contributed by Nathan Gehring
Sometimes a life experience offers a wonderful analogy to the importance and value of financial planning. It’s great when this happens, because articulating the value of financial planning often proves tricky for many planners. A couple weekends ago, I had just such an experience.
August 31st, I completed my first triathlon. This was a short “sprint” distance triathlon made up of a ¼ mile swim, 10 mile bike ride and 3 mile run. I had prepared for about two months, and was keenly aware that the swim was going to be the most difficult part for me. Other than childhood swim lessons, I’ve never really done any swimming. However, I had managed to work up to regularly swimming the distance in the pool, so knew I could swim far enough without drowning. But swimming in a murky, slimy lake at sunrise with 100 other people was going to be an entirely different experience than the clear, clean lanes of the pool.
As it turned out, the swimming was the least of my worries on this particular day. I arrived at the race nice and early having gotten out of the house when expected and with everything packed up the night before. However, before even unpacking the car, I realized I had forgotten my TriSlide spray…a lubricant spray to prevent blisters and chafing. I run sockless, so the spray is kind of important and I was worried the run would quickly turn painful. Unfortunately, there was nothing to do at this point. So I found my spot in the transition area and got everything set up. All felt good. I wasn’t feeling any nerves and had actually completed a mock race the weekend before, but in the ocean instead of this murky lake.
Finally, I headed out to the swim starting line, a quarter mile barefoot walk from transition. I swam some lengths to warm up and get comfortable in the water, and disaster struck! The strap on my swim goggles broke! And the race was to begin in 10 minutes! Luckily, I had prepared and brought an extra pair of goggles to the race, although I dislike these goggles a great deal. Unfortunately, I had to run the half mile roundtrip to get them out of the transition area. Not a big deal generally, but I was barefoot and had only minutes before the race began. Well, the mad dash was made and I even had a minute or two back at the starting chute to relax.
The swim was tough. I’m still a novice and was never able to find my swimming grove. I made it about half way across the lake in a forced front stroke, but the jostling and bumping into others and the dark, deep water eventually threw me off. I spent a few strokes in a backstroke, then later a few in a breast stroke before finally finishing the swim slower than hoped. But the backup goggles kept water out and didn’t fog up, so that was a positive.
Then I was through transition and onto the bike. The bike felt great. I wasn’t able to keep up with the pros and elites, but was riding very smooth and fast and not far behind those guys. I was regularly catching others in my age group who had finished the swim faster than me, moving up in placement. My ride was probably 2MPH faster on average than I rode in training, yet I didn’t feel like I was pushing too hard. It was going great, until three miles from the end of the ride. My rear tire went flat. Deflated…both the tire and my spirit. I considered quitting. The transition area was just steps away and I had never changed a flat on the road before. However, I had packed a spare tube and a CO2 cartridge just in case, and it was my first triathlon so I really wanted to finish. I changed the flat, jumped back on the bike about 12 minutes later and then finished the ride.
Next it was on to the run…my strength. A half mile out of transition and, yet again, disaster struck when I realized that I had forgotten to put my race belt with my run number on. This means a disqualification! My first tri and it wouldn’t even be official, for whatever that’s worth. I was complete frustrated at this point. However, I also noticed that, despite the broken goggles and the slow swim and the delay to fix the flat, I was still on target to meet my goal finishing time of 1 hour and 15 minutes if I ran reasonably well. So I continued my run through the frustration, passing people left and right. It might not be official and might not have gone smoothly, but I sure as heck was going to meet my goal! 21 minutes and 35 seconds later, I crossed the finish line with a total time of 1 hour, 13 minutes and 8 seconds. And a bonus…I hadn’t been disqualified!
As it turns out, had I not had to stop to fix the flat, I might have been in contention to make the podium for my age group. On the other hand, had I placed, I would have almost certainly been disqualified. All in all, despite the frustrations and detours, it was an awesome experience.
So…why does Planning Matter?
During my run, as I reflected on the frustrations I had encountered that morning, it dawned on me that this race and the preparation for the race offered a wonderful metaphor to the value of financial planning. As is done in financial planning to reach financial goals, I had set out a plan for training in advance and followed it pretty closely. I identified the biggest risk toward meeting my goal — drowning during the swim — and worked hard to reduce that risk. I prepared for other bumps I might run into (a broken goggle strap, a flat tire) and had a plan for these bumps. I knew how much effort I had to put into the training bank in order to have sufficient fitness to withdraw on race day. And I had saved more than enough and met my goal despite many setbacks.
This is really what we do in financial planning. We help our clients set up a plan to reach their financial goals, whether that’s figuring out how much money to save for retirement or how to pay for a child’s education. We help bring to light potential risks to reaching those financial goals and offer solutions for mitigating those risks. We help our clients be prepared for the detours and bumps that make up life and give them some context around what those bumps mean toward reaching their goals, so that they can make good decisions on how to proceed.
Just the beginning
My first triathlon experience was a frustrating and yet exciting one. I may run the same race on the same course in November to see how I do with a bit more good fortune. I’m also motivated to try something longer, perhaps an Olympic distance triathlon or even a Half Ironman sometime. And this, above all else, is how my triathlon experience is like the financial planning experience. Triathlon planning and racing, like financial planning and living a financial life, is just a part of the journey. When one goal is reached, it’s just a step along that journey.