Marathon-Exam: 10 Similarities

It´s often said that training for a marathon can be compared to a pregnancy – many months of hard work and emotional ups and downs, several hours of pain, but all worth it for the pride and happiness that follows.

However, I have no experience of that, so during the last few weeks of my training for the Seville Marathon in February, I contemplated the similarities between marathon training and something I do know something about: studying for an English exam. Here are 10 similarities I´ve come up with; what do you think?:

WHICH ONE?
  1. Fame isn´t the same as quality: Until now, Trinity has been less well-known than Cambridge, but according to official national and European organisations, each exam body has exactly the same validity. The same happens in marathons: Steyning Stinger Marathon (near Horsham, my hometown) isn´t as famous as London Marathon. However, having completed both, running 26.2 miles is just as respectable in each, and I actually enjoyed the former a little more than the latter.
WHO TO PREPARE IT WITH?
  1. Hiring a professional really helps: Since coach Trimatas has prepared my weekly training programmes, my times have improved significantly. We hope that students feel us teachers help their exam prep in the same way.
  1. Preparing in a group has many advantages: Although “D Day” is all down to you, preparing in a friendly and supportive group increases motivation, provides answers for doubts, and allows you to make friends while working towards a common objective.
MIND OVER MATTER
  1. Setting an objective aids motivation and planning: “Pass the exam” or “finish the marathon” are mediocre objectives; “get 80% on all skills” or “finish in 3hrs 30mins” are much better to provide references in preparation. How can you know training pace if you don´t know the final target?
  1. Planning is key: Work on your weaknesses, and quantify improvements at regular stages (with tune-up races/training sessions at a specific pace, or practice exams). Divide the overall goal into its smallest components, and set personal objectives for each one (e.g. English writing can be sub-categorised into structure, connectors, grammar, vocabulary, register). The cycling team Team Sky calls this concept “marginal gains”; a concept that has allowed them to win four Tours de France in the last five years.
  1. More = better? NO!! A very common error – the more I practise, the better I´ll become. Not true; in fact, quality trumps quantity. There is an optimal point of quality preparation, but passing this can lead to mental burnout (exams, running) or physical injury (only for the running, in this case!)
  1. There are good days and bad days. Trust the process: Accept that some days you feel like you´re going to smash it up, but others you question the wisdom of even signing up. The important thing is to keep going.
  1. Mindset is everything: Your success in both marathon running and an exam is likely to be strongly influenced by your level of optimism and resilience to failure during preparation (by the way, if there aren´t failures, you aren´t pushing yourself enough). After all, everyone wants it on the big day, but how do you react to and learn from the bad days in the preparation phase (point 7)? The key: do you have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset?
D DAY
  1. In the exam/marathon itself, pace yourself! Taking the time permitted (well, in a marathon it´s your target time and in the exam the time limit is set externally) and feedback from previous preparation, work out how much time you need for each section (5km split or exam part) and pay close attention to your watch to keep you on track and ensure you reach the end at a time you want to.
  1. Managing pressure is the key on the big day: So much work goes into being ready for a specific day and time, that it´s easy to be overwhelmed by the pressure this one opportunity to show what you can do. When push comes to shove, in both an exam and a marathon, you have to keep calm and trust that all the preparation will shine through when it really matters.
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