“The winners are drinking all the beer!”
One of my first blogs was “Life Lessons” from my first marathon. I just completed marathon attempt number 5 at the TCS New York City Marathon on November 6, 2016. I have completed 4 and have successfully run the entire distance the last two. Each attempt has been a unique experience full of lessons. While I continue to improve at each attempt I have yet to perform at what I feel is my “best.” Here are my new “lessons learned” from my marathon experiences.
“Pick up the pace, the winners are drinking all of the beer.” This was one of my favorite signs from the NYC marathon. It highlights both the celebratory atmosphere of the race as well as an underlying truth, the winners are already celebrating. Winning is not just in the result but in the attitude towards the experience of the race. At the start, many participants are celebrating. At the end, you see even more celebrations as people accomplish a goal or complete a run that benefits a cause. I saw laughter, high fives, and tears of joy among those that finished. And the celebration continued as they met up with friends and family. All of the runners faced adversity during the race. At mile 16, while I was trudging up the Queensboro Bridge and everyone around me had given up running, it did not feel great. I wanted to quit. It would have been easy to walk, especially when everyone else was. In a half mile, however, when I made the turn on 1st Avenue there were thousands of people encouraging us on in the “world’s largest block party” and a gentle downhill slope. I was glad I didn’t quit. All who kept with it and finished earned their celebration.
“Adversity happens, press through it.” This was not a sign from the race but it should be. I have had struggles in each marathon. Here are some examples.
#1 Utah, June 2015. This was my first marathon. I started a race at elevation that had almost 20 miles of continuous downhill. Experienced runners know this was a poor choice. At mile 16 my legs were destroyed. I finished but walked most of the last 10 miles. Lesson: ignorance is not bliss
#2 Savannah, November 2015. The heat and humidity were so bad that the marathon route was closed down 2 hours in the race. Several runners were hospitalized. Only the fastest runners were able to finish the full distance. I reached the turn off to continue the marathon course and was diverted to the half marathon course. Thus, this is the attempt I did not finish as a marathon. Lesson: there are circumstances you can’t control that may force a change in your plans.
#3 San Antonio, December 2015. When you take four plus hours to complete a marathon (yes, I’m slow) the conditions will change on you. It was cool at the start but 85F by noon and got hotter from there. The course was not closed early but I was spent by mile 20. I ended up walking most of the last 6 miles. I finished the race but not with a great result. Lesson: When conditions go south on you perseverance will often get you through. The key thing is to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
#4 Napa Valley, March 2016. This was my best race yet. I planned much better. What I couldn’t control, again, was the weather. At mile 18 I was in the middle of a long uphill in a downpour with the wind in my face. I came out of it at mile 22 and finished strong. This was also the first time I ran the entire 26.2 mile distance. Lessons: You get better with practice. Train yourself to be stronger. No matter how prepared you are you will still face adversity.
“Keep running when everyone else around you is walking!”
#5 NYC, November 2016. Many lessons, some above. Summary lessons from NYC: No matter how strong you are getting, you will need to get stronger. Never stop getting better. You will always need perseverance and adaptability. Keep running when everyone else around you is walking! Adapt when things don’t go as planned. I had to change my nutrition plan mid-race due to running out of fuel earlier than planned. I did not hit my goal time but managed another personal best in the marathon.
“Adversity introduces a man to himself.”
-Attributed to Albert Einstein
Everyone needs time to recover. Most marathoners will take some time off from training or work a significantly reduced training schedule after a marathon. Good coaches put recovery time into the training plan. A marathon is a very traumatic event on the body. It is generally not recommended to do one more frequently than every 12-16 weeks. There are those who have built the fitness, strength, and endurance over many years to do a marathon more frequently but you don’t see the pros racing that much. The lesson is that when you go through something traumatic it is perfectly ok to give yourself time to recover. Your body and your mind need a break and need time to heal. The only way you gain strength is by allowing time to recover. You build strength during recovery!
Champions are made not born. Countless books on sports psychology, championship athletes, and championship teams show that it is only in training and hard work that you can cultivate the skills to win. Some people have more natural ability than others but nobody gets a pass on doing the hard work! Even when the skills and ability are present those alone are not enough to win. The winners have a plan, have ability, are committed to a process that produces winners, and are willing to endure great suffering to win. They have determined that victory is worth the pain. I heard Jerome Bettis of the Champion Pittsburgh Steelers (Super Bowl XL) speak at an event in November. He talked about the mindset of that championship team. He said, “Becoming a champion is not the most important goal. It is the struggle, commitment, work ethic you develop in the process of becoming a champion that is most important.”
“Nobody gets a pass on doing the hard work!”
Successful people have learned to be grateful. No matter the role in which you find yourself in life, business, or sport you have many things for which to be grateful. While those that have put in the hard work have a higher probability of success and those that can endure more suffering increase their probability of winning even more there are no guarantees. Recognize the good that is in every situation and be grateful you even get to play, work, and live another day.
“Find the good. It’s all around you.
Find it, showcase it, and you’ll start believing it.”
-Jesse Owens, 4 time Gold Medalist
1936 Olympics, Berlin, Germany
I continue learning from these experiences. Endurance running has many analogies to character-driven leadership, life, and business. It is my hope to encourage you as a character-driven leader. There is someone in the world that needs what only you can offer. If I can help, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Alan Buttery