Archive for May, 2012

Sometimes Strategy Is More Important than Speed…in Racing and in Business

May 31, 2012

I had the joy of running the Big Sur International Marathon this year. Running experts say this course is one of the most beautiful marathon courses in the world. I chose to run Big Sur because the race fell on my 49th birthday and several of my friends decided to run it with me. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend the day than doing what I love with people I love.

When you read reviews on this race, the course is described as “brutal and breathtaking.” The day we ran it, it was definitely both. The brutal hills, including a two mile climb to Hurricane Point and some short, steep hills in the final miles of the race through Carmel Highlands, were no surprise. The 20 to 45 mile per hour head winds we encountered on race day were.

When I was training for this race, my strategy was to take my time, enjoy the scenery, not worry about achieving a PR (personal record), and pace myself to make sure I finished in well under the six hour maximum finishing time. Since I had run the Flying Pig, a hilly course, in under four and a half hours the year before, I felt this was an achievable plan. However, people I know who have run Big Sur and Boston have said they felt Big Sur was a tougher course. With that knowledge, I knew that I would need a strong strategy to achieve my goal.
As a public relations professional, I’m all about strategy. I truly believe the slogan “The best surprise is no surprise.” Because of that, my friend and I drove the course so we’d know what to expect on race day. Sure, you can look at the course description, elevation map and race reviews. However, driving the course gives you a much better perspective and lets you make any last minute adjustments to your race strategy.

The day before the race, Runner’s World magazine hosted a strategy session for all of us who were running Big Sur as part of the Runner’s World Challenge. During the strategy session one of the Big Sur board members who had run the race every year since its inception told us that a front was coming in that could impact race conditions. He said if it moved through quickly we wouldn’t have windy conditions on race day. If it didn’t move through quickly, we would have high winds. He told us a good gauge was to look at the grass when we got out of the woods around mile 5. If the grass wasn’t blowing hard or pinned down, we would probably not have an extremely windy race.

On race day, we exited the woods and looked at the grass. It looked pretty calm. We all thought the race wouldn’t be windy. We were wrong. By mile 7, the wind picked up. I’ve run in high winds before, but nothing like this. There were times you felt like you were running in place or being pushed backwards because the head winds were so strong. Fighting the wind would be a losing battle, so I slowed my pace when the wind got bad to conserve energy and picked up my pace when the winds died down. This strategy paid off.

As we started up the hill to Hurricane Point, the Taiko Drummers were there to energize us for the two mile climb. The beat of their drums made me pick up my pace because the winds had died down a bit, and I was ready to attack the climb. As we were climbing the hill, we could hear the sound of the grand piano playing, another unique aspect of this course. You’d lose the sound of the piano from time to time during the ascent, but when you crested Hurricane Point and headed downhill, you could hear the music clearly. The pianist’s music filled our hearts and souls. Several of us, including me, were moved to tears. We crossed the beautiful Bixby Bridge. The scenery from the bridge is astounding. Between the scenery and the piano, mile 13 was one of the highlights of the course and a great way to mark the halfway point of the journey.

By mile 20 I had only been running three hours and fifty minutes. I knew I had plenty of time to finish the race, so I slowed my pace down to take in some of the most beautiful parts of the course. One spot was so spectacular; I stopped for a minute to stare at the beauty. The waves were crashing on the rocks and beach, the sun was shining on the ocean and you could hear and feel the wind blowing. It was amazing.

My pacing strategy also meant that I wasn’t feeling pressured to kick it into high gear when I hit the Carmel Highlands at mile 22. This worked out well. The road camber, which we were not aware of, was brutal on this course. Your body was rarely ever running on a flat surface. Between that and the wind, I felt a bit beat up by the time I got to the Highlands, but I had plenty of time to finish, so there was no rush. At mile 23 we were told to be sure to take a handful of fresh strawberries at the aid station. This is another one of the unique aspects of this course. Since I had plenty of time, I stopped and enjoyed the berries while I thanked the volunteers for taking the time to cut the tops off for us. At about mile 25 we were told to breath deep to smell the eucalyptus in the air. I’ve never smelled anything like that. It was so fresh and clean. It was truly breathtaking. That breath of fresh air gave me all the energy I needed to pick up my pace and sprint for the finish.

At the finish line I was given the ultimate birthday gift…a Big Sur International Marathon finisher’s medal. It was my reward for a job well done and a race wisely run.

So what does this story have to do with business?
While there are certainly times when speed to market is the top priority, many times it’s not. The key is to know the difference. Many great ideas stumble along the course or fail because people are in a rush to get to market, but fail to take the time to map out a strategy to ensure the ultimate goal is achieved.

Life is no different. When we rush through it, we often miss those special moments that take our breath away, move us to tears and fill our heart and soul with joy.

So the next time you find yourself in a hurry at work or in your personal life, stop for just a moment and really think about whether speed or strategy is the best course.