Ragnar relay, Nashville TN — 2013

It’s 4am, 39 Degrees and I am Running All Alone…

Learning About Yourself By Volunteering

Who does this — freezing cold, alone on a country road, no sleep, wild animals all around ? I’m talking about running with a team two-hundred miles across Tennessee, or as it is more well known, the Ragnar Relay.

About the Race

Hundreds of teams of twelve runners signup (many naively) to be part of one of largest long distance relay races in the country. It may only take twenty to thirty hours to complete, but heading into the unknown makes it seem like a whole lot longer, compounded by the fact that there is little sleep and no privacy. And then there is the running. Each runner runs three different legs of the thirty-six legged relay varying in distances from one to ten miles.

The Story & My Learnings

I had pre-determined my mile pace average for the length of the entire relay to be ten minutes — given I knew I would not have the time to train properly, this was a good goal for me. My responsibilities for this year were as follows: 5.7 miles moderate, 6.1 miles easy and 6.7 miles hard — a far stretch from the two to three mile jogs I would take through the neighborhood every week. While I was in the final of my three legs, which also happened to be my longest, hardest, earliest and loneliest legs of the race, I had time to reflect. What I learned during that time about myself and my teammates was far more valuable than any other individual race outcome in my past. Below are just a few of my thoughts.

Expect Others to Amaze You
The number of stories of my personal amazement is staggering during these thirty hours — a few examples:

  • We had teammates plagued with injury and others swooped in, without hesitation, taking over their mileage
  • A few rose to their pinnacle in competition, blowing away their pace goals of 7:45/mile and dropping their time to 5:40/mile
  • People who had never run before (ever) suddenly were running four mile legs with relative ease, earning respect of friends and family

These are just a few examples, but I encourage you to take the following tip to heart every day…

In life, do not expect people to let you down. Expect them to amaze you. When you present them with the opportunity, you will be surprised by what they are capable of.

Don't Underestimate Yourself
I thought I could only muster up the strength for ten minute miles. I was afraid of using too much energy and not being able to complete all the distances I had promised. I was afraid to let others down. I did not believe in myself. But before I could run my first leg, the stories from our teams were trickling in: overcoming pain, giving the clothes of their backs to other runners, inspiring performances and an overall sense of joy in competing with friends and co-workers. When I got out of the van to run my first leg, I made a conscious decision to not let my negative thoughts cloud my mission — and that mission was to run, to be happy and to make my team proud. I did not run olympic speed, but by simply believing in myself I dropped my average pace almost ninety seconds per mile and had a great time doing it. And not surprisingly, no one was watching my time but me — they cheered for and motivated me all the same.

Culture & Friendship are Surprising Gifts
There is more to a job than work. Change Healthcare (my employer) sponsored twenty-four employees to compete in the relay. Runners self selected their teams, distances and expected running paces. What we did not choose was the exact people we were going to spend the next thirty hours in a van with (it was based on the distances you chose to run). And that is one of the things that made it so amazing — you go in with one set of expectations for the event and thoughts on the people you are running with, and come out of it with a whole new perspective.

So about our company. No one required them to pay for the event (my estimate is that it cost about $350 per person, so around $8000 plus a day off of work for those 24 people and another 6 volunteers, so lets call it another $8000 or almost $16000 in total). No one required the twenty-four people to take part not only in the race, but in the months of training leading up to it. For the people that participated, there was so much more at work that had been set in motion six years prior when the company was being created, and that is culture. An organization and it’s culture grows organically, and ours is a culture of excellence, giving, volunteering, athleticism, gratitude and of lifting up your coworkers to excel. You can not put a dollar amount on that or the value of friendships formed when challenging times are presented in work and in play.

Don't Be Afraid to Volunteer
I read a great article recently and unfortunately have not been able to find it again to reference, but it talked about the following:

The benefits of volunteering — learning, growing, having fun, giving back and being seen as a leader — have larger impacts on your life than you can imagine. NEVER be afraid to raise your hand, especially if you have no idea what is about to happen!

As I was running the idea of volunteering became burned in my head. The runners from our company had all volunteered to run, to train, to drive, to not sleep and to support each other. The things I learned about others and the respect that grew for my co-volunteers as I finished my last run was heartwarming to say the least, life changing to be more specific.

So now, the lesson perhaps and the meaning of the subtitle of this article,”Learning About Yourself By Volunteering”. By volunteering to train and race a two-hundred mile race with coworkers I grew. My mind, body and soul were nourished. My pride swelled and I was filled with joy. And I can only hope the same was true for my teammates. There is so much more to this story that is hard to put into words, but let me just summarize:

  • Expect others to amaze you and they will
  • Never underestimate yourself
  • Don't be afraid to volunteer, you will miss an opportunity to grow
  • Culture is everything at work and in your personal life
  • Don't let your fears stop you from learning or exploring
What are you volunteering for today?