What Saving Money Can Teach Us About Running

Putting miles in your training log is like putting money in the bank. You begin to draw interest on it immediately.

-Hal Higdon

It's more like saving Euros than dollars!

I came across this quote the other day while checking out the blog of a friend I met at the HAT 50K.  He’s a great runner and a fitness author, and his blog, Run Bulldog Run, is worth adding to your reader.

Miles logged are like money in the bank

The quote got me excited, because I had just recently been thinking about something very similar.  (Minus the hour difference in our marathon times, maybe Hal Higdon and I aren’t so different.)

What I had been thinking, based on my own experience, was more along these lines: Every time you go for a run, regardless of how sporadic your training is or how long it’s been since you last ran, you bank another few pennies of running ability.  You sock away a lot when things are going well, and during tougher times, you might ignore your running account completely.

But when you come back to it (barring a credit crisis, of course) everything you deposited is still there.  Sure, maybe it’s tied up and not very liquid, but once you’ve sorted things out, every penny is accounted for.

It doesn’t work like this with weightlifting

This is so different from, say, weightlifting.  When I used to lift all the time, if events in my life forced me to stop for a few months, I’d be back to square one.  All that muscle would be lost, and I’d have to go through all that pain again to get it back.  Besides a little bit of knowledge, I was in the exact same place as a beginner.

Running has been so different.  I used to be far less dedicated than I am, and my routine went something like this:

  1. Train for six months to run a marathon.
  2. Relax for a few weeks to let the knicks and pains of training heal.
  3. Stop running entirely, forget that I ever liked running, and drink a lot of beer for six months.
  4. Repeat.

Now, this strategy will never end up in the pages of Runner’s World, but it’s undeniable that I became a better runner during this period.  With no more discipline than this, I got my marathon time from 4:53 all the way down to 3:25.

I don’t think I could have improved much more without finally stepping it up, and I’m proud to say that I’ve run continually for a little over two years now.  The improvements have come much faster since I started making lots of big deposits, but I believe that it’s built on the “nest egg” I contributed to on-and-off for all those years prior.  (If only I could say the same about money.)

When you return to running after a long layoff, it takes a while to get back into it.  You need to build up your speed again.  But during that sporadic period, I always found the distance easy to get back.  Running eight miles with a few marathons under your belt is a billion times easier than it is the first time you do it, regardless of how much couch-surfing you’ve done in the meantime.

It’s not about the muscle

They say it’s in the brain.  When you go out for an easy run, which is likely how you spend the bulk of your training time, you take thousands, maybe tens of thousands of steps.  Even when it’s not physically demanding, scientists say you’re training your brain.  With every one of those steps, you learn something new about how your specific body runs most efficiently (one reason I think feedback from the ground is so important).

In weightlifting and in so many other sports, this kind of repetition doesn’t happen.  Sure, in a good day you might bang out 50 chest presses.  That’s about a hundredth of the number of steps you’ll take in a half hour run.

Hit golf balls for an hour, maybe you’ll hit a couple hundred.  Run for an hour, you’re looking at 1000 steps.

Certainly some of those neural pathways disappear with time off.  But it sure feels like most of them stay.

So what can saving money teach us about running?

We use stupid metaphors like this so that we can learn something about what we don’t understand, from what we do understand.  Pretending for just a second that we all know a lot more about saving money than we do about running, what’s the lesson?

I think it’s that even when times are tough and you’re not socking away any miles, know that you can come back.  You don’t need to feel guilty.  Sure, you’re not adding anything to the nest egg.  But the nest egg isn’t going anywhere, and when you’re ready to contribute again, it will be there.

As Hal says, it’s even earning interest.

What’s the lesson, for you?

This post is part of a series on motivation for running.  Check out the rest!



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  1. I guess building up too much mileage too quickly is the equivalent of getting greedy and trying to make a quick buck 🙂
    It often comes back to bite you!

  2. Amen to both your post and Gaurav’s comment!
    .-= AndrewENZ´s last blog ..Weigh-in #13 2010: Almost there =-.

  3. I like your relaxed approach to running. I have completed two ultramarathons and two marathons, and have recently gone vegan. I am interested to see how my running will be now that I’m not consuming any animal products. I don’t follow a rigid running schedule and never have. I just run for as long as I feel like running. Running continuously for 2 years is an accomplishment! Glad to have located this blog.

    • Hi Jane, glad you found my blog. That’s cool that you can run without a schedule. I’ve never done that until recently. For the past few months, I haven’t followed a training schedule. I’ve enjoyed it, but I miss that structure so much. I think you just do what you know you need to at the time.

      And kudos for going vegan. Have you been vegetarian for a while, or is this a jump all the way from meat-eating? I noticed SUCH a difference when I gave up the meat; I got much faster right away.

      • Jane V. says:

        I have been vegetarian at various times of my life, but recently decided to go vegan. Lots of discouragement from paranoid friends and family members about being vegan and running long distances! As in, “you’ll collapse!” That’s why I’m glad to see a blog/site for vegetarian/vegan runners. I know Scott Jurek is a vegan which is motivating. I have noticed that my running has been easier since going vegan. I’m typically pretty slow; did 62 miles in a 24 hour loop ultra and my marathon times …let’s say that they are sub 6 hour times! I’m striving for a 10 minute mile right now, so we’ll what happens over the next couple of months.

        • Hi Jane. Good for you going vegan! Yep, Scott Jurek is a huge motivator for me too, someone you can point to and say “look at him; he can do it.” Brendan Brazier is another. He hasn’t achieved what Scott has in terms of becoming a legend in his sport, but he is a pro, and doing a lot to promote his ideas about nutrition.

          Wow, 62 miles, congratulations. One day I’ll be there, maybe. Sounds like your strength is endurance; I say embrace that!

  4. Ugh..I’m hoping you are right! I am having a hard time getting back into it after being sidelined several months with injuries!

  5. I totally agree with this. Running is totally a mind game. Your body is always capable of doing incredible things but it’s your mind that gets in the way. You never stop running when you’re tired because your body made you. Your mind told you your body was tired.

  6. Hmmm that I need to contribute to my 401k more haha. It makes me feel good that I can kinda pick up where I left off with running. I’ve gone through stages when I run for a while then take time off but always come back to it at some point.

  7. I’m current on day 2 of a rest week/off training – I was feeling quite panicky about what it would do to my training – but this has left me feeling quite reassured that it won’t do any damage!

  8. I’m relatively good at saving money but I’m not so good at running consistently. Although, I enjoy it in the moment getting out there to do it when school/work/life are constant pressures has proven difficult.

    I do, however, “get this.” Thanks for presenting this in a way that reaches me! I’m going to lace up my shoes in the AM and put some money in the bank 🙂

  9. I have to say, after reading this, I began running for this reason. I wanted to bank “healthy activity” against “heredity.” Doing good so far!
    .-= Nicki´s last blog ..Palm Sunday =-.

  10. Moosita says:

    Thank you so much for this post! It totally resonates with me. I have been on your running strategy myself for the past few years… 6 months on, 6 months off. Can’t seem to kick it! Maybe it is just because I get miserable during the winter weather, but when the temperature starts climbing, I remember how much I love to run and I feel the cravings coming back.

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