One Saturday afternoon, five years ago, my husband coerced me into going for a 2-mile run with him. A half-mile in, I began to think he was torturing me, or, even worse, he had plans to collect on the life insurance policy when I fell over dead. As I struggled through the finish line, I was happy to still be alive but shocked coming to terms with how out-of-shape I was.
That experience served as a wake-up call that motivated me to start running. I started out with small goals, like running one mile without stopping. Then a 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon. With each new distance, I felt like I released a new part of me—a part that enjoyed working hard to accomplish new things. A part that kicked butt and took names. A part that loved to disconnect from the craziness of the world and just be with my thoughts. A part that wanted more!
Which is what eventually led me to the JFK 50 miler. Yep. 50 miles. In one day. Not in a car. My husband and I signed up for the race together. We knew the run would be a doozy, especially considering we have two small boys and both worked, but we had the “itch” and sent in our applications.
It was during this time that an idea for a leadership development company began to come to life—a company that would focus on building exceptional leaders and great teams through high-energy, interactive small group sessions. Both missions—the run and the new business—were inspiring to me, and they somehow became inextricably linked. There is a LOT of time to pass when training for a 50-mile trail race, so envisioning the future was a great way to pass the miles.
But it wasn’t until long after I crossed the finish line that the connection between becoming an entrepreneur and completing an ultra-marathon became evident to me. So, without further ado, here are the eight ways running 50 miles made me a better entrepreneur:
- It’s scary. But do it anyway.
Long distance running events are fraught with fear. Thoughts like, “Can I finish?” “What if I hurt myself?” and “What if it rains?’’ can run through your head incessantly as you prepare for and run the race. The difference between you and the rest of the world is that you acknowledge the risk, but keep going. I found that stepping out on the ledge in a physical challenge made it easier for me to step out when the time came to start my business from the ground up. The questions may be different, but the feeling of constant worry is the same for entrepreneurs. The ability to accept risk and manage your fears are necessary skills in both arenas.
- It takes time. Lots of time.
It’s not strange to see ultra runners out at 4 AM with headlamps knocking out their long training runs. It’s not that these people need less sleep than anyone else (well, maybe a little less), it’s that they have an unwavering work ethic. They are willing to sacrifice sleep, food, and social events to get the job done. I was able to channel that same fighting spirit when it came time to put in the 12+ hour days it took to get the company up and running. Trust me, once you willingly choose to run in the rain at 5 AM for four hours, nothing seems unattainable or too difficult to achieve—even navigating trademark law.
- The general public thinks you are crazy.
Whenever what you want to accomplish veers to the right of what is deemed as “normal” by mainstream culture, people will always question your mental stability. Being able to proudly state my BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) in public took some time, as it seemed that my crazy dream of running 50 miles made people uncomfortable. Entrepreneurs encounter the same blank stares, dropped jaws, and confused looks when plans for a future business are shared. Learning to successfully deal with these situations will not only help your psyche, but may also help you turn unbelievers into supporters and even clients. Most people won’t really understand what you are so passionate about, but that’s okay. In fact, people’s disbelief may be a sign that you are on to something awesome!
- Be consistent.
No one just wakes up one day, rolls over, and heads out the door to run from sun up to sun down. In order to successfully complete an ultra-marathon, you need to have a clear end goal and then work steadily to achieve that goal over a specific amount of time. I didn’t skip runs because it was cold, or because I was tired. There were 100 excuses why I shouldn’t run that day but only one reason why I should: because I needed to in order to reach my goal of finishing the race. This 20-Mile March approach–a term described so well by Jim Collins–helped when we ran into the seemingly unending amount of roadblocks when setting up a business. I refused to quit because the name we wanted was already taken or give up on getting liability insurance because no one covers both physical fitness and leadership development training (trust me, I filled out over 17 applications, and it was NOT fun).
- Embrace the community that is trying to support you.
The ultra running community is amazing. On the course, people were constantly offering assistance in the form of kind words, S-Caps, M&M’s, and smiles. Once I learned to take advantage of the assistance, even if it came in a form I wasn’t expecting (a piece of cold chicken at leg 39 literally saved my race), I found that I was better off than if I tried to go it alone. I was able to tap into their experience and use it to run a smarter race. The same is true for entrepreneurship. There are countless articles, blogs, LinkedIn groups, and local organizations that exist to help you on your journey. I have been open to implementing advice and suggestions I’ve received, and it has paid serious dividends.
- You have more strength than you ever imagined.
No one is going to run the last ten miles for you. Trust me, by mile 31 you are searching for someone, anyone, to take your place. But when it comes down to it, YOU are the one that has to find a way to put one foot in front of the other. And as you press forward, you will discover strength you didn’t know was there. And it is an iterative cycle in that your newfound strength breeds confidence, which takes you beyond your previous limits. The same principle holds true when starting a business. You don’t have the budget to support hiring a full staff, so in the beginning you have to figure out how to run payroll or design an advertisement. You press forward, and you figure things out. Some days will be painful, but you will learn more about your talents and strengths through the struggle, and what you learn will make you stronger and more capable to face the next challenge.
- You have to endure pain to earn the glory.
It hurts to run long distances: blisters, shin splints, the list goes on and on. In addition to the pain, distance running also offers fabulous rewards. When you break through the “dreaded wall” you get a runner’s high that can last for days! Going through the pain/gain cycle prepared me to weather the entrepreneurial storms that are sure to strike. Financial stress, rejections, and the guilty feelings that inevitably come with sacrificing time with family make the path of entrepreneurship a difficult one. On the other hand, the potential to create something enduring that positively impacts people’s lives can make it all worthwhile.
- The finish line is always farther away than you anticipated.
So the JFK 50 isn’t really 50 miles. It is in fact 50.8 miles. 8/10th’s of a mile doesn’t sound like much, but when it is dark and you’ve been running for over 10 hours, 8/10th’s of a mile is a BIG STINKING DEAL. But what are you going to do? Quit at 50? No way, you are going to dig deep, put on a smile (or something that resembles a smile) and gut it out. The same holds true in business. Your work is never done as an entrepreneur there is always one more client to call or one more marketing campaign to plan. Once you give up longing for the finish line and begin enjoying the journey, life becomes a whole lot more fun!
My husband and I crossed the finish line 50.8 miles after we began. Together, we battled through scraped knees due to a fall on the rocky trail at mile 9, calf cramps at mile 30, and a somewhat comical knee sprain coming out of the porta-potty at mile 41. During those hours out on the trail we laughed and cried, but, most importantly, we persevered. 10 hours and 40 minutes after we began, we joined hands and proudly ran through the finish line. Although there is not a definitively marked “finish line” for Activate Your Talent, the important thing is that we are on the course!
Even if you aren’t looking to run 50 miles or start a business, the eight lessons listed above can help you find and ignite the flame inside of you that wants to live life to the fullest. And once you have that fire burning, my hope is that my experience will help you keep it blazing brightly on your journey.