My first time running any sort of distance was in elementary school. We had to be able to run one mile in less than 12 minutes. I can’t remember exactly, but I feel like this was some sort of state requirement for children. Regardless, we had to run the mile and I couldn’t do it. I had never run that far and I think I was trying to run too fast. I ended up sitting on the school lawn with a brown paper bag, breathing in and out, trying to catch my breath. Humiliating. Life-altering.
Since that time, I’ve done a lot of running and have finally mastered the mile. But, it wasn’t until last Fall 2016 that I really started taking running seriously. In my early thirties, I had reached the most weight I had ever weighed — 249 pounds! I was able to shed some of that weight, but I love to eat good, sugary, salty, chocolatey, tasty food, so it wasn’t easy. But last Fall, I decided that I had had enough of looking in the mirror and feeling disgusted, so I decided to do something about it.
I started running more. 2 miles. 3 miles. 5 k. 10k. I also started working out at Camp Gladiator with friends (who also make up my team at work) three days a week. I’m eating better. In February of this year (2017), I ran my first 10k (6.2 miles). Then, I started adding miles. I worked my way up to 11 miles … non-stop. Slow, but non-stop. Finally, in July … in Texas … I ran my first half marathon. I still cannot believe that!
This hasn’t been an easy journey, but it’s a good one … and it’s still going. I’m down 20 pounds from my highest weight and will lose more. For me, it started from a desire to be more healthy, but I’ve learned so much along the way. Running has taught me about leadership. Because of running, I’ve learned how to run, lead, manage almost anything. Here are a few lessons from the trail:
- Confidence Ultimately, running is a mind game. If you start out your run saying that you can’t finish, I guarantee that you won’t finish. But, if you learn to be confident in your abilities and trust your training, you’ll finish every time. In the same way, I’ve learned that to lead well requires confidence in my abilities, experiences, and self.
- Hard work This is an understatement. I wish I knew how many gallons of sweat I’ve produced during the 150 miles I’ve run since April. Your legs hurt. You want to quit. Your muscles are spastic. Your arms fall asleep. Blisters. Twisted ankles. Hills. Running is hard work, and so is leading people well. There have been tough conversations, times I wanted to quit, mistakes I’ve made. But, like running, good leaders know that hard work is part of the job.
- Endurance You can’t run long distances, if you don’t have the ability to endure it. The funny thing is that I didn’t learn endurance by running long distances. I learned endurance by cross-training with Camp Gladiator. That’s because cross-training engaged other muscles that I needed so that I could run better, which allowed me to farther. Effective leaders develop endurance through their cross-training. I learn a lot about leading through my daily responsibilities, but it’s what I do outside of those that really will make a difference in how I lead — critical conversations, directed learning, personal evaluation.
- Pace I’ve learned that the faster I run, the shorter the distance I will go. And, the flip-side of that is, the slower I run, the longer the distance I will go. This is all about pace. On race day, runners like to shoot out of the gate … fast. I’ve had to teach myself to not join the pack, but to stick to the pace that works for me. This means that I’m slower than others, but it also means I will do better in the long run. Leaders need to pace themselves, too. Trying to do too much, too quickly, causes burnout. But, I’m seeing that when I develop a strategy, I may move more slowly, but I know that I will accomplish more.
- Patience I’ve reviewed a lot of training programs for running. Not one of them starts you at two miles on day one, then has you run 10 miles on day two. That’s because you need to build up to it, and that takes time. Weight loss also takes time. There’s no healthy way to lose weight quickly. It takes time and lots of patience. One pound a week. The same is true about good leadership. An effective leader understands that being patient yields greater results because it’s impossible to move someone from a 0 to a 10 in 24 hours. People need time to grow and to learn.
- Commitment Running long distances is a commitment on two fronts. First, it’s a time commitment. My longest runs often too 2 and a half hours. Second, it’s a distance commitment. If I run seven miles out from base, I have to run seven miles back to base. As a leader, this has taught me to make commitment to my team a priority. I always knew this was important, but I’m learning that leading well requires time and a willing to go the distance.
I’m grateful for this journey I’ve been on, both to better health and to be a better leader. My life is different today. I’m more confident, patient, committed. I work hard. I’m learning to endure, but pace myself better. That one mile in elementary school was tough, but it’s possible to do more when you put your mind to it.