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Lessons From One of The Lost Boys of Sudan

My family’s time hosting a terrific young man over the last few days through Boston Marathon Monday provided another memorable experience for us.

It also provided a very important lesson for you which I’ve touched on in the past, but it became clear as day yesterday. 

Before I reveal the lesson, I have to provide you with a little background. 

Thomas Madut

In 1987, a civil war broke out in Sudan which drove out an estimated 20,000 young boys from their families and villages. Forced to flee to escape their death and induction into the northern army, these boys walked more than 1,000 miles to reach a refugee camp in Kenya.

Unfortunately, half of them died before reaching the camp. The boys who survived this tragic exodus became known as The Lost Boys of Sudan. In 2001, close to 4,000 Lost Boys came to the United States seeking peace, freedom, and education.

Our friend and guest, Thomas Madut, was one of those boys.

Born in Turalei, South Sudan, Thomas was only a few years old when the civil war broke out. When the government-backed Arab militias attacked his village, he was taken into the arms of older boys as they made the trek across the desert.  Thomas moved to the United States in March of 2001 at the age of 16 and attended Dakota Wesleyan University (DWU) where he discovered his love of running. 

He was a three-time All-GPAC performer and twice qualified for the NAIA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. After finishing third in the men’s marathon at the National meet, and earning All-American status, Thomas graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor’s degree in Human Services and a Coaching Endorsement. 

In addition to his current role as an academic advisor, Thomas still coaches track and cross country at DWU.  He has also become a competitive marathon runner completing over twenty marathons, including this Monday’s Boston Marathon, his third.

Our family first met Thomas in 2013 when he came to speak to the girls in Colleen’s Strivers Running Club for Girls Program right before he ran the Boston Marathon.  This weekend was the second time we’ve hosted Thomas in our home, and we have gotten to know him quite well.  His story and his calm yet incredibly upbeat and happy demeanor had an enormous impact on all of us. 

Marathon Training and Your Investing Challenges

Having run one marathon and witnessed dozens of others, including all of Colleen’s, I appreciate everything that goes into this grueling 26.2 mile challenge.

After spending so much time before and after this year’s Boston Marathon with a pro like Thomas, I learned that even the elite runners can get caught up in the emotions of the day and temporarily lose sight of the well thought out plan they began with.

This is what I’d like to share with you because the analogy to your investing challenges during this unique stage in your life is so compelling. 

Running a marathon requires a lot of discipline and stamina before and during the race.  Unlike a 5k race (3.1 miles) where you can dart out very quickly without much downside risk, the goal of a marathon is to remain comfortable all the way to the finish line (which could be between two and five hours, depending on your pace). 

You can always tell the amateurs at any marathon because they all sprint right out of the gate.  They get so caught up in the emotions of the Boston Marathon that they lose sight of the goal which, first and foremost, is to finish

  • Pacing Strategy: You have to prepare and have a long-term pacing strategy.  You do this by knowing what pace you can comfortably run for long distances.  You develop this over months of short, intermediate, and long distance runs where you time yourself so you have a measuring stick. 

During the race, you have to constantly be checking your pace so you can make sure you’re not running too fast, or too slow.

Because Thomas works full-time, his daily training regimen to properly prepare himself included waking at 4:00 a.m. and running 15 miles beginning at 4:30!  Now that’s discipline.

During our ride home from the airport, he shared his strategy of running the first half of the race at a steady 6:00 per mile pace.  Once he reached that point, he would see where he was and kick it into higher gear to the finish line.

  • Battling the Elements: You have to prepare to deal with the “elements”.  In some years, it’s the rain.  In others, it’s wind like yesterday.    

Depending on where you live, training in January, February and March can be quite challenging with frigid temperatures.  In Thomas’ case, his home is South Dakota where temperatures ranged from ten below to twenty degrees for almost three months.  Because of this, over 90% of his daily training took place indoors on a treadmill which does not prepare you as well.

  • Dealing with Injuries: Finally, you’ve got to deal with injuries.  This means preventing them from occurring in the first place by training correctly, and dealing with those that occur anyway.  Injuries are inevitable if you’re going to run a marathon. 

Fortunately, Thomas had no injuries before or during the race this year.

Thomas’ Marathon

Now, here’s what’s interesting and what we can all learn from observing Thomas this year. 

As I mentioned, his strategy was to run the first half at a “comfortable” 6:00 pace. Comfortable for whom?!

However, even after running over twenty marathons including two Boston’s, even Thomas got caught up in all the hoopla and the emotions of the start and lost sight of his long-term goal and strategy.

Because we were able to track his progress on the B.A.A. app, we could see that his pace over the first ten miles was 5:24 per mile which is significantly faster than he intended.  He later admitted that he was so amped up running with all of the elite runners that his careful strategy was the last thing on his mind!

The good news is that he eventually came back down to earth and slowed himself back down a bit to save his legs. 

Unfortunately, however, that fast start took a little bit of a toll and he wasn’t as strong on the hills, especially Heartbreak Hill, as he wanted to be.

Thomas still worked through it to finish with a solid time of 2:39, just not the 2:30 time he wanted.    

What Can We Learn?

So, how does Thomas’ Boston Marathon experience help you?   

Well, if you stop and think about it, there’s a perfect analogy to investing at this stage in your life. And, there’s a ton we can all learn by the discipline and stamina necessary to complete a marathon.

Like a marathoner, you’re in this for the long run.  Your Retirement Bucket that you’ve so carefully accumulated over your working years must now support you for the rest of your life.

That requires a great deal of preparation, discipline and stamina.  It doesn’t just happen by accident.

As we illustrated in the April edition of Relaxing Retirement News, if you get caught up in the “up and down emotions” of stock market reporting each day (i.e. like Thomas did at the start of the Marathon), and you don’t remain grounded with the correct mindset and long-term strategy, the odds of you running out of money go up dramatically. 

With 24/7 media reporting of “Breaking News”, it has become so much easier to lose sight of the long-term goal and get distracted. 

It requires serious restraint, discipline, and stamina on your part.

That’s why it’s so important to have a disciplined, well thought out “system” of decision making about your money at this stage in your life. 

Now, it’s true that, similar to Thomas running with the elite runners of the world, following a carefully thought out, disciplined, custom-designed plan is not as glamorous as reading about the latest trendy investment and wondering why you’re not invested in it.

Or, checking out where the market is three times per day, or listening to pundits on television or talk radio argue over what’s the “best” thing for “everyone” to do (and believing that it applies to your unique situation).

However, just like Thomas had to rein in his emotions and focus on his long-term plan, you can’t afford to be tantalized by all of that at this stage in your life. 

You, too, are running a marathon. And, that requires a very specific “marathon mindset.