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Last weekend, I ran a marathon in the North Pole. For anyone unfamiliar with the marathon distance, it’s 26.2 miles, and a really long way to run and seems even longer when you’re running it on snow at minus 35 degrees. Though the marathon might be considered just an athletic event by some, from my experience over the weekend I would refer to it as an allegory for life. So, what life lessons can one learn from running a marathon or any specific challenge that we do in life?

It’s about the Journey, not the end result
Running a marathon reinforced to me the idea that in life, it’s about the journey, not the end result. As I ran, I realized that this might be the only time that I would ever run a marathon, so I needed to savor the experience. I thought, “This is it, the moment I have worked so hard for on RTE’s Operation Transformation programme.” I needed to enjoy the marathon experience, not wish it away and especially because it was at the North Pole and what an experience it was with many epiphanies and very spiritual moments at the top of the world where you could almost reach up and touch heaven. Often we wish our lives away, wanting to reach a certain place in life in order to be happy. However, oftentimes the satisfaction derived from setting an objective is not so much in attaining the objective, but in the anticipation and striving toward the objective. So, as much as possible try to enjoy the journey as much as the end results as I did with my North Pole marathon attempt.

It’s all in the head!
Running a marathon is as much a mental challenge as a physical one. Yes, there is intense hard work that must be done in order to be physically prepared for the marathon when it comes along, but when the later miles arrive, and your legs begin to complain after making the same repetitive movements thousands of times, it’s up to the mind to override the urge to quit. You must figure out some mental techniques to apply in order to keep from quitting, whether that’s mentally dividing the race into sections, doing each mile for someone’s intentions or loved one in your life as I did with my run in the North Pole or chatting with others along the way and encouraging one another to keep going but to also try to enjoy the journey.

Similar strategies can be applied to everyday life. We may face difficult life situations that require mental toughness, but we can make it through many stressful periods if we just find the mental strength necessary to continue onward. Everyone needs a challenge in life. Not everyone wants the challenge of running in the North Pole, but everyone needs some sort of challenge, nonetheless. Too much challenge or difficulty can result in frustration, but so can a lack of challenge. Challenge is necessary for a person’s spirit to emanate and to emerge. It is a state achieved when a person is completely absorbed in an activity, usually one that is challenging, yet not at a level of difficulty as to cause frustration. Achieving this spirit involves a delicate balance between the difficulty of the task at hand and the skill of the person working on it. Achieving this spirit from within regularly seems to be one element of being a happy person, and in order to experience this spirit from within us, it’s necessary to involve oneself in a learning experience that requires focus, concentration, and at the North Pole I am sure I did find that spirit.

Just keep going.
I was amazed at the rush of energy I got while running the last stretch of my marathon. I thought my legs had given me all the energy they had left, but in the last mile as I saw the finish line in the distance, I picked up my speed and gave it all I had and happily and emotionally crossed the finishing line with my Ireland, GOAL, Galway and Offaly flags waving uncontrollably as were the tears that were streaming down my face and freezing as they fell. In a marathon, as in life, the key is just to keep going, even if that means going slowly. No matter how hard things get, there is usually an end in sight, if we just keep going forward. Life is difficult. We are pressured and stressed and pulled in various directions. Amidst the rush and hustle of the daily grind, it can be easy to lose ourselves and forget what really matters. We get steered off course and put all our energy toward things that ultimately–when it really gets down to it–don’t matter much at all. Remembering what really matters in life requires a conscious effort, and here’s to each of us trying to live a life that really matters and that always helps rather than hurts our fellow human beings!

Thank you for everything
What I learnt from my experience over the last few months on Operation Transformation and in doing the North Pole marathon last weekend is to keep going forward no matter what challenges life throws at you and don’t be afraid to give help and receive help as you make that journey through life and don’t forget to savor the experience as it is all about the journey and not the end result. Thanks for all your kind messages over the last few weeks. See for further details and results of the North Pole Marathon.