The Business of Running
Guest editorial by Jeff Guthrie
Unlike business, running hasn’t always been a passion of mine. In fact, it wasn’t until my 30s that I even attempted to run my first kilometre. Completing that kilometre was more of a challenge than I had anticipated, and it was at that time that I decided to make a lifetime commitment to keeping fit. Running led to cycling, which led to various other sports and fitness pursuits.
At age 40, I decided to give marathons a try. Over the next decade, I completed over 40 marathons and half-marathons until I was faced with the unexpected loss of a dear friend and training partner. His death inspired a period of deep reflection about my life and limits. Through a chance meeting, I was introduced to the sport of multi-stage, ultra-marathons.
I immediately saw running 250 kilometres in some of the remotest parts of the world as a way of testing both my physical and mental limits, and a way of adding new purpose to my life.
Fast forward 9 years, and I have completed three ultra-marathons in all different parts of the world. Whether running in the exotic Peruvian Amazon, the stifling Sahara or the frost-bitten planes of Iceland, my experiences have always been formative – changing my outlook on life and, even, my career.
Though running and business may seem worlds apart, the similarities are striking. Success in both requires a great deal of planning and skill. Over the years, I have identified a set of guiding principles which apply to both.
You are the key
Self-confidence is necessary to completing ultra-marathons. Runners are thrust into an almost primal state of survival with only the bare essentials. For some, the isolation and lack of encouragement can be disheartening. Despite the human tendency to look outward for support, it is at these times that we realize our greatest strength actually comes from within.
The same can be said for the business world. Throughout one’s career, it is important to be your own cheerleader. We are conditioned to seek approval from managers and leaders, which oftentimes makes us reliant on those around us. However, if we learn to motivate ourselves first, the possibilities are endless. The road to success is long and arduous.
By becoming confident in our own abilities, we are that much closer to unlocking our true potential.
Define your own success
We all aim to be successful. It is generally what drives all of our actions and behaviours. However, success takes different forms for all of us. Before setting out on a challenge, it is important to establish what it means to you and what the ultimate goal is.
I recall sitting at a rest camp in the Sahara with a fellow competitor who had fallen ill from dehydration and was forced to withdraw from the race. She was extremely disappointed in herself, and even labelled herself as a failure. This seemed odd to me – she had trained for months, made it through the first three days of the race and pushed herself to her own personal limit. Was she a failure? Absolutely not. In my mind, success has a different meaning – it doesn’t matter if you complete the race, it counts that you started it.
This is reminiscent of the business world. To avoid personal and professional disappointment, it is important to define what success looks like from the outset of a project. It might not be about hitting your exact sales target, but perhaps laying the groundwork for a new process that will reap benefits down the road.
Rid yourself of negativity
“I can’t” is a powerful phrase. It has the ability to stop progress in its tracks, which also makes it an especially dangerous word in the context of running, business and self-improvement. In the midst of running an ultra-marathon, there are many circumstances that may seem unbearable; weather, exhaustion and personal injury are all formidable roadblocks.
For example, when I ruptured my bladder in the Amazon, I could have easily withdrawn from the race. The pain was excruciating, and every minute seemed like an eternity – but the power of positive thinking allowed me to succeed. I chose to turn the “no, I can’t” into a “yes, I can.”
As a people leader, I try to challenge my teams to do the same. People often sell themselves short when they say no. When challenges present themselves, positivity can make all the difference. Whether it’s presenting in front of a senior management team, or staying late to finish a report, saying “yes, I can” can make all the difference between success and failure.
In racing, the goal is linear – with a defined start and finish. In business, goals can be long and winding, with no discernible end. But in both, success can be distilled down to three main values: defining success for yourself, staying positive and believing in your own strength and abilities.