Remaining on the athletics theme after looking at Emil Zátopek and interval training last week I thought it was a good fit this week to talk a little of my own experiences, specifically that of the Marathon. And for those of you running the London Marathon this Sunday, the very best of luck!
I’m an experienced runner, having started intensive training and competitive racing at age 13. I've raced around the world, trained with some top athletes, learned a lot, and achieved a reasonable amount of success as a non-professional.
For one reason or another it took me a quarter century to debut at the marathon. I’m a novice marathon runner, completing my first in San Sebastian in November 2015 and my second in Barcelona in March.
My running friends always said the marathon was unique. I listened each time I heard this, but probably never truly believed – it took me over 25 years to find out for myself after all. And I have simply been blown away by the sheer richness of the marathon as a total experience.
Of course you have the discipline of the training, the pain and effort of the race, and the human connectedness that comes from a massive participation event. But I would argue that these things can be applied to many forms of sport. Here, I want to present my view on four aspects I believe to be highly unique to the marathon and applicable to our lives in business.
1.Keep calm when things aren't going well
In San Sebastian I had a bad patch just after half-way. In the Barcelona Marathon I felt terrible during the first 10km. In the marathon, no matter how well prepared you are, you will always have that ‘bad patch’. The key is not to panic, assess why it is happening and action accordingly. Is it a physical injury? Is it fuel-related? Is it simply mental?
A business life is of course a rollercoaster experience. I think the Charles Swindoll quote applies well here:
“10% of life is what happens to you, the other 90% is how you react to it.”
We all experience difficulties at some point or another. Simply acknowledging the “we”, that you are not alone in experiencing testing times, is, I believe, helpful in itself. And these testing times will pass. Stay true to yourself, do the things you do, and do them well.
In San Sebastian it was the fear of the unknown since I had never competitively raced beyond the half-marathon distance. I told myself that running a 1:30 split for the second half (which would allow me to comfortably achieve my objective of running sub-3 hours) was a relatively easy target for me. In Barcelona the problem was pre-race over-hydration (in other words I was bursting for a pee!, not as easy to diagnose when running at pace as one would think). I kept calm, looked for an opportunity to stop that would minimize lost time, and maintained my pace plan until then.
2. A good spell will come, be ready to take advantage
In the same way that you will always experience a bad spell in a marathon, there will be times when you have ‘good legs’ and feel comfortable. Such energy may come from the crowd or food you eat. It could be a following wind or downhill stretch of the course. Maybe it is just the simple complete immersion of yourself in the activity where you stretch your ability and find flow.
Many believe there is no such thing as luck. That it is simply the collision of opportunity and preparedness. Opportunities do come, often unexpectedly. Are you prepared? Just as important is recognizing the good times when they are there. Perhaps you take advantage in terms of a business deal or calculated risk, or you simply fully appreciate what you have.
In both Marathons I used the energy from the crowd and from the food I was consuming to up my pace a little, or simply correct my running form. As I become more competitive in the Marathon I hope to exploit that energy for competitive race tactics. To date, I have been attentive or mindful of these good moments. Just as important is that I always believe there to be a good moment to come.
3. Fuel consistently
Running the marathon has been my first experience of having to fuel during a running race. In competitive cycling and multisport I would take on plenty of fluids and gels but in running I never took it seriously, whether that was for 5km, 10km or half-marathon races. Drinking and eating while running at pace isn’t easy to do, but it is essential for the marathon.
Where do you get your energy from? How do you re-fuel after the exertions of a demanding daily professional career? This could regard eating the right foods of course, or it could be investing in your personal life, also considering recovery as a means of replenishing those reserves. In the short term, just as like a 5km or 10km race, it doesn’t matter, you will last the course. But in the longer term something will give. Just as in the early stages of a marathon you don’t fuel for performance in that moment, it is with a view to your performance later. So in your business life how do you fuel so as to sustain your professional performance?
I have still to perfect my marathon fuelling strategy. In both marathons to date I have taken on water at all stations, carefully controlled isotonic drink intake to minimize stomach issues, and taken a gel each 8-10km. There is room for improvement, especially on the best means of carrying those gels and I plan to practice more specificity in training.
4. Don’t automatically buy in to other people’s reality, make your own
What’s the big thing you hear from any colleagues or friends who have run the marathon? Watch out for hitting the wall! You’re dead at 30km! There is sound physiological science for this but I would guess the majority of Marathon runners who suffer at 30km are accepting other people’s reality. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I often tell my classes the importance of challenging conventional wisdom. Who constructs the world that we live in? Where (and more importantly who) does truth come from? Tobacco, saturated fat, eggs. Societal views often change markedly over time. How many ‘truths’ have subsequently been debunked? Find your own truth. At the very least never stop questioning the facts that are presented to you.
In both Marathons I was very tired at 30km, but I wasn’t going to passively accept a reduction in performance. In Barcelona in particular I attacked at 30km and had some of my fastest km splits of the race.
And those are my four marathon ‘life and business takeaways.’ I’m still a novice however and looking forward to thinking more deeply on this in my future ‘field’ experiences. My next planned Marathon is Valencia in November. For those of you interested in times, I ran 2:54 in San Sebastian, 2:41 in Barcelona and am targeting 2:34 in Valencia.