42.2 km: A Microcosm of Business and Life


With spring marathon season in high gear, I find myself with plenty of training and thinking time.  It strikes to me that the most important lessons learned in running are equally true in business, and in life.  If you are a runner, these will resonate with you.  If you aren’t, there is an undeniable connection to any impossible goal:  running a business, leading people, raising kids.

  1. When faced with an intimidating hill, focus your eyes on the horizon, not the hill.  Let it pull you upwards.
  2. “Goldilocks” your pace. Not too slow, or you’ll fail to reach your objective.  Not too fast, or you’ll fade in the final stages.
  3. It’s supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to hurt.  If it doesn’t, you’re not trying hard enough.
  4. Training & preparation are pre-requisites. But mental grit is far more important.  That’s the secret weapon that determines success.
  5. At some point, you’ll reach the “Valley of Death”, likely between kilometer 35-38. Doubt that you’ll finish, regret that you ever signed up, and plain old exhaustion set in.  Walking, sitting down, and opting out are all suddenly very appealing.  When this happens, refer to #3 above.  Remember that in less than an hour, you can rest.  But while the clock is ticking and the race is on, your only chance to reach your goal is right now.  Make every moment count.
  6. Although the race is 42.2 km, the real magic happens in the last 0.2 km. Hundreds of fans line the course.  They are cheering, clapping, even chanting your name.  It’s enough to make the humblest person’s ego explode.  All the pain forgotton, your pace quickens.  Your stride lengthens.  Your body straightens.  Your heart swells with pride; at least you hope it’s pride & not a heart attack.  Either way, savour the moment.
  7. After the race is over and the endorphins subside, you realize it wasn’t really the race result that mattered after all. What did matter was the journey in the preceding months:  the hardship of braving thunderstorms and snowstorms to log enough miles; the joy of running on the first warm spring day; those are the lasting memories.

As one sign, often seen near the finish line says: “All this for a banana?”  It always makes me smile, because that’s precisely the point.  The desire for a personal best, the need to push beyond our boundaries, to achieve something special and enduring is what makes us human.  That’s why we strive, in running, in business and in life.