5 Lessons My First Marathon Taught Me

The story of how I completed the Athens Marathon and what I learned from this experience

I've been running for over 5 hours now.

I'm almost in downtown Athens, on a wide road closed off to cars. Alongside the road, crowds gather—elderly and young people cheering for us in Greek and English.

Some curse us, the runners, for shutting down the city for a day. Others admire us.

I've already done 41 kilometers in the past 5 hours.

20+ km of those were almost all uphill.

I'm just passing the 42 km mark.

Only 200 meters left. Well, 195 meters, precisely. 

I'm taking a left turn to the narrow(er) street named after Herodes Atticus, the Greek rhetorician and Roman senator.

Who, interestingly, was born and died in Marathon. The city where our run began 42 kilometers ago.

Despite the 42 km behind me, I'm full of energy as I'm running toward the Panathinaiko Stadium - also known as Kallimarmaro, the beautiful marble.

It hosted the first modern Summer Olympic Games in 1896. Marathon runners of the first and the 2004 Olympics both crossed the finish line in that venue.

A massive crowd on both sides of the street. Cheering to all of us, the runners.

I felt like the top athletes who were welcomed at the finish line.

Words can't describe the feeling bestowed upon me by this crowd and its positive energy.

I just wanted to keep going, running to the finish line.

And while I already had 5 hours of running behind me that day, a part of me felt bad that it was coming to an end.

I didn't want this euphoric feeling and emotion to end.

I struggled for 5 hours for that well-deserved euphoria. But it's not over yet.

I already see the stadium. Magnificantly standing in front of us.

Still, around 150 meters left.

But I already see the stadium's beautiful marble grandstand.

The finish line didn't appear yet. 

I reach Vasileos Konstantinou Street, a short left turn, then a slight right, and I'm at the stadium.

I enter the gate alongside dozens of other runners. 

The finish line is in front of me, I can already see it.

Oh my God, and I did it, I really did it.

The uplifting music mixes with the crowd's cheers.

Just a few meters before the finish line, the 'finish line scenario' sharpens within me. Something I fantasized about throughout the race.

Right before the finish line, the euphoria and the endorphin boost take over me.

I place my right hand on my heart and look up to the sky as I cross the finish line.

I'm slowing down my steps but still kinda running and then cooling down into walking.

I don't know what's happening. 

I'm trying to comprehend the surroundings.

But I just dropped to my knees and started sobbing.

Well, it wasn't a proper sobbing as I was gasping for air. The rhythm of my sobbing and breathing was misaligned. 

I didn't drop due to exhaustion. At that moment, I didn't feel tired at all.

I would've still run a bit more.

But emotions, euphoria, and endorphins have truly taken over.

The training of the past months, the mental and physical struggles, and even my entire year flashed through my mind suddenly. 

Images raced through my head as I stood up from the sobbing without supported breathing and, with a huge smile on my face, continued to the other end of the track, to receive the medal at the stadium's exit.

The Happy & Marathon Finisher Máté

So yes, I ran my first marathon on November 12, the Athens Authentic Marathon.

From the city of Marathon back to Athens, finishing at the Panathenaic Stadium. 

It was a huge moment in my life. 

Years ago, I couldn't have imagined running 42.195 km ever.

Even a year ago, it was just a dream I wanted to achieve before turning 30.

I set this goal for April 2024, a month before my 30th birthday.

However, this Summer, just as I was planning my temporary move to Athens, Greece, I found out that the Athens marathon would be in November.

Boom! I signed up and started my 4-month marathon training.

A short story about my running & sports background:

I was an overweight kid. 

I never did any significant sports, besides some swimming and running attempts between the age of 9-12 to improve my scoliosis.

But I hated that. I was also mildly bullied during those trainings.

In 2017, I was in my worst shape ever.

116 kg of weight and disastrous mental health.

March 2017 (Left) vs. November 2023 (Right, obviously)

Between 2017 and 2021, I had ups and downs in my weight, fitness, and mental health.

In Summer 2021, I had a watershed moment and my perspective on sport changed forever. 

I already explained before so if you want to read about that, check out one of my previous pieces.

In short: I found a higher purpose in running.

Accomplishment, joy, and fulfillment through struggles.

It led me to finish two Spartan races and run a half marathon distance in 2022.

Taking leverage of that euphoria, my trainer-friend convinced me to do a half Ironman this year. 1.9 km swimming, 90 km cycling, and a 21.1 km run.

Although I started training for it in January, I realized in 2 months that it wasn't a goal I owned and truly wanted. 

So I quit. 

I also wrote about it, you can read it here.

The first half of this year brought a lot of struggles and mostly downs.

The struggle of being in a life environment I didn’t enjoy, in a job where I couldn’t find my true self, and carrying the heavy weight of attachment issues I discovered this year.

I was trying to take back the steering wheel of my life. But I was just floating on the stormy ocean of my life.

Why? Because I had no tangible goals and aims for the short-term future.

In early June, my trainer-friend said that to be in harmony with myself, I need those short-term and tangible goals that I can work for daily.

Something that motivates me and keeps me fired up.

And then, I found it.

The Athens Marathon.

I knew I had to take the leap. So I signed up. 4 months to go.

I read through a lot of marathon expert websites and eventually found a good 16-week training plan that I started to stick to.

I ran some 10+ km distances before but I hadn’t seriously run for a while when I started the training.

During the next 4 months, I went through a lot, with my marathon training and personal life as well.

So now, I want to share with you five lessons this marathon training taught me that will remain with me for life.

1) Lose your ego if you want to finish

There were a couple of times I knew I had to lose my ego.

Firstly: the pace.

I had to find a slow-enough pace that would help me finish the marathon.

It’s not like a 5K or 10K distance. 

You are running for hours so you need a pace that you can maintain.

I knew that.

But still, slowing me down wasn’t easy, I wanted to go faster.

Why? External validation?


Proving something to my followers on Strava, Instagram, and Facebook. And to myself.

What did I want to prove? No idea.

I realized it was BS.

“Go slower to go further.”

I also realized that I didn't need to compete with anyone else, just myself.

Ego might give me 42 likes but it certainly won't give me the 42 km I wanted to run.

2) You need to know where you want to go

Seneca said: “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.”

It's exactly why I needed this marathon goal.

Most of my huge life goals are not yet tangible. It's with a 10-20-30-year timeline.

Having this tangible goal with an exact date/deadline helped me to guide my daily life in the right direction.

It helped me to build more discipline.

I became more determined and consistent - something I always struggled with.

If you feel you don't know where you are heading, set a short-term goal for yourself.

Anything. No matter how small it is.

Otherwise, the wind won’t be favorable.

3) Life may be unpredictable. Accept it & adapt to it

The past 4 months weren’t as smooth as I wanted it to be. 

I settled in my new job, moved out of my flat after 4.5 years, struggled with sleep issues & anxiety, and then temporarily moved to Athens while having some excessive travels and going through a car accident.

These tried to f**k up my training plan.

While it certainly suffered from some but not lethal damage. 

I had some great running results in August but September was so chaotic.

When I got back to my training plan in early October, it somehow felt like I was back to ground zero. 

Gladly, I wasn’t and I could quickly “pick up the pace”. 

The lesson: life doesn’t always go according to your plan and it may push you to adapt it to the actual circumstances.

Just like a strong wind on the sea that may try to push you away from your course towards the port. 

It's important not to let these circumstances completely take you down from your course.

Keep the goal in sight and stay determined. Sometimes you need some extra perseverance to keep the consistency, no matter how perfect your daily routines or systems are.

4) Do not aim for perfection, aim for a job done

Life is all about balance.

Human existence is all about balance.

Just look at the global economy. 

A crisis follows every prosperous era. And vice versa.

Perfection does not manifestate balance. There’s no error or room for improvement in perfection. Therefore, it is not balanced.

Every action, every creation, every achieved goal has some form of imperfection, something we know we want to improve or how we could’ve done differently.

And that is fine. Even more, it’s balanced!

I had to learn this the hard way during my marathon training.

Some of my long runs (meaning >15 km) felt terrible.

Running for hours in the Southern part of Athens during the sunny October afternoons at 28 celsius degrees didn’t feel so good.

Trying to maneuver on the narrow sidewalks, among cars, was anything but fun.

Sometimes, my heart rate was way higher than expected or wanted.

And at some runs, I reached my “wall”, the moment/time/distance when I felt I didn’t want to do it anymore, I couldn’t run further. 

While I felt some minor physical “walls” as well, it was mostly a mental challenge.

But I also carried on. I always finished my runs with the planned distance.

(Except once, when I was supposed to have a 10K run but had to stop after 5 km due to a massive pain in my leg)

Whenever I updated my trainer friend on the recently finished runs and how shitty I felt during that run, he always told me.

"It doesn’t matter. You did it. That's what matters."

He warned me at the beginning of my training journey that I would reach the phase when shitty runs would be more regular.

And he was right.

I also learned that no matter how tough my run was, I always had that spike in endorphin (or whatever hormone) afterward.

After one of my shittiest 25K run

It always proved how great I did just by taking action and going for that shitty run.

My mind always tried to find excuses for why to miss that run. 

But I always defeated those excuses.

And yes, many of my runs were terrible but I still did it.

In the end, those shitty runs led me to have a much better marathon experience than I expected.

So it doesn’t matter how high my heart rate was or how bad I felt during the runs.

It doesn’t matter that I had many imperfect runs. 

In fact, I needed those.

After the marathon, this lesson stuck in my mind. Especially with my writing journey.

So often, perfectionism is my writing journey's main blocker.

I always want to write something perfect so I don’t get any negative feedback or criticism from the readers - let it be in this newsletter or my other one.

Therefore, I skipped a lot of days (& weeks) without writing a single word. 

But now, I know I don’t want to aim for perfection.

I want to aim for a delivery and slow improvement. 

That will lead to my “marathon finish” experience in writing (and filmmaking, eventually).

5) Your limitations are way beyond what you think. Distance changes perspective

It sounds a bit cliché. But hear me out.

In September 2020, a great friend of mine tried to talk me into a 10K run event.

I had never run such a distance before. It was intangible for me back then.

I told him to give me a few days, let me try to run 10 km, if I managed, I would go with him.

Days later, I did run 10 km. 

So we also did the 10K run event together. The very first experience with the “finish line” endorphins.

In October 2022, a day before my 10K Spartan race, my trainer friend convinced me to do the 21K edition instead of the 10K one. 

Less than 12 hours before the event started.

I said: “f@ck it, let’s do it”. 

I was anxious and excited at the same time.

I had just run my first 21K distance two weeks before the race but the Spartan track is much more difficult due to the 30 obstacles one has to complete.

I did it anyway. I struggled a lot but I did it.

I changed my perspective about the 21K Spartan obstacle course runs. And distance, in general.

The marathon was already on my mind. 

“I dream about doing it one day!” - I told myself. Even though, it seemed so far and such a long distance.

Which it is, don’t get me wrong. 

Most people don’t even cycle for 42 km, not even to run.

When I started my marathon training, 42 km still seemed so long. Far too long.

But as I progressed and started to complete my 21K, 25K, 27K, and eventually 32K long runs, the marathon distance didn’t seem too far anymore.

This also had a negative aspect as I started to understate my progress and the value of the marathon.

“It’s not even that big deal, everyone can do it.” - told myself and my friends.

Gladly, my friends emphasized to me that it’s a big bucket of BS because not everyone can and is willing to do it.

My trainer friend told me: “average people don’t run marathons”. 

It brought back my faith, gratitude, and appreciation for the journey I had been on.

On the good side, even during my marathon, 42 km didn’t seem too far anymore and that perspective also kept my mind strong.

My perspective on distance changed. Forever.

Now, I dare to think about running 50K or even longer distances one day.

I'm also applying this lesson to other aspects of my life.

What seems too far, too difficult, or too long for now, will one day become your daily standard.

Let it be in your fitness, career, or any personal goal you may have.

Regardless of your age.

Overall, I don’t recommend the marathon to everyone.

In fact, not everyone has to run the exact marathon distance.

Take it as a metaphor and find your “marathon” in your life.

Keep it in sight at all times.

Once you reach it, the treasure you will get from the journey and the accomplishment will remain with you for life.

And what comes after?

More “marathons”. 

Because as long as you have goals and dreams to work for, you will never get old.

Máté - The Mindful Guerilla

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