Barring some life circumstances and various states of injury I've been a devoted runner my whole adult life. Until recently, a half marathon was the longest distance I'd ever run; I'd always had my sights set on a marathon but couldn't commit to the time needed. Once I sent my youngest kid off to college a year ago, I began serious training and completed The Marine Corps Marathon with my friend and running partner, Amy Keller, in October.
It's often said that the hardest part of running a marathon is training for one. It's also said that the first 20 miles on race day are just a warm-up for the last 6.2. Both of these truisms were definitely the case in my experience. There’s no faking it–you have to pay your dues and put in the time and discipline and run to the training schedule. Ultimately that's the only way to get good enough and strong enough to complete the race. And on race day it takes both smarts and determination to get over the finish line.
There's a lot to be learned when we physically push ourselves in this way. The strength and confidence gleaned from stretching to accomplish extraordinary things carries over into how we live up to the challenges of our professional lives; lessons learned from athletics can just as easily be applied to business. Some days the job is easy, other days extremely painful. Knowing when to conserve energy and when to go for broke is a key skill whether you're participating in endurance events, trying to ship a product or ensure a non-profit's sustainability. In all cases it's important to keep your eye on the future and your longer term goal in mind while preventing burnout in the present moment. In business, just like long distance running, you need people you can trust will be there for you when you're losing steam and you need to be there for people, even when you may want to zoom out ahead–teamwork is important, even for solo endeavors. And once a particular race is over it's not possible to rest on your laurels because you have to get out and run again or risk falling back on what you've gained.
Someone who understands all of this well is ultramarathon runner and businessman Dean Karnazes. Dean has pushed his body and mind to inconceivable limits: he ran 135 miles nonstop across Death Valley, CA in 120°F temperatures, and ran a marathon to the South Pole at −40°F. He completed a feat that is staggering to comprehend for ‘normal’ marathon runners like myself: running 50 marathons, in all 50 U.S. states, in 50 consecutive days, finishing with the New York City Marathon, which he completed in three hours and thirty seconds. Most recently he won the 4 Deserts Race, a series of 7 day ultramarathons across some of the harshest conditions on the planet. 4 Deserts has been called the ultimate test of human endurance. Needless to say, he’s a very inspiring person.
Earlier this week I attended the excellent North Face Speaker Series to hear Dean talk. Here’s a few fun facts that Dean, who Men’s Fitness magazine called “quite possibly the fittest man on the planet” shared with us:
• Researchers found that he is, quite literally, made to run–his biomechanics are perfect and his body pushes out lactic acid (the bane of any endurance athlete’s existence) the more he runs
• Unless he’s running or sleeping he stands. He finds sitting “tiring”
• He can sleep while running if he has to
• His idea of a good day is to run a marathon distance before he makes breakfast for his kids and takes them to school
The guy is clearly in a league of his own. But, Deans asserts that he’s just an ordinary guy doing extraordinary things.
Not surprisingly, Dean isn’t just good at running; he’s also a successful entrepreuner who holds graduate degrees in Science and Business. He’s worked for Fortune 500 companies and startups and founded a natural foods company of which he remains president to this day. Like many famous athletes, he’s put his celebrity to good use and has founded a non-profit organization. It’s called Karno Kids and raises awareness about childhood fitness and activity. I’m guessing that this philanthropic venture benefits greatly not only from his business acumen, but from his proven ability to excel in a competitive, and often challenging world.
Natalie Zensius is a marketing communications strategist with experience in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Learn more about Natalie at http:www.linkedin.com/in/nzensius.