Learnings from marathon experience which could be relevant to career, business, and life in general.
As a child, I could not complete 200 meters in school during the pre-Sports’ Day audition. But now, I am a beginner, having run marathons for the last 15 years across different cities around the world, including New York, Berlin, Mumbai, Boston, Chicago, London, Amsterdam, and Delhi. Over the years, my Personal Best (PB) finish time improved from 4:42 to 3:33 (Hour: Minutes). And a PB of half marathon at sub-100 minutes. I have gone through terrible long-lasting injuries and some epic failures. In the last marathon, at Rotterdam in April 2022, I did not finish. This is the second time I did not finish a marathon race.
The injuries and failures have taught me as much as my PBs. I draw learnings from every marathon experience which could be relevant to my career, business, and life in general.
1. You are what you do repeatedly
Primarily, it’s training, however boring it sounds, which will see you through the finishing line. Organisational capabilities are built and competitive advantages are sustained by doing those essential activities repeatedly. It is still the good old-fashioned hard work and discipline that will help you endure business uncertainties and the tough times. Like following a 5-day-a-week running regime, starting at 5.00 am. There is no escape from rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty again and again.
Starting the run faster or trying to outpace a faster co-runner can lead to hitting the wall soon during the race or to poor finish timing. Similarly, an indiscreet move like accelerated expansion or enthusiastic spending on promotion, or exorbitant investments in fancy technology is a sure-short recipe to value erosion, delayed profitability, or employee attrition due to fatigue and low morale in the middle of the battle.
3. Respect and adapt to changing conditions
Varying racecourses or weather conditions are akin to dynamic regulations, changing consumer behaviour, the onslaught of technology or local market conditions. A good run at the Amsterdam Marathon does not translate into a good one at the Mumbai Marathon and vice versa. Like for business markets, a successful stint in your last job may not necessarily be the same in your new job. Respect and adapt to different organisational cultures, norms, and protocols. What got you there, may not get you here.
4. Prepare for uphill but restrain during downhill
Though as much as I hate uphills during the run, downhills have been the causes of my serious marathon injuries—at times kept me off running for several months. Exuberance emanating from the perceived economic boom or a short-term spike in sales is typically followed by over-leverage or undesirable sales practices. Be mindful of the consequences of the increased risk-taking capacity and actions in good times or rather perceived good times.
5. Crams are inevitable, but keep going
However hard you train, you are bound to experience crams or severe aches during the marathon race. Many runners will agree that sooner or later, they auto disappear or, at least, the pain intensity reduces. Similarly, both in career and business, short-term blips are certain. Do not let a tough quarter or hostile conditions at work bog you down. As they say, this too shall pass.
6. Rapid change is lethal
Many marathon beginners make the mistake of changing their running gear or diet during race day, which leads to sub-optimal race performance. Similarly, an abrupt and rapid change in strategy during a penultimate business period could be disastrous as it takes time for the entire organisational machinery, including the sales force and operations team, to adapt and synchronise the action. That is why many changes that look promising in the boardroom, fail to take off because the ecosystem was inadequately prepared for rapid change.
7. Plan micro-breaks even before you need them
Staying hydrated through the run will keep you going. Many seasoned runners know the importance of drinking water or sports drinks at regular intervals. In fact, doing so much ahead of getting into the red zone. Plan your breaks well in advance, even before you need them. It will keep you energised through the journey.
8. Know when to quit
We have been brought up worshipping 'grit'. Being wise to timely quit can cut deep losses and keep you afloat. It was frustrating to quit the Rotterdam race at the 32K mark due to unbearable recurring pain. Had I continued, my injury would probably have worsened to force me out of running permanently.
9. Mental fatigue overpowers physical strength
With the same fitness level, a runner with mental fatigue or perception of exhaustion is slower than his peer who is comparatively mentally fresh. Leaders could curb mental fatigue by creating a fair and conducive work environment. Individuals could keep themselves rejuvenated by following passions outside work, travelling, music, reading, regular exercises, and so on.
10. To run far, run together
As surprising as it may sound, running a marathon is a team sport. Eventually, being surrounded by the right co-runners, family, friends, coach, physios, and nutritionist gets you to the finishing line. It is the same in business and careers. Supportive workmates, family, friends, and mentors will unlock the best version of you. If you need to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run together. Chandramohan Mehra is the chief marketing officer of Bajaj Allianz Life Insurance. Views expressed are personal.
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