminds the ultra-marathoner to continue eating and drinking, financial planning done right builds guidelines and policies for making good decisions even under stress.
Not being able to finish my first ultra-marathon is a real possibility. If that happens, it will mean a course correction is necessary, training and nutrition and gear will have to be adjusted, so that the next attempt will go better. Or perhaps an entirely different goal will be chosen. I might simply get bored along the way and change course. Likewise, financial planning helps people reach goals, but nearly always course corrections are necessary along the way. Goals will change. Some won’t be met. Others will be achieved more easily than expected. It’s this journey that is the true reward, both in ultra-marathoning and in financial planning.
The biggest parallel between financial planning and ultra-marathon planning is that the planning and the decisions along the way really are a part of the race. They are the journey. The final 100 mile run or reaching that retirement date is simply the finish line to the journey…and the beginning of another journey.