During the past few decades, I’ve had time to reflect about how the challenges related to business and my own performance are intertwined.
While some areas are easy to identify (life is a marathon for example), the whole end-to-end process of setting goals, planning and preparation, teamwork, high endurance, overcoming great adversity, celebrating success (but not too soon) and taking the learnings to be ready for the next challenge. Lastly, but the most important, is the ability to have fun during the journey and be able to laugh (and to laugh at oneself!).
Ed Viesturs, a famous mountaineer who has climbed the world’s fourteen 8,000 meter peaks without oxygen, was asked about the difference between running a marathon (or ultramarathon) and climbing a mountain. He talked about how when you cross the finish line in a race, that’s it. You’re done. On the other hand, when you summit a big mountain, you are only halfway done – and as he points out – more deaths occur on the descent than on the ascent.
When it comes to successful business and marketing campaigns, it all comes down to setting goals, preparation and training – just as it is for climbing and running. After I had run just my second marathon in Stockholm in 2002, I decided to pursue the (what seemed impossible then) the goal to run the seven continents. This was my big goal. If I did not know where I was going, how could I get there? I had to have a timeframe; I wanted to complete my goal within a four-year period. The amount of preparation that went into this venture included a lot of logistics – especially around work schedules and family.
Of course, the training that went into this is never enough – just ask any runner, climber or other athlete. Nevertheless, I trained as best I could with a plan and within my own abilities.
The goal remained the same: be one of about 150 (at the time) persons in the world to be a member of the “Seven Continents Club“.
There is an element of teamwork in running – though not nearly the same as in climbing where it is definitely a life or death proposition based on who you are roped up with. Mostly though, it is a sport where others can help push your own individual achievement through training, support during races, and specific advice.
High endurance and overcoming adversity are part of the training routine and to prepare you for the big runs. One of the things I’ve learned over the past several years is the need to “start slow and finish fast”. Slow in this case does not mean walking, it does mean maintaining a pace that is sustainable for 26 or 31 or 50 miles, or two marathons in the same week, or three separate long runs in the course of 24 hours. It is incredibly satisfying to pass literally a hundred or more runners in the second part of a race – people who have gone out too fast, without a plan and not able to finish strong.
Adversity comes in the form of physical injuries or health, weather, equipment, or other challenges along the way. I’ve run races in the rain, snow and extreme heat and humidity. I’ve ended up with both hyponatremia and hypothermia – both of which were preventable, though somewhat inevitable while running in Antarctica or Singapore. I’ve started with injuries or picked them up along the way, but thankfully, none of them prevented me from finishing a race.
Celebrating success (but not too soon) is central to coming back to the goals at hand. I’ve been fortunate enough to raise my hands in sheer happiness while crossing the finish line in sixteen marathons, ultras and triathlons in the past six years. I’ve have also started celebrating too early (collapsing in pain at about mile 18 in Antarctica) and have had to focus on the goal at hand – finish.
Evaluating honestly and openly about the learnings from a race or a training run is important to progressing to the next level. I’ve learned how to dress better, eat and drink right, pace myself, train the right areas, and mental strength. My early marathons were run at times in the 5:30-5:50 total time range. In December of this year (2009), I was able to achieve a personal best of 3:54 in the CIM Marathon in Sacramento (despite being several years older).
Finally having fun and the ability to enjoy the journey and to laugh at myself along the way is the most important. I’ve run big parts of races with a big smile on my face and enjoying the whole experience, views, camaraderie and achievement – while continuing to push myself. I’ve had to laugh at myself when I’ve tripped and nearly done a somersault, but to keep going.
I’ve given several talks about the relevance of climbing and running to projects, development schedules and campaigns. I work hard to be a leader that empowers people to stretch themselves for a common goal and cause. I encourage the team to have the right preparation and education while being ready to make adjustments in direction as times dictate. For anyone that has worked in the IT or Telecommunications industry for the past two decades can attest, overcoming adversity and being ready to take on the next opportunity, is just part of the job.
Those companies and organizations that can adapt, execute, learn and have fun while doing so are the winners today and will be the ones that survive and thrive during the current economic situation throughout the next years.