Know Who Has Your Back in Racing and in Business

November 7, 2011

I was having dinner recently with a friend and we started talking about our training. She mentioned she had added meditation to her regimen. I asked, “Have you discovered any revelations in this process?” She replied, “Yes, I’ve determined the meaning of love.” Intrigued, I inquired what that might be. She told me she’s determined that true love is knowing you can depend on someone and they can depend on you. I can’t think of a more accurate definition. I call that having someone’s back. I found out what that really means over the last few weeks.

Months ago, I signed up to run my first Ultra marathon… the Taterbug 30. It’s 30 miles on a brutally hilly course. People who reviewed this race last year commented about it being like running the Swiss Alps, a clever reference since the race is in Switzerland County, Indiana. I recruited two friends, Tony and Pam, to run the race with me. I met Tony and his wife, Pam, a few years ago through the Runner’s World Challenge. We ran the Flying Pig marathon together and have run a race together each year since.

While I knew the Taterbug would be a challenge, I tend to like hilly courses and was very excited about this experience and running this race with Tony and Pam. I was excited until four weeks before the race when I suffered a foot injury and wondered if I’d be well enough to run the race.
My first stop was to my doctor who treats a lot of injured athletes. As a marathoner himself, he truly understands how athletes feel when they’re injured. He walked into the examining room and saw the look of fear in my eyes. He’d treated me for a foot injury two years ago, but it was months before my next race, so I had plenty of time to heal. This injury was much different. I’d never had an injury within weeks of a race.

He manipulated my foot for what seemed like an eternity, but was a matter of minutes. Then, he looked me in the eye and said, “I have good news. It’s not a fracture and it’s not a bruise like last time. Your injury is muscular and muscular injuries heal faster than other foot injuries. If you rest and ice the foot and do what I tell you, you’ll be well enough to race.” I started to feel better, but there was one little hitch.

I explained to him that I promised a friend that I would work in their food truck at a festival that weekend, which would mean I’d be on the foot non-stop for 10-12 hours. He asked me if I could just tell her I couldn’t do it because I was injured. I explained to him that was not an option. I explained the entire situation to him (which I won’t go into here) and that she was depending on me. I told him, this is someone who knows I always have her back…and that’s never going to change. He understood, explained to me this could set my recovery back significantly, but assured me we’d work through it. I knew my doctor had my back.
I came home from the doctor, and posted on Facebook that I’d injured my foot and was concerned about how it would impact my training and the upcoming race. The first person to post a comment was Tony. His post read, “Lauren, no matter how things work out this weekend Pam and I will have your back at Taterbug.”

During the following weeks, I spent a lot of time getting my foot worked on and doing my runs in the swimming pool in an effort to maintain my fitness and endurance without putting any pressure on my foot. Two weeks before the race, my doctor told me it was time to test the foot. He wanted me to do a short six mile run at a very slow pace. I was really nervous, but I knew I had to do it. I needed to know where my foot was in the recovery process and what to expect. The doctor needed to know that too.

The first pavement run went well. I had a little tightness, but that was it. I reported the status of my run to the doctor, and he told me the following week, I needed to do a double-digit mileage run, 10 to 11 miles. That run didn’t go quite as well. My test run was on relatively flat roads. My longer run needed to replicate race conditions…hills. I had shooting pain in my foot going down steep hills (and these hills were nothing compared to the ones in the race). The good news was that I was able to experiment with foot positions and other options during the training run to try to minimize this reaction. After reporting what happened on my long run, the doctor cleared me to race. His final advice was to take it easy and remember that the goal is to finish with a smile on your face and in good condition.

Tony, Pam and I arrived the day before the race. We picked up our race packets and went to have a pre-race dinner together. At dinner, I explained to them that while we normally run together for most of the race, I didn’t want them to feel obligated to do so this time because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep up. Tony assured me that they wouldn’t leave me behind, they had my back and they’d make sure we all finished the race before the cut off time of 7 hours.
After dinner, we decided to drive the race course. I was glad we did. I’m a “best surprise is no surprise” type of person. After seeing some of those hills that seemed like nearly vertical ascents and descents, I was glad to know what we had ahead of us so we could plan our race strategy accordingly.

Race morning, I was more nervous than usual. I was concerned how my foot would react to the steep declines on the course. We hit the first one. It was excruciating and we had more than 25 miles to go. I experimented with foot positions and found something that lessened the pain. My friends kept asking, “How’s the foot?” I replied, “It’s not happy, but I’m determined to get through this.” Throughout the race, we all felt our share of aches and pains, but we stuck together and worked through it together. At mile 28, we were done with the hills and had two miles of flat roads to the finish line. We knew we were going to finish well under the time limit. Tony looked at Pam and me and asked if it was okay to run ahead of us. We both said, absolutely. We’d be fine. He took off and had a great finish. Pam and I finished several minutes behind him. He was waiting for us at the finish line and we all celebrated our accomplishment together.
So how does this story relate to business?

The business climate has been extremely challenging over the last few years and there have been a lot of steep uphill and downhill climbs for most of us. What we need to remember is that no matter how tough the road ahead may be, there are people who have our back…people we can depend on no matter what.
So take a look around your office and within your centers of influence to inventory who those people are. Then take the time to thank them for being there for you and having your back. These people are a true blessing in your life and it’s important that you let them know how grateful you are and that you return the favor when they need your support.

In Times of Trouble, Help Is on the Way If You’ve Built a Support Network

July 6, 2011

I’ve written blogs about my neighbors being my “crowd support” when I’m out running or cycling as I train for marathons and triathlons.  I’ve written about how they honk, cheer, shout out and wave to show their encouragement of my efforts.  But never did that support mean more than recently, when my home was flooded.

During the worst of the torrential rains, my driveway had more than 8 inches of standing water in it.  The driveway drain couldn’t keep up with the constant deluge of water.  I had two small pumps connected to hoses draining the driveway water to the street, in addition to the main drain, but that still wasn’t enough.  Seeing the water coming into the garage and knowing it would eventually come into the house, I went outside with a bucket and started bailing water in the lightning and thunderstorms with the sirens blaring. No, that wasn’t wise or safe, but I figured if it was my time to go, I was going to go trying to save my home.

Once the sirens shut off and the storms passed, my neighbors came out to assess any damage to their homes.  When they looked around or drove by, they saw me taking water to the street in a bucket.  Within minutes, an army of help showed up.  Neighbors I knew and ones I’d never seen before came with pumps, hoses, extension cords and buckets.  Within an hour there were 7 pumps, 10 neighbors and lots of buckets.  The damage to the house was significant.  But nowhere near what it would have been if everyone hadn’t shown up to help.

For those who know me well, they know I’m very logical, very determined, but not particularly emotional.  But on that day, as I looked at all those people who came to help me save my home, it brought tears to my eyes.  Their kindness was overwhelming.  It made me realize more than ever how fortunate I was to have such an extensive and caring support system, including support I never knew I had.

The next day, I went to thank my neighbors with a note and a little gift.  My next door neighbor, who had three family members helping for more than 5 hours, said, “You are the picture of courage.  Most women, would have seen that water and thrown up their hands and given up.  But not you.  You got out there with a bucket, determined to drain that water no matter what it took.”

So how does this story relate to business?

In our business lives, we have support systems…some we know and some come to our aid in times of trouble because it’s the right thing to do.  The key to having a great support system is relationships.  If we don’t cultivate relationships in good times, the support won’t be there in hard times when we need it most.  Often, I think business professionals are so focused on their day to day jobs and goals, they forget to look at the bigger picture.  And the bigger picture is that you don’t reach your goals all by yourself. It takes the support of others, whether that’s staff, vendors or strategic alliance partners, we rarely accomplish great things all on our own.

The other thing we must remember is that courage and determination are critical to our survival and success in business.  You can build the foundation for a great support system, but if you don’t exhibit leadership, determination and courage people will be much less likely to follow you or come to your aid.

So the next time you’re sitting at your desk, completely focused on the task at hand…look around you.  See who you can count on if things get tough.  And if you don’t see anyone, it’s time to start building your support network.  Get up from behind that desk with determination and start the relationship building process today so that support will be there down the road when things get tough and you need it most.

Anything Is Possible with the Right Tools and Determination…in Racing and in Business

May 3, 2011

It’s human nature to set goals for ourselves and to constantly strive to be better…whether in racing or in our professional lives.

For runners, the goal is to push yourself to be faster and set a new PR (personal record) at every race and in every distance.  This year, my goal was to break 4:30 (four hours and thirty minutes) in a marathon.  My best marathon time was 4:41.  Now shaving twelve minutes off your marathon time may not sound like that big of a challenge, but it is.  And I knew if I was going to achieve my goal, I was going to need the right tools because desire and dedication alone, wouldn’t be enough.

I had set my previous PR last year with the help of the Runner’s World Challenge and their training program.  So this year, with a new goal in sight, I went back to the experts who had helped me the previous year.  This year, Runner’s World had a new set of training programs.  These programs were custom designed to help you achieve specific marathon finishing time goals.  So, I purchased and trained with the Break 4:30 program.

I was diligent in my training.  I did all the workouts and met or exceeded all the pace goals for each workout, but still I wondered if I had what it took.  I knew my mind and heart were up for breaking 4:30, but I wondered if my body was up for it. On May 1, at the Flying Pig marathon, I got my answer.  The answer was YES!

This year’s Flying Pig was my sixth marathon. Traditionally, I feel good for the first 17 miles.  But somewhere between mile 18 and 22, my body starts to feel fatigue, my pace slows and it’s my heart and mind that get me to the finish, often setting a PR in spite of my fatigue.  This year was different.  I felt strong the entire race…so strong, I ran a negative split (a faster second half than first half) and my last mile of the race was a 9:31 pace, nearly 45 seconds faster than my average pace for the entire race.  I crossed the finish line in 4:27:25.  I couldn’t believe it.  Not only had I achieved my goal, but I did it feeling strong the entire time.  That was truly an accomplishment.

So how does this story relate to business?

First, to achieve success in business, we need the right tools.  Those tools can be equipment, financing, strategic alliance partners or just simply being willing to ask others for help.

Second, we need to have our heart and head in the race.  When either of those call it quits, we are likely to fail.  Sure, there are times where it’s no longer wise or feasible to continue on. This economic downturn certainly showed many companies that lesson.  But how many of those companies just gave up without a fight?  More than I think we’d like to admit.  Some just got fatigued as the miles of their journey got longer and harder.  They just didn’t have the determination to continue on and they called it quits.

So the next time your journey becomes long and hard and you think you can’t go on due to fatigue…think again.  Take a deep breath and dig deep.  Reevaluate your situation and attack it with everything you have.  I think you’ll be surprised what you can do when you’re fully engaged in the race and determined to achieve your goal.

Home is where your heart is, in racing and at work.

June 17, 2010

People’s passions lie where their hearts lie.  And where their hearts lie, their loyalties lie.  This is important to keep in mind in racing and in business.

I was recently profiled by Runner’s World for a story on their web site as one of the magazine’s Runner’s World Challenge participants.  One of the many questions I was asked was, “What is your rave run?”  For those who read the magazine, they know each month Runner’s World features a person’s rave run.  Usually, this run is somewhere very scenic, even exotic.  My answer to this question was neither of those things.

My rave run is a neighborhood about a mile away from my house.  The scenery isn’t what makes this my favorite run.  It’s the people who live in the neighborhood that make this run so special for me.  Over the last several years, these kind, friendly people have watched me train all year long for marathons and triathlons, and they have followed my progress.  They are the first to slow their cars down so they don’t “buzz” me when I’m running or cycling.  They thoughtfully yield the right of way to me so I don’t have to slow down my pace.  They high five me, shout out encouragement and wave as I make this 2.5 mile loop over and over again.  When it’s sweltering hot, they ask if I need my water bottle refilled.  When thunder starts rumbling, someone will often stop and ask if I want a ride home. When it’s freezing cold, they tell me my dedication is an inspiration.  But the reality is that they are my inspiration…like crowd support during a race.  And that support helps my performance.

The reason this neighborhood is my rave run is because even though I don’t actually live in this neighborhood, it feels like home.  A place where I know I’m always welcome.  A place where I feel comfortable and at ease.  A place where I’m surrounded by caring, friendly people who support my efforts on so many levels.  This neighborhood is a very special place to me.

So how does this story relate to business?  When employees, vendors and others we work with feel at home, they feel a loyalty to us and our businesses. They are also more motivated to perform at their best and go the extra mile.

Many people leave their jobs to go elsewhere because they don’t feel welcome, appreciated or respected.  Companies lose good people every day because of this and that costs them time and money.  Yet it would seem so simple to prevent this by treating their business associates like neighbors and making them feel at home.

If you want to be someone’s rave employer or rave vendor, you just need to go the distance to make sure they know they’re welcome, appreciated and part of your workplace neighborhood. It’s amazing how simple kindness and a little support makes such a huge difference in the way people feel.

I encourage you to be a good, supportive neighbor to those you work with.  You have my word you will reap the benefits in a very special way by filling people’s hearts, fueling their spirits and creating a sense of community.

An incredible journey creates a new family.

June 9, 2010

For me, one of the best parts of any journey is the people I meet and the things I learn.  That was never more true than when I ran the Flying Pig marathon this year as part of the Runner’s World Challenge.

One of the many benefits of the Challenge was a special forum that only Challengers could access.  In this forum, Challengers could exchange information, ask questions of the Runner’s World experts and other Challengers.  Over the training period of 16 weeks, we got to know one another very well.  We learned about each other’s personal stories…our families, work lives and running history.  We also learned about our goals for the race and why those goals were important to us.

Race goals varied, including setting a personal record (PR), running a negative split (running a faster second half than first half of a race) and not hitting the wall.  The wall is this crazy thing that many marathoners hit between miles 16 and 22 where their body basically starts to shut down (a little or a lot) and it can be very painful.  Marathoners have to work through this experience to get themselves to the finish line.  Once you hit the wall, the journey to the finish is as much mental as physical, if not more mental.

Prior to the race, Runner’s World had a number of events for Challengers to meet the editors and fellow Challengers.  This was amazing.  It was so great to be able to meet the people I’d grown to know and feel had become part of my family.

Family is an interesting thing.  Family can be genetic or by marriage.  But families can also be made up of people who share common bonds, passions and experiences.  And the Runner’s World Challenge helped me build a whole new family.

On race day, I got to run with some of my new family members.  Pam was running with her husband Tony.  They’re a married couple from Illinois who trained together.  Now that’s family!  Pam was running the half marathon and Tony was running the full marathon…his first marathon.  I had noticed in the forum that Tony and I had similar finishing time goals.  So when we were at one of the pre-race events, I asked him if he’d like to run together.  He thought that was a great idea.  Our finishing time would help Pam pace for her finishing time until she had to split off from us, so we all agreed this would be fun and a good strategy.

On race morning, the gun goes off and it’s lightning, thundering and rain is pouring down on us.  But we’re family.  We stick together and support each other.  We know this is not going to deter us from our goal.

Since Pam and Tony were from out of town, I felt my job in the family was two-fold.  First, to be a good tour guide and point out some of the beautiful aspects of the course.  Second, since I was the most experienced of the three of us, I was also the pacer.  My job as pacer was to make sure we didn’t start out too fast and kept an even effort so our pace would average out to what we needed to finish in our goal time.

Pam and Tony’s job in the family was to keep us all focused on something other than the race and how our bodies were feeling.  They kept the conversation lively and constant.  When you’re running 26.2 miles, this is a luxury and a joy.  I’d run three other marathons prior to this one.  The most recent one, I ran 19 of those miles all alone.  There wasn’t a single person running my pace and there was no crowd support on that course.  So, having the support of our new family on this race course really made a difference for all of us.

Pam left the family and went out on her own about mile 8, which is where the half marathon and the full marathon split off.  Tony and I continued on together.  We talked about all kinds of things…our common weight losses, our families and friends, life…you name it, we talked about it.  The miles flew by.  About mile 15, one of our other family members, John, joined us.  He brought a whole new dynamic to our family journey.  John’s job was to get the crowd excited.  The Flying Pig is known for it’s outstanding crowd support.  But John made it even more outstanding.  As we’d run by crowds of supporters, John would yell out, “We can’t hear you!” and the supporters would go wild.  It was incredible and quite inspiring.

About mile 20, Tony was starting to fatigue a little.  He told John and I to continue on and he’d see us at the finish line and the after party.  We knew he’d be fine because Tony and I had talked about this prior to the race that if anyone needed to drop back a bit, the others would go on ahead.  So, John and I continued on knowing Tony wouldn’t be far behind us.  About mile 22, John was ready to kick it into high gear.  I wasn’t ready for that quite yet.  So, I told John to go ahead and I’d see him at the finish line.  He took off, and I could see him ahead of me for part of the remaining 4 miles.

The last four miles I ran without any family members, but that was okay.  Because the spirit of our bond filled my heart and gave me the energy I needed for that final, fast push to the finish.  As I crossed the finish line, I was overwhelmed with a sense of joy for all of us and what each of us was about to accomplish.

After the race, we all celebrated at the Runner’s World post-race celebration.  We exchanged stories and experiences and rejoiced in each others journeys.

So, how did it all end up for my family members?  Pam set a PR.  Tony achieved his goal finishing time and his first marathon PR, John is one step closer to running a marathon in all 50 states and I set a PR.  Some of our other family members we didn’t run with, Vanessa, finished her first marathon in an impressive time.  Tammie ran an impressive marathon and pushed herself hard.  And Steve, not only ran an impressive marathon, he did something he had never done before…avoided hitting the wall to run a strong, very fast race.

But those accomplishments, while exciting, aren’t what all of us remember and can’t stop talking about.  What is most important, is how we each played a key role in helping the other achieve their goals.  We formed a bond that cannot be broken and now have a new, extended family.  We shared a very special, remarkable experience together that ties us to one another.  And we hope we will all have the chance to run together again in the future, as a family.

When I started the Runner’s World Challenge journey, my goal was to utilize the tools of this program to improve my running and hopefully set a PR.  But what I got in return far exceeded that.  I met incredible, inspiring people who challenged me and I challenged them.  We formed a common bond through a unique experience that we shared for 16 weeks and will continue to share for a lifetime.  And that was the best part of the journey and something we will all treasure forever.

Surrounding yourself with the best experts pays off in racing and in business

June 1, 2010

I recently participated in the Runner’s World Challenge to train for the Flying Pig marathon. I’ve trained for marathons before, but never quite like this. For this marathon, I was being helped by some of the best and most knowledgeable running experts in the nation. And it really paid off.

We’ve all heard the saying that the best business owners and CEOs surround themselves with the best people and that’s what makes them strong and successful. We’ve also heard that surrounding yourself with people and situations that challenge you will help you excel. It’s not any different in racing and my experience with the Runner’s World Challenge is a perfect example of that.

The Flying Pig 2010 was my fourth marathon and my second Flying Pig. In past marathons, I’ve gone out too fast in the first half, only to feel fatigued to a point where I slowed down significantly in the second half. The Challenge training program taught me a lot of things, but one of the most important ones was pacing. Through very strategic and focused workouts designed by the experts at Runner’s World, I was able to truly find my pace, better control it and learn to do a negative split in my training runs, no matter the distance. A negative split means you get faster as the workout progresses instead of slowing down as you fatigue. While this newly found feel for pacing was encouraging, I knew the real proof of what I learned would be on race day when adrenaline is surging and I’m surrounded by other runners who may be pacing faster than I could or should run.

The other aspect of the Challenge is that it truly challenges you. My personal challenges were to run the race with a negative split and to set a personal record (PR).

Race day comes. It’s lightning, thundering and rain is pouring down. Not exactly ideal conditions to set a personal record for yourself. But I was determined to try. I had trained hard, and I was up for the challenge.

The gun goes off, and it’s my time to implement my new training knowledge. I did. The end result was a finishing time 40 minutes faster than my previous Flying Pig finishing time last year and 20 minutes faster than my fastest marathon time on a different course. I met my second challenge too. I ran a second half that was five minutes faster than my first half and accomplished my goal of running a negative split.

So how does this story relate to business? When we surround ourselves with the best possible people we get stronger. When we challenge ourselves or strive to meet challenges others set for us, we grow in amazing ways and better ourselves and our performance. When we invest in ourselves and our businesses to learn from experts, we avoid making costly mistakes and save ourselves time and money. When we pace ourselves, as individuals and businesses we avoid “blowing up” and losing energy. And when we are energized, everyone around us feels it, including employees, vendors and clients.

So the next time you think you’re going to try to go full speed to the finish line in business, think again. Remember running a business is an endurance race, not a sprint. Pace yourself wisely and you’ll find that when you get to the finish line, you will arrive with energy, a new perspective and a sense of pride for a job well done.

Help From Others Can Get Us to Our Goals Faster in Racing and in Business.

April 12, 2010

I’m a big believer in asking for help when I need it. I don’t think we can do everything we want or need to do on our own. And I have found the insight and expertise of others will save us time, money and effort in reaching our goals, if we are willing to ask for help.

This became more clear to me than ever during a recent race. I have run the Heart Mini Marathon for four consecutive years. It was the first race I ever ran and it got me hooked on running. Each year I’ve run this race, I’ve improved my time a little bit, which I was pleased about. However, this year, I wanted to improve it a lot! To do that, I knew I’d need some help.

In January, I signed up for the Runner’s World Challenge. One of the main benefits is that you get a customized marathon training program designed by Bart Yasso. Yasso is the Chief Running Officer at Runner’s World and he’s run more than 1,000 races, triathlons, biathlons and eco-challenges over the past 28 years. He also happens to be my running hero. So, having an expert like Bart Yasso helping me train for my next marathon was a dream come true for me.

As I followed the training program, asked questions of the Challenge experts (including Bart Yasso), I started seeing significant improvement. It was exciting! But often in racing, just like in business, things go well in training but don’t always convert to success in the final implementation and execution. So, the Heart Mini Marathon would be my chance to take my new training for a test run…literally.

On race day, I lined up in the corral with all the other runners. As I made my way to the area where I thought I wanted to start, based on the pace I hoped to run the race. I noticed a couple of guys with a stick and some balloons that read 9:45. This was the pace they planned to run the race and it was also the pace that would get me to the finish line in my very aggressive goal time. I approached these two guys and said, “So you’re pacing this race?” They replied they were pacing the Flying Pig marathon and taking their pacing skills for a test run. I asked if it was okay if I joined them. They said absolutely!

In racing and business most people have strengths and weaknesses. One of my strengths in racing is endurance. One of my weaknesses in racing is pacing. I tend to start out too fast and then lose momentum. My hope was that running with a pace team, I’d avoid this because they’d make sure I ran at a consistent pace. They did! Not only did they help me run a consistent pace, they paced a little faster than 9:45. What that meant was my finishing time for a 15k (9.3 mile) race was more than 8 minutes faster than the previous finishing time. Now, if you’re not a runner, that may not sound like a lot, but it is. It’s almost one minute per mile faster than my previous personal best. To put that in business terms, that would be like completing a major project more than a week early.

As we crossed the finish line, I couldn’t thank the pacers enough. I was so grateful for their help. And I was equally grateful to Bart Yasso and the other experts at Runner’s World who designed such a fabulous training program that helped me push myself to a goal I would have only dreamed of a year ago.

You may think the point of this story is the importance of asking for help when you need it. It is. But it’s also about showing gratitude. While seeking expert advice to help you reach your goals is a good strategy in racing and in business, it’s also important to thank those who help you achieve those goals.

Always remember, while you may cross the finish line in racing and in business by yourself, there were others who helped you get there. You should never be too busy to thank people for their time, expertise and willingness to help you. And sometimes thanking people once or twice, just isn’t enough.

The next time you reach a goal, think about the people who helped you achieve that milestone. Then, pick up the phone, type an email, send a hand written note or whatever you feel is appropriate to let those people know how much you appreciate their help. Then, take your gratitude to the next level…and when someone asks you for help, don’t hesitate to give it.

Remembering the past can drive our future in business and racing

January 15, 2010

Sentimental journeys can be rewarding in business and in racing. You don’t have to stop to smell the roses. You can do it at race pace too.

Not long ago, I ran the Kansas City marathon. Kansas City is my home town. So I was excited to run this race. The course, while challenging, is spectacular and extremely sentimental for me because the course goes through numerous neighborhoods that hold fond childhood memories.

Add to that, I ran the first 7 miles with one of my best friends from grade school before she split off to finish the half marathon and I continued on to finish the full. Then at mile 8, I ran past another grade school friend’s home, where she and her family were in their front yard cheering me on as I ran by.

Before I ran the marathon, many of my friends asked if I had a goal finishing time in mind and if I thought I would set a PR (personal record). I explained to them that I really didn’t think I would set a PR and that wasn’t my goal for this race for a couple of reasons. The KC marathon course is a much harder and a more hilly course than the marathons I’d run previously. Also, I really just wanted to take my time to enjoy running with my friend who I hadn’t seen since childhood and reminisce about all the wonderful memories I had from my youth as I ran the course.

The first seven miles flew by. For me, the miles go faster with other people and I had seven miles to catch up on life with my friend, Maria. That was the highlight of the race for me. The other reason those miles went so fast was because I was pacing Maria for her goal finishing time of the half marathon which was a much faster pace than I would normally run a marathon. It was critical to me that she not sacrifice her goal because I would normally run a much slower pace for a full marathon. I felt like I could push really hard for the first seven miles with her and then slow down a bit once we split off. I realized this strategy could mean I’d burn out early and struggle in the later miles, but it was a sacrifice I was more than willing to make.

After splitting off from Maria, I was on my own for the rest of the 26.2 miles. I ran through neighborhoods that included the home where my grandparents used to live, the place where my mother bought my birthday cakes as a kid and numerous areas with restaurants where my family celebrated major milestones such as birthdays and anniversaries. There wasn’t a neighborhood that didn’t hold a wonderful memory for me from my youth. It was a glorious sentimental journey.

Normally, at mile 20, my legs start feeling some fatigue and my pace slows significantly. In this particular race I knew that would surely be the case because the course has a continuous three mile incline from miles 21 to 24. I’d heard from members in my marathon group on LinkedIn how brutal this stretch was so I was prepared for it. When I crested the hill at mile 24, I looked at my watch and realized I was well ahead of my last PR time. Knowing I was only about two miles from the finish and the last two miles of the course were flat or slightly downhill, I decided to kick it into high gear and give it all I had. The result…a new PR that was about 18 minutes faster than my previous one.

The day after the race, Maria and some of our other grade school buddies got together for brunch. Maria kept apologizing that she slowed me down. She said I would have finished in under 5 hours if I hadn’t had to wait for her at the top of every hill. I told her it was just the opposite. I told her I finished in just over five hours and way faster than I could have ever imagined because I ran the first seven miles with her. My pacing her for the half marathon put me far ahead of my usual marathon pace and she was the reason I had such a good finishing time.

So how does this relate to business? I think we often forget to stop and smell the roses in our work lives. Many times I see a “first dollar” on the wall in retail establishments. That’s very sentimental to the owners. But there is nothing displayed that shows other sentimental milestones that occurred after that first dollar. We get so focused on tasks of the day, deadlines or getting that next job or promotion that, in the process, we forget to appreciate all the wonderful people we have in our lives and all the lessons we’ve learned along the way. We neglect to pay tribute to our sentimental journey and the people and lessons who helped make us who we are. They are the same ones who will also help shape our future and the future of others on the road ahead.

So the next time you think you’re too busy to appreciate what you have…slow down for a minute as you crest the hill or climb the corporate ladder. Take the time to reflect and continue on at race pace. You will get to your goal much faster being fueled by all those positive memories and your appreciation for them and the people who made them possible. And believe me, there is nothing more valuable than a sentimental journey. It is the ultimate finishers medal.

There’s nothing like the winning feeling of seeing someone you have mentored pay it forward.

November 23, 2009

In racing and business,  I think some people are so focused on getting themselves to the finish or to the top of the corporate ladder, that they forget part of that process requires other people.  And when we include other people in our journey,  it’s more rewarding for everyone involved.

One of my favorite movies is “Pay It Forward.”  I love how the child in the movie has this idea of how to make the world a better place and word of mouth makes his dream a reality.  I have always believed that in racing and in business, we need to pay it forward.  And one of the most rewarding parts of that is seeing or hearing about how someone you mentored,  is returning the favor.  And hopefully, those who benefited will do the same…and so on and so on.

In a previous Lessons from the Road blog, I talked about a woman I mentored in a half marathon named Jan.  She’s a remarkable woman and a great athlete.  She was so grateful for my mentoring during the race that she thanked me profusely.  I told her it was my pleasure and about my philosophy of paying it forward.  That was my way of honoring my mentors.

Not long after we ran the half marathon together, she ran another one and emailed me to tell me that she wanted to pay it forward and honor the lessons I had taught her.  She told me she took two runners in the pace group under her wing.  She also shared that she could have run well ahead of the group and had a better finishing time, but felt it was more important to help the other two runners achieve their finishing goal times, as I did with her and another runner when we ran together.  She closed her email with “Thank you again for showing me that being a competitor isn’t all about my personal goals but can be even more satisfying when I can share success as part of a team.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

In racing and in business, it’s important to do well for yourself and set personal goals. But it’s also important to help those who need a confidence boost, some advice or someone to pace them to help them do their best.

As we continue to go through these challenging economic and business times, it’s more important than ever to pay it forward.  So the next time you see a business professional or athlete looking like they could use some direction, take the time to help them.  Your kindness and efforts will be appreciated and could start your own “pay it forward” movement.

Perception can drive a strong finish in business and in racing.

October 12, 2009

We know the saying perception is reality and that saying applies to business and racing. I recently participated in a half marathon where I decided to aim for setting a personal record. To achieve this goal, I decided to join a pace group.

A pace group is headed by a pace leader who is tasked with making sure that everyone in the group runs a consistent pace and finishes the race in their goal time. The group leader is easy to spot because they’re holding a sign that has the group’s goal time on it. It serves as a constant reminder and landmark of what you’re trying to achieve.

One of the many nice things about a pace group is you have some company. You learn a great deal about people when you run with them for 13.1 miles. And that makes the journey to the finish line interesting and fun. It can also make that journey very rewarding.

I’m always excited to meet experienced runners and new runners to a race or distance endeavor. In this particular race, I met one of each in the pace group.

Jan was running this half marathon as a gauge to run her first marathon in October. Sherry had run a number of half and full marathons and is a triathlete and triathlon coach. Both women are athletes in their own right and I was honored to be in the group with them.

As we got off the starting line, Jan shared with me that her coach really felt she could finish the race in 2:11, but she wasn’t sure. She had never run that fast before, much less for that long a distance. I told her that there was no doubt in my mind that she could do it and we would do it together.

When we got to the water stop at mile 2, we realized they were out of water and we ran through without stopping. I noticed I’d lost sight of the pace group leader so I picked up my pace and so did Jan. About a mile later, I looked at Jan and told her I was a little concerned that we hadn’t caught up to the pace leader and was wondering how much longer and faster we were going to need to run before we caught up with the group again. Jan just smiled and told me that the leader and group were behind us. I didn’t realize we had passed them going through the water stop.

Since we were in this race together, I asked her how she was feeling and if the pace we were running was okay. She said she was fine and let’s keep the pace we were running as long as possible. I agreed, and we did.

Around mile 7, Sherry joined us. She had gotten split from the group at one of the stops too, had paced a bit too fast and was now looking to maintain a steady pace to the finish. We welcomed her and the three of us continued our journey to the finish line.

As we talked and ran, I learned Sherry was recovering from an injury and this was her first race since the injury healed. I asked her if she was feeling okay and she said she was, but she was concerned. There was a problem with the water stops running out of water at most of the stops and Sherry was starting to feel some muscle pain from dehydration. As we continued to keep our pace for several more miles, she looked at me and said every muscle in her body ached from dehydration and she didn’t think she could keep the pace. I told her to do what she would tell her athlete clients…try to relax and work through the pain. We continued on, and I tried to keep the conversation lively in an effort to distract her from her discomfort. At one point Sherry looked at me and said, “You’re my angel. I couldn’t keep this pace without you.” I just smiled and said, “No, I’m just the course entertainment. There’s no charge.” And we continued to run ahead of our goal pace.

In the end, we all finished well under our goal time and each set a PR. After the race, I ran into Jan as we were milling around in the finishers area. She said Sherry kept saying to her that I was her angel who got her through the race and to the finish line and Jan felt the same way. I later got an email from Jan saying that she felt running with me made all the difference. I was such a motivator and helped her achieve what she never dreamed was possible. She said I was so unselfish for pulling her and Sherry along.

That was their perception.

My perception was very different. My perception was that they pulled themselves along with their motivation, drive and athletic abilities. They had what it took to achieve and exceed their goal finishing times. They did it all themselves. I was just honored to run with them, enjoy their company and make two new running friends. Their spirit, stories and presence made the miles fly by for me. My perception is they got me to the finish line feeling strong, and we accomplished and shared something very special, individually and together. That was my perception.

While our perceptions were very different, our realities were the same. All three of us had a great time running together and set PRs in the process.

So, how does this relate to business? It’s simple. Never underestimate the power you have to effect someone’s perception and ultimately their reality. Seize opportunities to help people along their journey to setting personal goals in the workplace. Nurture their spirit, motivate them and help them see and believe that they can achieve things they may not think are possible. When you believe in others, they in turn believe in themselves. And when people believe in themselves they exceed their own expectations and can achieve amazing things. When you show your faith in others, you will reap the ultimate reward of knowing you have positively impacted someone else’s reality. And that’s truly powerful. Because when we do that, we all cross the finish line setting a personal record.