Life, Law, and Running Marathons

About seven years ago, two good friends told me I should run a marathon. That’s not an easy task, you know. It’s 26.2 miles. Of running. When one friend recommended it, that was one thing. When another joined in completely separate, I figured maybe I should give it a try. So away I went.

The lessons I learned over the next several months taught me quite a bit about life. That goes without saying. Throughout that process, I was surprised at how many parallels there were between running 26.2 mile races and . . . family law.

The training process was long and hard. Of course it was. I kept telling myself that I could handle anything life could throw at me if I could do this.

I became very scientific about it. The process of building up to run longer and longer had to be approached just right in order to avoid injuries. I studied everything I could find on the subject and went with the advice that felt right. From specific workouts to proper hydration to how to swing my arms, I tried to learn it all. I studied and tried all sorts of different shoes as part of the process, too. That process of studying and experimenting reminded me of . . . preparing for a trial. I have always been a proud geek when it comes to studying the law. That geekiness has served me extremely well as a lawyer and has gained a lot of trust and respect for me with judges. They know that I have done my homework before entering their courtroom. They know that I will know the law and will accurately argue it to them.

But the studying only does so much good. Studying can teach you how to train, but you still have to get out and train. You still have to do the work. That is not easy, especially in the famous Arizona heat. That involves dedication and focus – the same kind of dedication and focus that an effective lawyer demonstrates. Sure, lawyers don’t sweat and we sure don’t dress like runners, but we have to be tireless, dedicated, and focused in our work if we want to succeed. We have to picture the finish line for our clients. And I can tell you that winning a case, like crossing that finish line, is an awesome feeling.

I ran that first marathon, but I was disappointed with the results. I finished in the top 20 or 25%, but I knew I could do better. Instead of resting for a few days, I once again unleashed my inner geek. I analyzed where my weaknesses were and what I could do to improve. Next year, I was determined to run the same race but to do it better. As part of the training, I ran with my good friend John. That training was an especially sweet experience, as it helped him burn enough calories to be crowned the season twelve winner of The Biggest Loser. The same race one year later brought my time down 12 minutes. I was now running the whole race averaging less than eight minutes per mile. That felt cool for a guy in his mid-forties who never even made it to varsity on his high school cross country team. Still, something better awaited.

By now I had begun thinking about the holy grail of marathons: the Boston Marathon. You see, you can only qualify to run that race by placing in the top 10 or 12 percent of marathon runners for your age and gender group. Just my luck, Boston had just tightened its requirements, so I would have to shave several more minutes off of my time to qualify.

The challenges mounted. My body threw me for a pretty major loop when I was diagnosed with stage four cancer. (But that’s another story.) I determined that I would continue to hone my craft, to learn even more, to train smarter and better, and finally to run another marathon. I didn’t dare announce any dreams of Boston out loud, but, honestly, I think every runner dreams of Boston. And with continual study, dedication, and improvement, I took second place in the same race I had run twice before. My time was fast enough to get me into Boston, with five minutes to spare even.

Boston was everything I could have imagined. The weather was terrible. It rained about 23 of the 26 miles. The temperature was in the low 40s. There was a headwind the whole way, ranging between 18 and 35 miles an hour. That’s a lot of wind. And I could have sworn the rain on Boston’s famous Heartbreak Hill turned to snow. That had to be the worst weather conditions in the history of the race. Sure, plenty of people would point to days when the race was run in “scorching” 80 or even – gasp – 90 degree temperatures, but that would be a piece of cake for us Arizonans. Ha. Whatever. The competitor in me reveled the opportunity not just to run Boston but to run it in such harsh conditions. By now, I was ready for whatever life could throw at me. I have to be. I’m a family lawyer.

Running marathons has taught me all sorts of lessons. I am proud to apply those lessons to my practice of law. I know how it feels to be worn out when you have to keep going. I know the satisfaction that only comes by giving it your very best. I know the joy of finishing that race. I know the benefits of efficient but thorough preparation. I am happy to put those life lessons into practice as a lawyer.

Mark A. Shields

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