What Can Marathon Training Teach Us About Surviving Tax Season & Retirement Planning? A Lot!


Anyone that has run a marathon knows that it can be a long and punishing journey to the finish line, filled with a slew of physical and mental obstacles along the way. Yet, despite the challenges, or for many of us because of them, participants line up year after year to collect another finisher’s medal.

Sound a little like working as a tax accountant during tax season, or, for that matter, planning for retirement? Well, aside from the finisher’s medal, blood blisters and aching quadriceps. To be successful, all three require endurance, a little luck and the execution of a thoughtful strategy.

How often have you heard the phrase “it’s a marathon, not a sprint?” A marathon covers 26.2 miles, which may sound like a long distance, but is really not so intimidating if you have prepared properly. That preparation is generally done over a period of about 16 weeks and involves building on your previous week’s fitness, while ensuring that you eat properly and get adequate time to rest and recover. Tax season lasts about the same period of time, and though the hours are punishing we know the finish line is somewhere not too far in the distance. Veterans of many tax seasons recognize this parallel and know that little things like eating right and finding periods to regenerate- however brief- are critical to maintain your “tax-season fitness.” Those that fail to heed this message may find themselves bonking well before April 15th.

Marathon runners maintain a constant balance between rest and recovery. Athletes recognize that proper recovery is integral to the success of their race-day strategy and adjust their schedule to accommodate the need for additional sleep. Without it, they may suffer from unnecessary injuries and will never perform at their best. Tax practitioners, medical residents and others with a grueling schedule can also benefit from scheduling additional periods of rest, and, more importantly, recognizing that sleep deprivation is not a badge of honor. Remember that even a short midday nap combined with an additional 20-30 minutes of sleep at night can go a long way to helping you feel more energized and refreshed.

Emotional health and well being are also important tenants of our physical and mental health, and are especially important to focus on during periods of heightened stress. Tax professionals should recognize the importance of personal and professional relationships and take particular care to maintain them during the busy season. Understanding that you are not alone, and being supportive of colleagues and staff is foundational to creating a less stressful work environment. Taking small breaks- sometimes just a minute or two to leave a voice mail message for your spouse or partner to let them know you are thinking of them- can be helpful in maintaining some semblance of work-life balance. Finding small breaks of time during the day to take a walk, go to the gym or just get away from the office can help relieve the stress that comes from being sedentary. Goals also make for terrific motivation, so schedule that vacation in May, it will give you something to look forward to.

The analogy of marathon running and retirement planning is apt, as both clearly involve a long journey with a lot of potential for things to go awry. It can be helpful when running a marathon to think of the distance in stages and assign time goals for each stage. Retirement planning is really quite similar, except the journey is much longer, and there are many more opportunities for success, failure and redemption along the way.

We encourage clients to think of retirement in stages and assign goals for each stage. While saving for retirement, an appropriate goal may be something as simple as deferring a certain amount each year to your workplace retirement plan, taking advantage of the opportunity to partake in a Roth IRA conversion, or making certain  that you are building up a diversified pool of assets to be used in retirement. These may be measured over time and adjusted when necessary. Retirees may have different goals, such as ensuring that their retirement budget and income plan is in line with expectations, or  taking special care to withdraw their retirement funds in the most tax efficient manner possible.

Marathon running and retirement planning both involve risks, and heartwarming tales of human redemption may be associated with each. Edison Pena, a Chilean mine worker trapped for 69 days following a 2010 mine collapse, completed that year’s New York City Marathon less than a month after being rescued; Kathrine Swizer became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1967; and Richard Hoyt, a septuagenarian, has completed over 70 marathons while pushing his adult son, Dick, who suffers from cerebral palsy, in a wheelchair. Good retirement planning is unlikely to be as evocative as Richard and Dick Hoyt barreling up Boylston Street, but helps to provide the resources for us to live a meaningful and productive life, and die in a dignified manner.

It’s important to address risks- whether Shin Splints or inadequate savings with a targeted strategy.  Compression socks may offer relief for shin splints, just as deferring Social Security benefits and adjusting your spending plan may protect you from outliving your resources.

Whether you are training for your first marathon, developing a retirement plan, or looking ahead at another six long weeks of tax season, preparation is key. Starting with the end goal in mind and having a thoughtful strategy to help get you over the finish line will be the foundation of your success, or failure. Just remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

John Male, CFP®
The Gassman Financial Group
G&G Planning Concepts, Inc.
The Retirement Maven ™
9 East 40th Street, Suite 1500
New York, NY 10016
Tel: 212-221-7067 Ext. 17
Fax: 585-625-0830


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