Mark Sutcliffe: My Running Life Real life is a lot like running; it’s an incremental game.

Real life is a lot like running; it’s an incremental game.

Photo:  Errol Mcgihon

Satisfaction isn’t something we fall upon. It’s something we work towards. And the harder the work, the richer the rewards.

A prevailing theme in our modern world is the overnight success. You have a killer business idea and sell it to Google in your first month of operation. You show up at a reality TV audition and a few weeks later you’re a recording artist. You post a video on YouTube and become an Internet sensation.

There’s a litany of self-help literature, ranging from Get Rich Quick to Lose Weight Fast, that supports the fantasy that big and wonderful things can happen instantly. No hard work required.

But real life is a lot like running; it’s an incremental game: Saving for your retirement, losing twenty pounds, building a bond with your child, or completing a half-marathon – they all result from daily hard work that, over time, adds up to a positive result. You can’t cram for any of them.

I just finished authoring a book about the history of the Boston Marathon and my own experience repeatedly trying and failing to get in, then eventually qualifying in my twentieth marathon. Everything about the experience of researching and writing the book reminded me that nothing meaningful happens in an instant. It took decades of history for the Boston Marathon to become the most respected and coveted race in the world. It took years of training – and some 12,000 kilometres of running – for me to qualify. It took months of writing, starting with a blank document and adding a few hundred words at a time, for me to complete the book.

In every case, there were no shortcuts. You can’t buy a VIP pass and skip to the front of the line. You start with nothing and you do a little bit. And then a little more. Every day, you throw a little more on the pile. In a short time, you have something more than nothing. Eventually, if you keep it up, you may have a lot. But you never add more than a modest amount to the pile on any day.

The same principle applies to fundraising. Like many of the stories we’ve shared in this issue of iRun, a runner on a mission to raise hundreds or thousands of dollars starts at zero. Even Terry Fox began with an empty bucket. A little bit at a time, the runner gets commitments from donors. Eventually she hits her goal. Combine that $500 or $1,500 with the fundraising efforts of thousands of other runners and suddenly you have millions for medical research or some other worthy cause.

At some point in this incremental journey you will start to wonder: Is it the pile or the practice of adding to it that provides the greatest reward? When you train for your first marathon, you think the race itself is the attraction, the experience from which you will get the most benefit. After a while, as running etches itself into your routine, you realize that it’s the daily hard work that may be the biggest prize. The marathon is the unapproachable classmate you fantasized about in high school. Training is the devoted friend who was by your side every day, listening to you go on and on about your dreams.

Likewise, while your intentions are honourable and philanthropic, you also get some benefit whenever someone supports your fundraising campaign. Just like the feeling at the end of a good run, there’s something enormously satisfying and validating about adding a few hundred dollars to the pot you’re handing over to a good cause.

No matter what Hollywood or self-help gurus tell you, life isn’t about big moments and grand gestures. It’s about chipping away at a challenge, one day at a time. You can’t jump to the finish line or skip to the end of the movie. And, you soon realize, you wouldn’t want to anyway.