In-Between the Pages: Everything I Learned About Leadership I Learned from Distance Running

Howl at the Moon Ultra (Photo: Shawn Ward)

To be fair I didn’t learn everything about leadership from distance running, not really. But, it’s a great story to start off with and definitely applies to how to tackle work/life challenges.

I’ve been a distance runner for almost 4 years. Started with the 5k, then to the 10k, and now half marathons. It won’t be long before I break into marathons and I want to in my lifetime achieve a ultra marathon which is north of 32+ miles. There is four major components to any great run. There is preparation and start, there is what happens during the run, there is the Blerch or wall to deal with closer to the end, and finally there is the learning after you complete the journey.

The start is one of the biggest things. A bad start is really hard to come back from. You will want to spend a lot of time visualizing the run. Look at the course, how far you want to run, is there any elevation in the course, and lastly what’s the weather going to be like during the race? Visualizing what it will be like, what can get in the way, and how you would like to see yourself/team finish is a key to creating the plan to even get there. For example, visualizing what headwinds you will have to battle through might will be great to know ahead of time so you/team don’t get knocked off the mark. Thinking how those headwinds might play out now can give you the edge to get through them before they even happen. Makes you less reactionary and more prepared.

The run and being present as well as poised while in it is just as important as the start and end. Taking the time to be present as you run is super critical. You have to listen to your body and shut as much out as you can around you. Running your own race is important, especially as others pass you, you are going to want to speed up. Don’t, set your pace for yourself and keep it. As it applies to your work/life you will also need to be present. You will need to have a great perspective on how you/team are tracking, how you/they feel, and how you yourself are in tune with the journey. Remember, in most cases slow and steady wins the race. Nothing that kills a race to the top faster than a burn out from working to hard or because you lost perspective by not being present through out the journey.

Endurance to push through, not losing momentum also is important. The Blerch or wall will come in any great race. The Blerch is described by Matthew Inman in his book The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances as:

“A fat little cherub who follows me when I run. He is a wretched, lazy beast. He tells me to slow down, to walk, to quit.”

You can call it the Blerch or hitting the wall, everyone has one. It will take everything you have left to finish as you leave everything you have on the table. One thing I learned when that Blerch is coming after me, I smile, a lot. Smiling takes a lot less energy to accomplish then scrunching my face up or frowning. Your team is going to be looking for you to be calm and collected during the storming phase. You have to be their strength and an example of not quitting. I took a quote and tweaked it a little. I adopted it as my mantra that I will often remind myself of to keep me moving in life:

The only worthwhile goal I’ve ever found in life is the one where I try to beat the best version of myself.

You have run the good race and now it is time to assess. What can you learn from it? Where the shoes the problem? Did you not drink enough water? Did you pick the wrong coach? The end whether we made it or not tells a story. What can you learn from it for next time or for next steps? It’s important at this part of the journey to really take the good/bad, get all the feedback you can from those that were a part of the journey, and schedule a time out before you move on to pen it out. You don’t want to be doomed to repeat your mistakes and you want to know if you can do it better for the next round.

To recap, no matter what race you are in personally these four things can make you more successful if used:

1) Take time to visualize the win, zoom out to see the whole picture making a plan to win from it.
2) During the run be present. Your team will need you to give them the right answers, direction, and perspective to get through.
3) Be calm and ready for the wall or Blerch to come. Have a plan to work through it. Reference point number two above, without being present you will never see this coming which will make it harder to beat.
4) What can you learn about your journey once it is over? Take a time out, assess, and look for room to improve for the next time.

I hope you all have a great week and one where you learn something incredible about your potential. Thanks for reading!

- Shawn

Originally published at

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