Lessons In Endurance
What running 26.2 miles taught me about business.
On Sunday 11th October I ran my first marathon. Historically I am not a runner. I signed up for the challenge because I wanted to give something back to the fantastic hospital that treated my daughter after she had an accident at the beginning of the year. It was a personal challenge but also a very public one. I had told all of my family and friends about what I was doing in a effort to raise as much money as possible. I was then contacted by a TV production company who were interested in my story and wanted to film me training and during the race for a documentary they were making about the event. I had nowhere to hide…
I’m not going to lie and say it was easy, it was the most physically and mentally demanding thing I’ve ever done. The race and the months of preparation challenged me in ways I hadn’t expected and there were moments when I doubted that I’d be able to complete the challenge. But I did. In 4 hours 31 minutes. A time of which I am incredibly proud. The whole experience has changed me as an individual and as a business owner. It’s made me change the way I think about the challenges I face and it’s made me more determined than ever to succeed at those things that I choose to do. It was a brilliant experience. Here are the lessons I learned along the way….
Take it one step at a time
There’s nothing sexy about training for a marathon. Just like any major project with a delivery date way off in the future, the thought of achieving your goal, of crossing the finish line, is exciting and extremely appealing. However, the reality of what comes before that celebration, the journey you must go on to get there, is pretty bloody boring and full of lots and lots of hard work. I had just under nine months to train for the race and after the initial excitement of starting the project had worn off, it was very hard to find the motivation to leave the house on a cold, wet Sunday morning to go jogging for two hours. I soon discovered the importance of splitting the journey into bite-sized chunks, mini-projects or milestones that I could tick off along the way. Complete at least 2 runs a week. Run a half marathon. Run for 3 hours without stopping. All little goals within the bigger goal that gave me a sense of achievement and of forward momentum. As a result I now include milestone in all of the projects within my business which not only gives me and the team a way to measuring our progress but also helps us resist the urge to cram all of our preparation in just before the deadline. As any marathon runner will tell you, pacing is the key!
Find yourself a cheerleader
The road to success can be pretty lonely. We’re all our own biggest critics and when things start to veer slightly off track we can be pretty quick to put ourselves down. We go straight to our default negative bias. The little voice inside our heads starts telling us about all the things that we haven’t done, all the targets that we’ve missed and all the reasons that we’re sure to fail. Our ability to manage that voice, to demand that it changes its tune and starts championing us instead, can be the difference between success and failure. When “you’ve still got 6 miles to go, I hope your knees hold out” changes to “you’ve done 20 miles already, the finish line’s within reach” the difference is tangible. And it’s not only the internal voices that are important in helping us to achieve our goals. On race day I had teams of friends and family strategically placed at intervals along the route: cheering me on, waving signs and offering me jelly babies and bananas! The impact of this was huge. All of a sudden I wasn’t alone. For a couple of fleeting seconds I felt connected and part of a bigger team. Just imagine what a difference it could make in your business if you created a more positive script for yourself and regularly checked in with the people who champion you and believed in what you were trying to achieve.
With so much invested in the run and with so many people aware of what I was trying to achieve (not to mention the TV crew following me round!) giving up was never really an option. But that doesn’t mean that it didn’t cross my mind. About three weeks before the event I had to pull up short on a training run due to knee pain and I was seriously worried that my chances of racing were over. A couple of days before the run I developed a full body rash, started running a fever and was having cold sweats — I think I caught a virus — and again the doubts crept in. And the on race day itself, around the 21 mile mark, I hit the dreaded “wall” and was convinced that I’d have to give up there an then as I had no energy left and I could hardly breath. But at every hurdle I kept pushing on. Not because I believe that anything’s possible. It’s not. I’ll never win a marathon — unless I’m the only person in the field :-). The reason I kept pushing on is because I’d done my homework. I’d put in the training hours. I’d eaten the right food. I’d chosen good shoes and even better socks (essential for anyone who fancies running a marathon themselves in the future). And most importantly I’d prepared my mind to go the distance. I’d anticipated that it wouldn’t all go according to plan and I put tactics in place to cope with it. I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face. My body ached, my lungs were stinging and I had achieved my goal.
Don’t forget to celebrate
After I collected my medal I didn’t go home and start training for my next challenge. I went out to the pub to celebrate — via a long hot shower of course ;-). This may not sound extraordinary but when I compare it to what I would normally do in a business context there is a big lesson to be learned. Believe it or not, despite the fact that I’m an actor, I don’t really like being the centre of attention. So, when my wife told me that she’d invited 40 people to celebrate with us after the race I felt pretty uncomfortable. Plenty of other human beings have run a marathon, it’s really nothing that special. My default position is to swipe things under the carpet, to acknowledge my successes briefly and then move on to the next thing. But my thinking has now changed. I realised that celebrating success wasn’t just about me, it was about recognising all the people that had been part of my journey. It was about my wife and daughter who’d put up with the relentless training schedule that had eaten into our weekends and changed the contents of our fridge. It was about the friends and family who had turned up to cheer me on along the route and it was about everybody that had read my story, pledged money to the cause and sent me beautiful messages of support. Those few hours in the pub will always be really special to me. I got a chance to relive the race from a different perspective and to create even stronger bonds with my “tribe”. Successes need to be celebrated. It’s too easy to switch focus to the next big thing as soon as a goal is ticked off the list. However, unless we give ourselves the time to enjoy our wins, we miss an important moment for reflection and connection that sets us up for continued success in the future.
I am now a runner. I’m not sure where it will take me next and I’m pretty sure I won’t be going full marathon distance in the foreseeable future, however, I do know that the experiences I have had over the last 9 months will have an impact for many years to come.
What have you learned from your recent challenges? What will you do differently in the future? I’d love to hear your thoughts.