I Conquered the Race … and My Debt
Three months later, race day finally arrived. I finished feeling great—one hour and 53 minutes after the gun went off—and ready to see what else I might be able to achieve that I’d never considered possible before.
So I adopted a new training plan for my first full marathon, which would serve as a critical blueprint to keeping me moving forward. Following it also helped me to see that I could rid myself of habits that were no longer useful—like self-doubt. Despite all of the miles that I’d already logged, I still didn’t consider myself a runner. I didn’t feel that I’d earned the title yet.
Each Friday I’d look at the long weekend runs outlined in my training plan, which were now distances of 18-plus miles. Many times, it seemed impossible, but I always stuck to the plan. And after every run—even those that got ugly—I learned that I really could do it.
As I chipped away at those miles, I also slowly chipped away at my debt. When one card was finally paid off, I moved down the list to the next one. I fueled the momentum by seeking out balance transfer offers that promoted low interest rates, and then marked my calendar to pay off as much of the balance as I could the week before the low introductory rate was set to expire.
As an endurance runner, you learn that only you can decide the fate of your outcome.
In the midst of my marathon training, I had my annual performance review at work. Although it was highly complimentary, and included a raise that reflected the highest percentage offered that year at my company, I was still underpaid—a fact that I had long known but felt powerless to change. The old me would have politely thanked my boss, faked a smile and gone home bawling tears of frustration later that night. But conquering seemingly unending miles and debt had changed me.
As an endurance runner, you learn that only you can decide the fate of your outcome. So the day after my review, I worked up the nerve to confront my boss about my disappointment, explaining that my compensation should better reflect the asset that I was to the company. To my surprise, he agreed. Human resources re-evaluated my position, based on the many responsibilities I had assumed above and beyond my job description, and I was given a $6,000 raise—in addition to my merit increase. That boost provided $200 more a month to put toward my debt.
Later that year, I ran my first full marathon in Columbus, Ohio, and then began training for the New York City Marathon—at which point I was even more determined to crush my financial battle. So I posted flyers around the neighborhood advertising my dog walking and sitting services to make a little extra money, and picked up a daily dog walking gig during my lunch break. Seeing the difference that extra $50 each week (sometimes it was as much as $150 if I scored weekend gigs) had on my debt reduction plan kept my hope alive.
Although it took me three years and three marathons to pay off my debt completely (boosting my income from $31,000 to $40,000 in three years also helped!), training for my first marathon was especially transformative because it showed me who I am, what I’m capable of, and what ultimately fulfills me. When you’re out on a long run—far from home and all distractions—an amazing sense of clarity, pride and peace emerges that no amount of money can buy.
It’s been nearly a decade since I ran that first marathon, and although my life since that time has brought new jobs and salaries, a husband, a home and a child, I’m still running—and I’m still debt-free. It all began with one step.