How Training for a Marathon is like Managing your Finances: Lesson Four

Tina Haapala |


By Gary Silverman, CFP®

We’ve been examining the parallels between my attempt to run a marathon and the issues people have in their financial lives. Here’s where we are: I had just successfully made it around the Loop Trail, a 14-mile run. I had not, however, had a successful run. A successful run would have been one where I could walk afterward.

That wasn’t happening.

I was certain that I had a stress fracture of the fifth metatarsal. Prior to this I didn’t know I had a metatarsal and certainly not that I had five of them. It’s always a bit risky making a medical diagnosis from the various medical and running blogs out there, nevertheless I was convinced. You see, the internet diagnosis of almost every pain associated with running is: “It could be a stress fracture, but…” followed by the 99 out of 100 other things it is much more likely to be. But when I looked up my symptoms, the diagnosis discussion instead started, “It might not be a stress fracture, but 95% of the time it is.”

That was not reassuring.

Now remember, until that day I had heard the word ‘metatarsal’ but probably mistook it most of the time for Metamucil. In other words, I was no expert. I wasn’t well-informed. I didn’t have the skills to understand how to apply what I was reading to my circumstances. I didn’t even have the skills to know what I did understand.

Doctors see this all the time as people come in with all sorts of internet-provided diagnoses. Sometimes they are right. Sometimes they are wrong. And sometimes the self-treatment they did based on their diagnosis caused more trouble than the original problem.

We also see this in personal finance. Now, doing your own investing or financial planning is a lot easier than doing your own surgery. It is also a lot less deadly. But many times, people are convinced of answers to problems where upon closer examination not only is the answer wrong, but the problem didn’t exist in the first place.

Eventually I was told that while severely stressed, my bone probably wasn’t fractured. I was also assured that it would take a while for the acute pain to go away and even longer before I’d be able to run again.

Pain being an excellent motivator for me, I followed the prescribed regimen to nurse my foot back to health. My “graduation” from this injury was my running in a 5K race down in Possum Kingdom. I wasn’t trying to win the thing, rather I just wanted to see if I could run the 3.1 miles without pain or abnormal discomfort. The race went well—I even won my age group (it helps to be old so that there aren’t many people in your age group). Of course, I was more worried about what the morning would bring. Fortunately, other than the normal post-race soreness my body was just fine.

Then I got an idea. Why not try a marathon?

Gary Silverman, CFP® is the founder of Personal Money Planning, LLC, a Wichita Falls retirement planning and investment management firm and author of Real World Investing