What Endurance Running Teaches You About Business
Many metaphors can be used in business. I like the lessons from endurance running because they contain everything you get in everyday business…
To Start You Must Enter the Race
In December 2013, I entered a 50km Ultra on the Gold Coast where competitors run from Kurrawa to Duranbah and back. This course is basically flat and whilst it’s in the heat of an Australian Summer, you do get to start early in the morning before the sun really punishes you. The killer part of the course is not so much the heat, but the incredibly steep hill you need to go over and down the back side of at the 25km mark, only to make the turn and come straight back over it. Congratulations… you’re half way!
Lesson # 1 – You Decided To. You choose to enter a race just as you choose to go into business. Stop complaining when you see a big hill. That’s part of the challenge. It’s part of what you signed up for. A 50km race is not easy. Neither is your first million in business. You have to endure. You have to climb some big hills only to realise you are half way home. No bitching about it because if it was easy, everyone would sign up.
Fuel in the Tank
On the home stretch, my stomach played havoc with me. This can happen in endurance racing. Some days are just a breeze and everything goes great. You feel good. You run well. Stomach handles the electrolytes and nutrition well. Other days… it does not!
Here’s the big problem with this dilemma…
Even when you’re stomach is upset, you feel like you want to vomit, maybe you do – you can’t stop putting fuel in.
If you spew, you spew. Get over it. And keep going. Marathons are short and over in 3-4 hours. You can survive on minimal nutrition in comparison. But the longer the journey of an Ultra, the more you must keep fuelling your body. Just like a car, no fuel, no go!
At about the 35km mark, I knew I got my nutrition out of whack. Too much fluid, not enough electrolytes. I could feel it. The sharp pains and sloshing of water in my stomach was telling me to do something about it. The great thing about this race is that it’s along total beach front so every few kilometres you are running past a Surf Club.
As I approached Tugun, I pulled into the Kiosk facing the beach and asked for some salt. Poured a good tablespoon or two into my bottle of water, swirled up my cloudy water and began. Salt empties the sloshing in your stomach quickly, pushing fluid back into your bloodstream and ultimately your muscles. Doesn’t taste real flash but it works. Once again, I was off and running.
Lesson # 2 – Add the Right Fuel. In business, you simply must put in the time, energy and money to succeed. Just because times get tough, you have to be tougher. And can’t lose focus and shift your energy to other projects as a distraction or pull away from the fight. You have to embrace the pain sometimes and put more in. Make the extra effort. Raise more capital if that’s what’s required – make it happen and refuse to be sidelined by anything or anyone. Think of your business as an engine that needs fuel. And fuel it with the best resources (nutrition) available. Working with cheaper, inexperienced people can give you a pain in the stomach (sometimes referred to as a “pain in the ass!”).
Lesson # 3 – Get Over the Hump. Sometimes you’ll get your biggest obstacles, half way through a project, a launch or a major deal. Just remember that what goes up, must come down. Experienced runners don’t talk to others when running up hill. They know it pushes their heart rate up and as the heart rate goes up, so does lactic acid levels. If conserved properly on the uphill, good runners have the freedom in their legs to pick up their cadence (steps per minute) on the downhill and make up incredible time. Inexperienced runners or runners who get the uphill wrong, have legs full of lactic and the downhills hurt too with heavy legs that can’t get going again.
Uphill is the time to shut your mouth and dig in. Keep moving forward. You will make it over the mountain. Do it with patience and reserve and you will pick up the pace on the downhill. Burn yourself out getting over the mountain and you’ll need to sleep it off for a week and won’t maintain any momentum when you come out of your business funk.
Lesson # 4 – Ask for Help. Difficult challenges sometimes require help from someone else. Don’t be too proud or afraid to ask. People share in your success when you allow them to help you. It adds to your success and makes your achievements feel more special than if you just do it all by yourself. It’s a little counter-intuitive to the independent personalities, but you can learn a lot from the humbleness of Endurance Athletes. It’s a community of people who will hand you a sandwich in the middle of a mountain range if you need it more than they do. Which I think means remember to give in return.
With legs hurting like hell in the final 10kms, I passed a one legged man with a prosthetic limb out walking his dog. I’m not one to complain too much anyway because I truly love to race, compete and test myself. But in that moment, when all I could think about was the pain in my legs, I was given a slap in the face of what real pain might be like as I could not even imagine what this man had been through. I smiled. Said G’day. And promised myself I would never complain about my legs hurting in a race ever again!
Approaching the finish line is always a mixture of excitement and anticipation. It’s easy to get excited and rush which can be disastrous if your mind is seeing the finish line before your body is actually there. Sometimes the pain is so great, no matter how close you are, the finish line looks a million miles away. Sometimes that sniff of the finish line is enough to lift your spirits and body to finish with a spring you didn’t know you had. It’s a strange phenomenon.
On this warm December day, I won’t lie, I was feeling it.
My stomach was doing backflips and I can only blame myself for not getting my nutrition right. Minor miscalculation, heavy price to pay.
When your in a world of hurt, sometimes all you want is the sight of a familiar face, a loved one to lift your spirits to know you are not alone.
800 metres from the finish line I was greeted by my beautiful “bride-to-be” who had ran the 15km race earlier that day. She was running toward me as I was some 50 minutes behind where I wanted to be that day. Seeing her face and having her run the last 800 with me was the most beautiful icing on the cake a man could want.
We approached the line together and she let me cross and enjoy the moment on my own. It is one to savour. I never get tired of that feeling when crossing the line. It might seem strange to some to go through so much pain and effort for that final feeling of satisfaction.
Lesson # 5 – Be grateful you get to do this. Some don’t have the opportunity to even participate in the game you get to play every day. And even though it may be hard sometimes, remember those who don’t get that choice and be grateful.
Lesson # 6 – Keep your composure until the jobs done. Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched or spend the money until you’ve made. Don’t celebrate until you cross the line. You can smile about it, enjoy it, but stay focussed until the jobs done. You don’t want to twist an ankle with 1km to go.
Lessons # 7 – We all need someone to lift our spirits. A stranger can help in the most amazing way but there is nothing like the unconditional love and support of someone you love.
People often ask me, “Is it fun? Why do you do it?” The way I see it is this…
It’s not supposed to fun. It’s supposed to be fulfilling. When challenged with uncertainty, pain, thoughts of failure, the chance of an amazing success – you somehow find a way to push through. That’s a feeling that gets encoded in your DNA.
My Dad once told me, “You don’t know how to fail”. I think he’s right. But it took me years to train myself to know how. You can always find a way. Even if you are ground to a halt. You can take a deep breath and start walking again. Soon you’ll feel better and be able to run again. Either way, the attitude of “I’m not stopping until I cross that line” – that’s the spirit of an Endurance Runner.