Lessons on Rest and Recovery:
How the Boston Marathon Helped Me Study for Licensing Exams
Rest and recovery are essential for growth, mental health, and happiness. We have all heard it a million times, but how often do we heed it? It's hard to do with busy schedules and the pace of modern life. Right now, my schedule is packed full of studying for Securities License exams. I could study all the hours of the day and possibly still feel unprepared. So how do rest and recovery play a role in my preparation?
I’ll tell you a story about when I ran my first marathon.
It happened back when I was 39. As many are, I was preoccupied with how to best tolerate turning 40. It's a life threshold that seems to strike fear and bold action in many people. To deal with my turning 40 feelings, I went big and signed up to run my first marathon, the mother of all marathons - the Boston Marathon.
There are two ways to run Boston: to qualify with a fast time at another marathon or to run for charity which means you agree to fundraise $10,000 for the organization plus run 26 miles. I’m not fast or much of a runner, so I ran as a charity runner for the Lenny Zakim Fund.
On the second day of marathon training in October 2017, I had a sinking feeling that I was in over my head. I could barely complete running one mile. I was supposed to be running 3 miles at a time by the next week. It seemed completely beyond the limits of space and time that I would run 3 miles and then somehow add 23 more miles by the end of April. But I kept taking steps forward.
Slowly, day by day, training session by training session, my body got stronger.
Not only did my body get stronger, but my mindset also changed, and my confidence grew. These were even more important than the strength in my muscles. For the first time, I could see a picture in my mind of making it to the finish line on Boylston Street.
Then, I got injured.
It was an exciting day of training as it was the halfway mark - our first 13 miles training run, the equivalent of a half-marathon. We felt so excited about this progress, that we schedule extra training. Before our regular training run, we met another runner and did a speed session of sprinting several laps around a track. After the sprinting session, we ran over to Jamaica Pond for our 13 miles (13 loops around Jamaica Pond). On mile 10, I felt something pull in my thigh... I stopped to stretch and then continued through the pain. I was tough. I was proud ignoring the pain and finishing and checking off 13 miles on my checklist.
The next morning, I couldn’t walk.
The physical therapist looked at it and told me something crucial. She said, “Lumina, you have to get to the Starting Line healthy if you want to get to the Finish Line.” (Let that sink in).
She continued, "I have seen so many first-time marathon runners hurt themselves, getting injured by training too hard and then have to sit out on race day. Your biggest goal isn't the finish line, it's the starting line. If you can get to the starting line healthy, the adrenaline and energy of the race will pull you to the finish. But if you are injured, you don't even get to try. I know it will be annoying, but you have to take 2 weeks off and then incorporate walk breaks in every training session from now on."
This was hard-won wisdom she shared with me that day, and I keep remembering it now as I take on another big test of my strength: studying for and testing for the SIE (Securities Industry Essentials), Series 7 (General Securities Representative Exam) and Series 66 (Uniform Combined State Law Examination) Securities Licenses, held with LPL Financial. These licenses qualify an individual to use the title “Advisor”, to buy and sell securities for clients, and to give financial advice. The exams are rigorous with a capital R and require around 300-350 hours of study to pass. Taking on these exams in addition to full-time work and life as a mother of two kids is stepping up for a task similar in scale to running 26 miles in one day! These tests are a marathon of the body and mind, requiring training, hard work, pacing, AND let us not forget…. (say it with me) rest and recovery.
I forgot this lesson and had to relearn it (again) recently while studying.
A few weeks ago, while studying after work on a Friday afternoon, I literally injured my physical body while simply sitting at a desk! I needed to complete a Checkpoint (a 2.5 hour practice test) after an already long day at the computer. I had a time crunch to try to finish in time to make it to my daughter’s soccer tryouts later that evening. Without taking a break, standing up to stretch or eat, I went into the Checkpoint exam and tried to just power through it, and finish quickly. I was proud of myself for ignoring the pain in my neck and just doing the work and checking the box off the checklist.
The next morning Saturday, I woke up and couldn't turn my head.
My shoulders and neck had frozen up. I was scheduled to study more that day, but I couldn't even sit up in a comfortable position to do it. My body sent a clear message to me that I had to take breaks. And consequently, I lost an entire Saturday of study time because I pushed too hard. It's hard to listen to the messages of the body, they are inconvenient and annoying, and the brain likes to explain them away and override them, but then the body speaks in a louder voice – pain and injury.
Is there space for a little more rest and recovery in our busy lives?
And when we prioritize it, does it lead to better results?
To finish my story above, after my training injury at 13 miles of training for the marathon, I rested for 2 weeks and then started using walk breaks as I built up the mileage again. It was annoying! I was embarrassed to walk parts of my runs. But it worked like a charm! I was healthy and ready for race day in April and got to run all 26 miles of the 2018 Boston Marathon. Here’s a happy photo with my medal from the finish line on Boylston Street! I ran through hours of torrential rain when many runners stopped due to hypothermia. I walked some of the way (when my body needed it) AND crossed the Finish Line in 5 hours.
Now in 2022, my Securities Licenses training schedule is incorporating essential breaks to rest and recover (stretch the neck)! When I take the time to be healthy as I push my limits and grow, I can feel the learning and brain power happening more efficiently and effectively than when I push too hard.
Rest is not the first thing you think of when planning how to prepare for something as grueling as a marathon or studying for a licensing exam. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way, over and over again.
So, cheers to taking breaks, standing up from the desk and taking a walk break, fueling the brain and body with good nutrition before the tank runs empty, and closing the computer for a rest day on weekends and whenever we can.
Rest can increase our capacity to do hard things