My husband Tom is a runner; he has been for 30+ years. He does marathons and half marathons all over the world. He’s the kind of weirdo who wakes up at 4am to go run 10 miles on a random Tuesday. And he actually enjoys it. Yea, I don’t get it either.
How Running a Race is like Running a Business
So I sort of married into the running life. I love attending the pre-race expos… fit people, shopping, motivation, cute outfits… I mean, how often do we choose hobbies because of the outfits, #amIright?
I signed up for my first running event early in our marriage – a 5K, and slowly worked myself up to 10Ks and half marathons. Apparently I thought going out for a casual 13.1 mile run would be “fun.” Mmhmm. It wasn’t. Anyway, the first half marathon didn’t kill me, and much like giving birth and completely forgetting the pain of childbirth as soon as the newborn is in your arms, I kept going. 5Ks, 10Ks, and the occasional half marathons for the next decade.
For 13 years of marriage, we’ve planned our vacations around running events. So this past February when we did the Disney Princess half marathon in Orlando, someone said “you know, if you do the Disneyland Paris half marathon in 2019, you’ll also get the ‘Castle to Chateau’ challenge medal!” Maybe I was still on my post-race “just gave birth and got the medal” high, but I said “sure! Sign me up!” Then I found out that if you do the 5K, 10K AND half marathon in the same weekend, you’ll get two extra challenge medals! Three runs, six medals. Well DUH! Sign me UP! Never mind that I’ve never done three running events back to back… never mind that I have asthma and a bad back… never mind that I don’t actually enjoy running. I could get MEDALS! I’m highly motivated by the bling.
Fast forward to September, and suddenly we’re in Paris.
Tom was in corral C, because he’s fast. I was in corral D, because I’m well… not. The 5K (3.1 miles) was pretty easy. The 10K (6.2 miles), harder, but not impossible. Both weave through the Disney parks, in and out of the back lots, lots of character photo stops, lots of amazing scenery, and they are untimed runs. Meaning, they don’t adhere to the usual Disney rule of maintaining a 16-minute mile pace. I listened to my Spotify playlists, a few episodes of “The Good Place” on Netflix, and kept trudging along at my leisurely 18-minute mile pace. Extra Strength Tylenol kept my back and legs working, but as soon as I stopped they all stiffened up into tangled knots of pain.
I dreaded the half marathon.
After the 10K, I took a three-hour nap, and woke up with hips and legs so sore that I worried I would quite literally hurt myself at the next race.
Tom joked that I waddled like a penguin, walking to the starting corral at 6:30am on the third day.
My inner voice fought me the whole walk to the starting line.
“You’re not going to make it.”
“Why are you even doing this?”
“You’re going to get swept.”
“You aren’t even a runner.”
“You can’t maintain a 16-minute pace.”
“You’re going to have to tell everyone you failed.”
“You should have trained more.”
“If you lost 30 pounds you might actually be able to do this.”
The half marathon started, and I started doing intervals. 3 minutes of walking, followed by 30 seconds of jogging. Rinsed and repeated for the first 6 miles. The blood started flowing, the pain meds kicked in, and I felt okay. Disney tunes kept me entertained, which corresponded nicely to the Disney scenery. My split pace was 15:30 per mile. I was actually doing it! Never mind that old ladies and children were passing me on both sides.
Until mile 9 when I hit a metaphorical wall. I could almost feel the actual crash. A physical shift happened in my body. Headache, nausea, hips start to throb, calves start to scream with every pound on the pavement. Four more miles of this magical adventure until I can die in peace, clutching my stupid medal.
It was then then I started composing the mindset manifesto that I would share when I finished. Because at that moment, I realized that running a race is exactly like running a business. In fact, I'm starting to believe that’s the nefarious reason they call it “running” a business.
At that moment, I had two choices. Give up and quit at the next medical tent, or push through to the finish line and the medal. Not to mention, I’ve already publicized that we’re two runs into this adventure, and people are now following the story. Can I really admit that I gave up? Clearly, I only had one choice. Because once you’re in active labor, the only way out, is to keep pushing. Literally.
So I kept going, and used the time to mentally compose a list of 29 Reasons Running a Race is like Running a Business.
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Here we go.
- Keep your goal front and center – whether it’s time, money, recognition, or bling.
- My goal was to get the medal. I paid for it, I flew over an ocean to get it, and no damn way I was going to go home without it. Whether your goal is financial, recognition, bling, or something else, keep it front and center.
- Publicly declare your goal, so you have public accountability.
- Public accountability is a big motivator. Whether you tell your team, your partner, spouse or friend, or post publicly on Facebook, tell someone. You will feel obligated to post updates. People will be invested in your progress, and you won’t want to tell them you gave up.
- Find a coach who will help you improve your technique.
- I used an app to help with my training program, that guided me on how much to do each day leading up to the run. Whether you invest in formal business coaching or free resources, or do private or group training, find something that will help you improve on specific aspects that will improve your speed, efficiency, or delivery of your goal.
- You will improve with training and practice.
- Obvious right? But how often do we start a business task, and get frustrated because we’re not experts yet. Same reason I didn’t start a run and immediately come in first place.
- The first step is the hardest.
- Why? Because you have to get over all the fears and anxieties to actually step up to the starting line. My mindset did everything it could to keep me from starting the half marathon. But once that first step is complete, the momentum pushes you forward and keeps you moving. The first step is the one that most people don’t even take. So if you’ve already passed the first step, you’re already in the race. Keep going.
- Find a pacing partner.
- A pacing partner can be formal or informal, or may not even know they are. It’s someone who is working at the same pace as you – same or similar goal, same or similar tasks, a healthy cooperative competitor. I paced myself against the lady in front of me with the Tinkerbell costume. I’d fall behind her when walking, then catchup when I did my 30 second interval run. She had no idea she was pulling me behind her.
- Surround yourself with people who have the same motivations. Their energy will push you to go faster and further.
- There is nothing quite like the energy of a pre-race crowd. Whether you find that energy at team events, in Facebook groups, or with your friends and family, turn that energy into action. You’ll be inspired to keep pace with those going faster than you. Surround yourself with people who have the same motivations to raise you up, not pull you down.
- Track and celebrate incremental milestones.
- I had three running events. After the 5K and 10K, we treated ourselves to ice cream. But 13.1 miles is a longer distance. So I broke it down and tracked my completion by 10% increments. 1.3 miles – 10% done! 2.6 miles – 20% done! I also tracked progress by each 22-minute episode of “The Good Place” I was listening to. “Three more episodes and I’ll be done and can have ice cream!” Whatever your goal is, break it down into smaller chunks. Got 50 follow-ups to do? Want to sponsor 10 people? Celebrate the mini milestones of every five. Treat yourself to ice cream.
- Get the right equipment.
- The right shoes, the right video camera, the right lighting, the right training, will make a difference in your performance.
- The last five miles are really hard.
- You’ll want to quit. You’ll be in pain. You’ll be sick of the bored repetition. You’ll think of 1000 other things you’d rather be doing. You’ve already achieved some progress, and can look back and feel pride in what’s already done. At this point you might be tempted to say “it’s OK, I’ve done enough.” No, you haven’t, keep going. Dig deep and remember why you started.
- There will be people who are faster than you. In fact, someone may even finish before you have a chance to start.
- There will always be people out there faster than you, succeeding faster, earning faster. They’re not you, they’re not in your race. There may even be people who cross the finish line before you have a chance to start your own run. Don’t let it distract you from your own race ahead of you.
- Stay in your lane.
- There will be people passing you, and you’ll question whether you can even do this. “How is that lady passing me, and hasn’t even broken a sweat? Is she smiling? I hate her. But her costume is cute. Okay, maybe I’ll pace off her.” Stay in your own lane, but be aware of others on the road. They could become your pacing partner or your motivation.
- Feed off the energy of the crowd.
- Disney is smart. The first part of all three runs take you immediately through the crowded parks, where people are cheering, smiling, high-fiving all along the route. It gets you pumped up early, when you still have all your motivation and energy. Use that to your advantage and allow it to push you forward. Keep going.
- Front load your effort when the work is easier.
- The beginning of the race is easier than the end of the race. You’re excited, the crowd is excited, you still have your energy and goal clear in your mind, and your pace will be faster. Use that extra energy to gain momentum and advantage, so when you lose steam at the back end you can maintain your overall average, and complete your task on time.
- If your circle doesn’t cheer when you pass, find a new circle.
- When you publicly celebrate your milestones and successes, watch who cheers for you and who doesn’t. Your tribe should want you to succeed. The final post from our runs was my highest engaging Facebook post in ages. That tells me I have the right support crew behind me.
- Don’t underestimate the power of a cute outfit.
- You know that the right outfit makes you feel like a million bucks. Doesn’t matter if you’re going to run 13.1 miles or head to a vendor event or party. Wear your power outfit. I wore hot pink leggings each day, and didn’t regret it one bit.
- If you stop, it’s harder and more painful to get started again.
- An object in motion tends to stay in motion. If you’re running, stopping means your body will freeze up and it will be painful to get moving again. You’ll lose time and speed. If you’re in business, stopping means you have to regain all the momentum of your processes, consistency, and routine. Keep going.
- Don’t minimize your role, skill, or accomplishments.
- Until recently, I regularly minimized myself by saying “Oh I’m not really a runner.” Yet here I am out here doing running events. Of course, I’m a runner… just a slow runner. How many times have you thought or said “I’m not really a leader… or a sales person… or a public speaker… or tech savvy…” Self-defeating mindset right there. Let’s work on changing that simply by changing our language.
- Don’t let others’ negative energy into your headspace.
- Someone else struggling with the same run? Feeling defeated? Complaining about how hard it is? You can provide support, but create an emotional boundary to not let it affect your own positive mindset and excitement. Their race is not your race. And ultimately, you don’t want them to slow you down.
- Own your stride.
- I am 5’5” tall. My stride is relatively short. Standing next to a 6’0” woman whose legs go on for a day and a half? I have to scurry twice as fast just to keep up with her one running stride. Do I have to work harder? Maybe so. Will it affect my ability to meet the goal? Nope. So what if someone is taller or faster than you. So what if your baby steps feel like your run will take forever. Will it change your ability to complete your tasks in your own time, on your own stride? No it will not.
- No matter how slow you go, you’re lapping the people who never started.
- Even if you come in dead last, there is still someone behind you – the person who never started. You are their inspiration. Keep going.
- Accept all the support that is offered.
- People may send private messages of support, ideas, tips, suggestions, links, articles, or anything else they might consider motivational. Accept them all with gracious thanks. Wrap yourself up in that support like a blanket to push you forward.
- Eat the shit sandwich.
- Elizabeth Gilbert coined the term “shit sandwich” in her book Big Magic. It refers to the things you have to do, to get to the things you actually enjoy and want to do. I really hate running. But I really love medals. 4 hours of shit sandwich, for the eternal accomplishment of having earned them. You may have to eat a shit sandwich or two to achieve your goals.
- The person who finishes last still gets the same medal.
- Or the booking. Or the lead. Or the sale. But the person who never starts, gets nothing. One foot in front of the other gets you to the finish line.
- Buy the swag.
- Proud of what you’ve accomplished? Buy the t-shirt, mug, sticker, hat, magnet, or tote bag. Wear it loud and proud. You earned it.
- Not everyone will understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. That’s OK. The right people will.
- People may think you’re crazy. Why are you doing this crazy thing when there are other things you could be doing instead that would be easier? More fun? Less painful? More respected? More profitable? That’s okay, there are people out there who LOVE it too, and will gladly support you, cheer for you, and geek out over all the swag you just bought.
- Run if you can, walk if you’re able, crawl if it’s all you can do. But keep going.
- Do the best you can until you know better. And when you know better, do better. But keep moving forward. Because if you stop, getting started again is going to be more painful.
- At the end of the day, it’s just you and the road ahead of you.
- Ultimately, running a race and running a business are just you, your ideas, and your motivation pushing you forward one step at a time. You get to make the journey as joyful as you want, focus on improving your time, speed, pace, efficiency, or knowledge. Your goals need to be bigger than any possible reason to give up.
- You have the ultimate potential to inspire others to start their own race.
- Whether my runs helped get someone onto a treadmill or your business inspires someone else to start their own, someone is watching. You are inspiring someone as a role model, a leader, a mentor, a parent, or a friend. And that is the greatest accomplishment of all.
I love when business is like real life. We're all out there doing our things and running our own races.