The Boston Marathon is the runner’s marathon. It’s the only major marathon that the amateur can ever hope to qualify for. The other big four – London, New York, Chicago and Berlin – accept a small number of elite qualifiers and allocate the rest via ballots, to charities and to local running clubs.
In Boston more than half of the entries are time-based qualifiers. It’s still hard to get in (the qualifying time is 3 hours 10 minutes for my age group) but a good amateur is at least a hope. We all want to qualify at least once, and we want to enjoy it when we get there.
So when people asked me what time I wanted to run in my first Boston marathon a month ago, I told them that, ultimately, I would love to break three hours but, most importantly, I want to enjoy participating in one of the world’s great running events.
To break three hours you need to average 4 minutes 15 seconds per kilometre. I set myself a target of 4:12 to be safe. Here’s how the race panned out:
The red line is my pace per km and the black line is my target pace. At the 35km marker, I was exactly where I wanted to be. I had banked a few kilometres on the downhill and withdrawn them up heartbreak hill. Right on pace with seven kilometres to go, half of them downhill.
Where I wanted to be on the road, yes, but not where I wanted to be in the legs. Cramping already, I knew I was gone before starting the climb, and by the top of the hill I was a million to one to make it to the finish under three hours.
So sub three hours is out the window. Time to revert to plan B? Most importantly, I wanted to ‘enjoy’ myself, right?
Unfortunately, marathons don’t work like that. You don’t get to turn around at the 35km mark and give back five minutes so you can ‘enjoy’ the rest of the race. As you can see in the chart, the last seven kilometres were horrible. Slow, hot, noisy and painful.
The truth is that’s the choice I made at the start. You either have a crack at running a fast time and run the risk of a painful end, or you enjoy yourself. Choosing both is not an option.
There are plenty of parallels in the investing world. Many beginner investors decide they want to be the next Warren Buffett, scouring the market for a portfolio of bargains that deliver 20% returns. Only they want to do it on a few hours a week.
After the inevitable investing disasters, they change their mind. ‘It’s ok, thanks, I’ll just take the index return’. It doesn’t work like that in investing either. If you are happy with index returns, you need to make that choice on day one. And if you want to beat the market, you need to fully commit to it. There is no half way house (I view putting your own portfolio of quality blue chip stocks together as a fun and engaging form of enhanced index investing).
As the late Benjamin Graham so eloquently put it, ‘to achieve satisfactory investment results is easier than most people realise; to achieve superior results is harder than it looks.’
It’s back to the training paddock for me, at home and in the office.