The pensions industry could learn a lot from marathons, finds Richard Butcher, managing director of PTL

It was, in case you didn’t notice, the London Marathon the other Sunday. I’ve never done it myself but I have run other marathons and endurance events. I know what it feels like.

Marathon

At the start you are uncertain, a little nervous, the butterflies flit around your gut “why am I doing this”. The tension mounts as you approach that first formal step and then, almost unnoticed, you are across the start line and the tension goes. You are there. It is real. You feel it, smell it, are living it - and it’s not as bad as you thought it might be.

The early stages are okay. You feel youthful and energetic. There’s little to worry about – other than the long haul ahead which you put out of your mind by distracting yourself with all that is new and exciting around you.

The early mid stages are also okay. The euphoria is waning but you feel good. You get into a rhythm. One step at a time. Inexorable. Relentless. Strong. Perhaps even bemused.

 Run, Richard, Run!

Richard-Butcher-marathon

You get towards the middle of the route. You knew this would be long haul but there is now a slight niggle of pain. This is tougher than you thought and yet you have not yet done nearly enough. You are only half way. It takes mental strength now.

The motivation can’t come from the end goal – that’s too distant – instead it must come from nearer goals. The next milestone. Fractions of the journey one at a time.

Immediate not deferred gratification is what keeps you going.

Three quarters of the way there and now it is proper tough. The price of this effort, this sacrifice, is really telling. You ache from the effort. Even though surrounded by others doing the same as you, your pain, your effort, your sacrifice seems uniquely great. No one can be feeling as bad as you can they?

Now the end is almost in sight. Almost but not quite. At every point your head is shouting at you to stop and, if you are lucky, its voice is drowned by the louder shout of your heart “keep going. You’ve come this far. You can do it. You will do it. Look at the next milestone. Count them down. Keep going”.

And then, there it is. The line. The finish. The end. The result of this turmoil and sacrifice. A price worth paying? Now, or at least as you cross the line, yes, emphatically yes. There is glory. You have done it. You have achieved a feat of endurance you thought yourself incapable of before this all began.

Anyway, that’s enough about the pain and joy of pension saving. I was going to talk about marathons.

The thing with marathons is that they run well (if you’ll excuse the pun) if they are well organised, if there are competent people behind the scenes competently taking the operational stuff out of the hands of the competitors: the setting out the course and marshalling people in the right direction. Doing the stuff the competitors aren’t even aware needs doing and, even if they were aware, that they wouldn’t know how to do.

They, marathons, are also made far easier if there are crowds along the way cheering you on. They raise the spirits and remind you that there is a purpose to what you are doing. They keep you going.

In fact, now I think of it, there are probably a few things we in the pensions industry could learn from a marathon. Let us line the streets of the savings journey with cheers, clapping and jelly babies.

Richard Butcher is an independent trustee and the managing director of PTL