I largely suspect that unless you are a runner, most people don’t understand the logistics of distance running. I came to the conclusion that actually, distance running is very similar to operating a business – I had lots of time to think about this at the weekend (23/24 March) during a 24 hour event! Mission 24 – run as far as you can for 12 hours on a route of your choosing, at which point you would be measured as the crow flies, then run back within the next 12 hours to avoid any distance penalties. Simple, right? Here are some similarities I considered.
Planning. Now, who would run a business without planning? Some perhaps, but most of us plan ahead so we know where we are heading and what we need to do to get there. This will likely involve business plans, financial projections and contingency plans. Sometimes it is difficult to ever stop the planning process, we are constantly thinking of new things to do or thinking about how to improve what we currently do. Running is exactly the same. There was a time when I used to do just one marathon a year (I completed 14 marathons/ultramarathons last year + a multi-stage event!) and my biggest bit of planning was picking a pair of knickers that didn’t give me a wedgie. Things have moved on a bit in this respect over the years. At the weekend, if I hadn’t planned a route, support crew, nutrition, rest and timings, then I may as well not have bothered. My strategy was different to the others – they all decided to run as far as they could and then either sleep in a car/van for a few hours then run back or simply just turn around and come back. I decided the best thing for me to maximise my potential was to plan a route that passed my house around the half way mark, stop there (for the luxury of a bath and hot food!), get back out and run until the allotted time and then repeat on the way back. By doing this meant I could have two changes of clothing and avoid running in sweaty clothes for 24 hours, which believe me, was a sensible decision because by midnight the temperature was really low and I know I would have felt unwell if I hadn’t gone home. It also allowed me to charge up my watch and pick up extra supplies like gels, so I wasn’t carrying them all for the whole duration. My first multi-stage event last year involved mammoth planning – following a strict training plan started 9 months out; I had to carry every single item I took with me for 6 days – food, sleeping bag, clothes, poles, first aid etc. Weight was king. Planning got to such detail, I can tell you exactly how many grams a pair of socks and even contact lenses weigh! I knew exactly how many calories per kg of my body weight per kilometre I was running, that I needed to replace. I knew that by cutting off the bottom part of my sleeping bag and sewing it back up again, saved me 150g. Planning is everything in running.
Decision making. Every day at work we are making decisions constantly, whether that be about identifying our next customer to can I afford a new marketing campaign. Some of these decisions can be planned in advance, some are dynamic and need an immediate response. Before I even enter a race, I need to decide on things like is it within driving distance, the price and does it fit into my overall plan for the year. I had to make a fairly dynamic decision last year at the Paklenica Trail race in Croatia – I hadn’t considered that there may be snakes in the mountain but my oh my when I did come across a snake in my path, I had to stop and think. Fast! I stood in the hope that it would move, which it did slowly after a bit of time, coiling itself into the bush at the side of the path. But it was still there. The terrain was very technical so I figured if I jumped over some rocks to get past that part of the path I would be fine but learned later that snakes can leap half their body length so if it had wanted to, it could have gotten me! That encounter dictated the rest of my race – (a) I picked up what I called my snake stick for protection and (b) it kept me moving fast until the end!
Work Life Balance. The importance of this is well documented and implemented in the responsible workplace. I am sure everyone who runs their own business has encountered that negative balance of too much work and too little play. But ever growing workloads or pressure to build the business mean growing expectations of you and you don’t want to let people down. There is also a Running Life Balance. Too little training and you won’t be as race ready as you would like, it is less enjoyable and you can feel like you have let yourself down. But too much training (and it can get to the point of addiction) can lead to fatigue, injury and friction at home. Hence why a lot of runners are out on the streets at silly o’clock before anyone else is up so as not to impinge on family time later. Lots of scheduling required and admittedly, lots of declining social events within my circle of friends and contacts, so as not to sacrifice any further family time. There are lots of ‘fun’ bits in a race too which make up for all the pain – this picture of the playpark highlights participation was compulsory to complete as part of the Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultra – perhaps this is the weird equivalent of a works night out.
Success. So we all run businesses that play to our strengths. Makes sense. We do what we do because we enjoy it, we get lots of satisfaction from the impact of what we do and usually, we are all pretty good at what we do. If something doesn’t work quite as we had hoped, we change it to achieve higher success levels. We all want to give up at times but our inner strengths kick in and we pick ourselves up and keep going, knowing that we can make it work. I know I am no sprinter but I do know that I am good at pacing myself and have lots of stamina. I am certainly not the fastest, leanest or youngest runner but I do it because I am challenging myself. I have had to pull out of races because of injury or have missed strict cut-offs. The sport sector is particularly good at growth mindset and I have that in abundance – if I have missed a cut-off, I look at my training, change it and then go back and beat the demon the following year! The race at the weekend involved cracking 4 enigmas to enter – only 20 cracked the codes, 12 entered but only 6 (2 male, 4 female) were brave enough to be on the start line. For me, success was completing what I had tasked myself to do, no more. I was in awe of one of the female runners who completed the tough West Highland Way race in 24 hours last year (the race cut off is 35 hours!). But as it turned out, because I am good at pacing myself and can keep moving one foot in front of the other through sheer grit and determination, I was over the moon at the finish to learn that I was second overall in terms of getting the furthest away (31.3 miles) as the crow flies (involved 76.8 miles of running there and back) but also, I was first female. This event was perfect for my strengths, normally I am at the back of the pack in a traditional race so great for me to get an opportunity to showcase the strengths I do have. If we don’t play to our strengths, then we won’t reach our true capabilities.
There are many more similarities I am sure but just thought I would share a few – I thought I was running two businesses but in fact, I think I am running three!