About running, money and life: lessons from Stu Mittleman

Do you know who Stu Mittleman is? I didn’t either but then a close friend, colleague and running buddy of mine told me about something called ‘slow burn’. Here, I would like to save you the bother of searching the internet for ‘slow burn’ – Wikipedia just told me there are three movies, five songs and a Canadian rock band called that. As to Stu Mittleman, he is one of the greatest ultra distance runners ever!

Long standing readers know that I am a runner; my distance is marathons and I have done some rather spectacular ones, like the Loch Ness Marathon, for instance – lovely, hard as hell and at the end I got some cans of Baxter’s soup and pickled onions in the goody bag. Can’t beat this one, really; except if your dream is to run an ultra marathon.

Here Stu Mittleman and his book – Slow Burn – come into the picture. It presents a system for running ultra distances free of injury. Stu’s system is a result of his long experience and successful running record, and several decades of research (yes, he has couple of research degrees). However, he has managed to keep it simple while providing detailed advice on everything: starting with mindset, through buying shoes, breathing and structure, to eating plans and supplements. Absolutely terrific for aspiring, middle aged, ultra distance runners like me. In a nutshell, the message of the book (and the core of the training programme) boils down to the following:

‘Know where you are in the breathing cycle and ditch sugar!’

But why am I writing this on a personal finance blog, you may ask. Well, two reasons really: one, it is my blog so I can indulge myself from time to time; and second, and more seriously, it hit me that the rules of ultra distance running, life and money management are in the main identical. Don’t believe me? Let’s start with translating the key message into a money management one:

‘Know your numbers and ditch liabilities!’

Still have reservations? OK, have a look at the table below:

Stu Mittleman’s running messages

Life and money management messages
You can do more than you think! You are more resourceful than you think!
Treat your body as your partner! Treat your money as you partner!
Be the master of your own fate Be the master of your own fate
Stay in the moment Stay in the moment
Have the courage to stick with your plan Have the courage to stick with your plan
Buy a shoe fit not a shoe size Assess your budget for fit not for size
Structure leads to freedom Structure leads to freedom
Training buddy: heart rate monitor Money management buddy: budgeting spreadsheet
Change your diet; change your life Change your spending; change your life


I really hope this doesn’t look farfetched – as you can see, I didn’t even have to translate some of these messages.

This aside, however, I would like to draw your attention to three specific lessons that apply equally to endurance running and to money management (apart from the fact that the former results in physical health and the latter in financial health).

Races always end!

In the book, Stu Mittleman shares a story about an ultra event (six day race where he averaged over 70 miles per day). He was truly in ‘the dip’ – he was feeling tired, everything hurt and the prospect of giving up was really alluring. More interesting, though, was that his head was saying ‘this will never end’ and despair was setting in.

In the midst of it all, a veteran ultra runner approached him and said:

‘I know, we all think that races will never end, but you know they always do. So, instead of worrying about the end focus on this minute! And in this minute all you have to do is continue running.’

This really struck a chord with me; and not only because my head starts telling me similar things at about 17 miles. But also because when at the end of the first year of paying off our debt I looked at my spreadsheet and there was still so much more left to pay all I could do to keep going was to think about the end; and to imagine how wonderful it would be when we finally got there.

You know what? It is true; races always end – be it debt repayment, trying time at work or an endurance run. Heck, the race of life ends – and the best we can do is to enjoy the present.

Structure leads to freedom

Don’t be alarmed – this is not about subduing creativity and spontaneity. It is about developing patterns and following them. In endurance events it is the alteration between power walking and running. This one works – I have tried. Almost every day for the last three weeks or so the good people of South Manchester see a middle aged, slightly over-weight woman alternating between walking fast and running slowly. What they were really looking at was me – a well built woman in her prime – in training for my first ultra marathon.

And you know what? If you walk fast and run slowly for a long time and every day you really get far.

Structure is the fundament of life. Regularity is in the basis of paying off debt, building immense wealth, writing books, building a successful career, developing skills and competencies, sports…you name it.

It is all about consistent energy flows

You may be wondering what is this about ditching sugar. It is simple really: very small proportion of our energy comes from sugar and it is to feed our brain and nervous system in emergency. The real wealthy source of energy is fat. However, we run on sugar most of the time – it is a combination between maintaining high intensity in all we do (and stress) and eating sugar which is easy to transform into energy. We pay by having highs and lows of energy and needing to run to the sweets machine at work every couple of hours or so.

Maintaining low intensity and ditching sugar is the way to train our bodies to burn fat and we burn fat at low, continuous and constant intensity. This is the ‘slow burn’!

It is rather obvious how creating a wealthy source of energy (resources including money) is vital for ensuring that our lives are brimming full of meaning and joy. You don’t have to be rich – you just have to develop a constant source of resources.


You have probably already guessed that Stu Mittleman’s book (Slow Burn: burn fat faster by exercising slower) really spoke to me and it did so not only because I am a runner but because it conveys messages reaching far beyond that. I believe reading it can be useful to anybody – and if you end up a runner the benefits would be even greater.


9 thoughts on “About running, money and life: lessons from Stu Mittleman”

  1. I try to maintain my energy by eating more often, but smaller meals.  My approach with finances is to plan as much as possible.  Planning seems to avoid many of the mishaps because I think through my decisions in advance.  By planning, I think I make better decisions and avoids the ups and downs that can happen if you do not plan.

    1. @Krant: According to Stu (who is rapidly becoming the most senior authority in my life :)) this matters but what makes most difference to out health and energy is ditching sugar and eating the right fats.

  2. My whole life I never had a plan, just fly by the seat of my pants. I am not sure how, but I raised a family and all of them are good, decent kids with a life of their own. Now is when I need a plan – for the next phase of my life. I am not sure how, but I will get to live the life I want because that is what I have done so far. Yes there have been problems and disappointments – but I have always had a strong belief that things will work out – it’s what keeps me going. That and reading wise words from people like you! I see  the wisdom of having a plan I am just not so good at sticking with it.  I believe that a higher being/the universe will provide what I want. Not very realistic to some but it works for me.

    1. @Helen: I am so pleased to hear you sound so contented; and don’t worry about the plan. People would have you believe that having a plan is something grand and hard but in fact even doing things ‘flying by the seat of your pants’ is a form of plan. Also, a good plan is like a worn out shoe – it changes as your life does.

  3. Powerful prose! There are SO many correlations between goal achievement (really the purpose of good money management, isn’t it?) and long distance running it makes me giggle….mostly because I love both topics….
    Money management IS a marathon and e hrdest part of being human is struggling with those dips….I have to constantly remind myself “This won’t last forever!” when I think of the problem-of-the-moment.

    1. @Joe: Ha, ha! The mile seventeen sympthoms. Every time I run a marathon I think: I don’t want to do this any longer, it’ll never finish. Then I think – yeah but there are only nine miles left. Strange people, us long distance runners. Come damn handy when building wealth.

  4. I love this so. What a great analogy. I eat small meals through out the day and drink a lot of water. It seems to work well. I also track my workouts. With finances I do the same. I track things so I know where I am at and make sure I am doing things regularly to keep my balances healthy.

    1. @Miss T: Yeah, fitness is financial health in reverse, I believe :). I need to do something about it but the habits have to be changed one by one.

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