One day after about two months of running semi-regularly and having completed a 5K race I decided to run a marathon. I told a couple of friends and they all pretty much said something in the line of “what training plan are you following?” Training plan? I’m going to go run 26.2 miles on October 30, what kind of plan do I need for that?

This was one of those rare times I didn’t curse the internet as there are all sorts of plans there. Now I just had to choose one and decide if I was actually going to be disciplined to follow the plan so that my first marathon was a successful endeavor.

The day I crossed the finish line of my first marathon and felt the complete joy of accomplishing this running distance I looked back on the nearly four months of disciplined training I did and realized successfully completing the marathon had very little to do with running.

Successfully completing a marathon, as every other endeavor, can only be accomplished by first coming up with a plan. Without a plan, I may have been able to finish that first marathon but the likelihood of being successful and wanting to go run another and another and another most likely would not have happened.

The same is true for whatever you do in life. Want to write a book? Better start with a plan. Want to be a successful salesperson? Better start with a plan. Want to run a profitable business? Better start with a plan. Want to do more than just wander from one event to another event and never settle on what you want to do with your life? Then you probably don’t need a plan to do that. Wandering aimlessly from one task to another and not really caring about how successfully you complete them won’t take a plan. That you can do just waking up most mornings.

Planning Isn’t Rocket Science

Coming up with a plan isn’t rocket science but if you’ve never done it before in your life it is going to feel like it is. The reason is that we are not taught to plan. I mean, show me that class from school when we were growing up. We are taught a whole lot of material and knowledge but seldom will you find someplace where people are taught how to plan.

Quite frankly I didn’t really learn how to plan until I was in my mid-thirties and was preparing to go overseas as a missionary to teach people how to start businesses in an emerging church plant area in a part of the world where I was going to have to learn a new language and a new culture. Don’t get me wrong, I had written plenty of plans before this time. From writing budgets in the Navy as the enlisted person charged with keeping track of my ship’s repair budgets to doing projections for my sales territory on an annual basis, I had learned how to fill in the blanks and get people the information they needed but usually just proceeded to go wing it on my own on prayer and hope.

For the first time though I came to the realization that I would need to have a little more knowledge than fill in the blank and wing it. The words of Habakkuk 2:2 kept ringing through my head as this realization dawned on me, “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.” In order to teach people how to write a business plan and start a small business I needed to have a plan for how to teach them, how I was going to understand and analyze their business plans and how to handle all the financing so that I could give small loans and then advise people on their businesses.

Fortunately, the organization that was allowing us to use their business planning material also had a fairly easy to follow plan on how to accomplish all the other things you don’t see that go into being successful at helping people in an emerging free market economy start profitable businesses.

Writing out our plan took time, it took being willing to let other people look at the plan and then being willing to change it. It took way more than I was willing to put into it at the time which is probably why I wasn’t as successful as I could have been. And this was also a great lesson to learn.

What I am trying to say here is that you can choose one of three methods to having a plan for your endeavor: (1) have no plan at all and just wing it with a hope and a prayer. Failing to plan is exactly like planning to fail. It just takes less effort. (2) put some effort into a plan, maybe even write parts of it down. But when the planning gets hard, fall back on (1) because it just takes too much work and it’s far easier to just go for it on a hope and a prayer. (3) decide to put in the hard work and write a comprehensive plan and then acknowledge that you are constantly going to need to revise it as situations arise. Study what successful people do and then duplicate what they do over and over again.

Being At Peace Produces Results

I love running and most days when I am out running I feel as though I could just run and keep on running. It is a rare day when I don’t feel like running and even when I’m sick and know I have no business going out for a run there are times when I’ll go for it anyway. One thing I have found though is that if I don’t have a plan for how long a run, a general idea of where I’m going to run and how far I want to run that day I don’t seem to be at peace as much as those days when I know that today is an eight mile day and so I’m going to go easy for the first mile to warm up, gradually increase tempo as I get up in distance depending on terrain and then around the four mile mark I’m putting the hammer down and going all out at race pace or better for the next three miles. Then I’m backing it down to about sixty percent of race pace and cooling down in the last mile. I make these plans for thirty miles out and back runs where I plan the distance to take it relatively easy, when to push the pace and when to back off, when to eat, how often to hydrate and how often to increase both food and fluid intake to keep the body functioning. When I have a plan there is an incredible peace that floods over my entire being and it doesn’t matter the conditions or the trail or the company I’m keeping. I have a plan, am flexible enough to adjust as need be and I can just run and enjoy.

I think this is what Paul was talking about in the letter to the Philippians (Philippians 4:6–7) where he said to not be anxious about anything but to make your requests known to God, “and then the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

My sole responsibility as a husband, a runner, a salesperson, a manager and a writer is to make the plan and follow the plan. I am not responsible for the outcome or the timing of the outcome as long as I make the plan and then put my plan out there for God to see and for others to come alongside me and encourage me to follow the plan. When I put in the hard work of getting my plan into a view-able document then I can just follow the plan and make adjustments as need be without the constant anxiety of trying to make it happen. I’m not that talented and quite frankly neither are you.

People who constantly push for the result often find themselves burnt out while people who push for the process find themselves at peace because in the process they find their strengths and hopefully are intelligent enough to surround themselves with other talented people who are strong in their weaknesses.

When you put in the hard work of planning, then take your eyes off yourself and what you want to achieve and then just work the plan and enjoy the people around you peace just comes flooding in.

Operating from a position of peace is so much more productive than operating from a position of anxiety.

Success Takes Study

When I made the decision that I wanted to complete longer and longer races, I began to study what successful people were doing to complete these races. I studied the greats of the ultrarunning community and read everything I could find to figure out what they were doing to be able to push their bodies to longer and longer distances. I factored in the fact that most of them are doing this as sponsored athletes who run for a living and I was working a very full-time job and doing this as a hobby but tried to apply as much as I could to my endeavor. I am not an expert on long distance running and quite frankly am not anywhere near as successful as I would like to someday be.

This is the learning process and it is a lifetime journey. I’m not sure where I first heard this story, probably at an Amway function (yes I’ve done that too) but I love the story and believe it is appropriate here.

An old farmer was trying to explain to his grandson about why it was important for him to continue in school even though all his grandson wanted to do was start farming. The old farmer explained, “Life is like a tomato. You can either be a green tomato or a red tomato.” His grandson looked at his grandpa as if he had a screw loose and said, “What in the world are you talking about?” The old farmer explained, “A red tomato is like somebody who thinks they’ve learned everything they need to learn. Now all they have to do is just go out and do what they think they need to do. But a red tomato only has two stages it can enter into once it is ripe or like us has learned everything it needs to learn. The first stage it can go to is to stay on the vine, never get picked and one day you’ll go out there and it’ll be all shriveled up and rotten smelling. It has rotted on the vine and is useless. The other state the red tomato can go is to get picked and eaten by somebody. But this isn’t so for the green tomato. See the green tomato knows there are still nutrients to suck from the soil, still vitamins to soak up from the sun and hydration to soak up through the rain or sprinklers. The green tomato knows it can still grow. That is what we are supposed to be like. We are supposed to be like green tomatoes that know there is still much to learn, much to soak in from others and that if we continually desire to learn more we will be much better equipped to be planters of life in other people.”

I decided a long time ago that I want to be a green tomato. There is nothing I have learned that I cannot relearn again, a different way. There is nothing I have done that I can’t learn how to do better or differently from somebody else. I have not arrived, have not achieved such great success or done too much to be able to keep learning from each and every person and situation around me. I want to be a green tomato so that when I’m pushing 126 years old I’m still able to at the end of the day say, “Look at that, I learned something new today.”

As important as planning is, continually learning to plan more and better is what will equip you for long-term success. Anybody can be a red tomato and be the biggest, ripest tomato on the vine but like that red tomato, there are only two places you can go: rot or be eaten.

I hope this has helped you realize how important it is to learn and to continually be learning and I just want to remind you the three stages we’ve talked about today. First, without a plan you’re just wandering in the wilderness, hoping and praying that you end up somewhere. Second, there is peace to be found in having a plan and peace is way better than anxiety. And lastly, once you’ve learned how to plan, keep on learning. There are so many resources out there on planning it would be silly for me to attempt to teach you how to plan, I’m just trying to convince you to start planning and never stop planning.

Until next time, happy trails (hopefully on a dead out sprint) and happy planning.

Visit Mike at MikeHornerUltra.com  and find more of his work here.