Here are three critical lessons I learned about successful entrepreneurship from running a marathon without training.
Exercise has always been an important element of my daily regimen. I used long-distance running and cross-training to de-stress, socialize, and infuse some amount of control and consistency into a crazy professional environment while beginning my company.
I’ll start with the obvious: I’m a mediocre athlete. However, as I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered that my approach to physical activity has taught me a lot about how to be a better company founder and entrepreneur.
Here are a few of my thoughts and lessons learnt along the way:
Count the miles
I read David Goggins’ book, Can’t Hurt Me, while creating my last firm. Goggins describes his personal transition from a potato chip and chocolate shake-drinking, gelatinous pest exterminator to a ferocious Navy SEAL and Ultra Endurance Athlete. Goggins’ tale captivated me, particularly how he was able to train his mind to push through pain to achieve his goals. His most renowned (and insane) accomplishment was running a 100-mile ultramarathon in less than 19 hours without any proper training, which resulted in kidney failure and shattered feet.
Nonetheless, I figured, what the hell? If Goggins can run 100 miles without training, why can’t Justin Vandehey, a middle-of-the-road athlete with good cardio, run a marathon without it?
So that’s what I did, and boy, was I dumb.
First, I tried to compress training. I went to CrossFit four days a week and bought a weighted vest to help strengthen my legs. According to my calculations, if I ran five miles every day for three months while wearing a 20lb vest, it SHOULD correspond to the wear and tear that my body would undergo over the course of 26.2 miles.
The end result? Oprah and I finished our marathons at the same time. In addition, I had stress fractures in both legs and three broken toes.
What did this experience teach me? For starters, I am not David Goggins. More importantly, as an entrepreneur, the miles are really crucial. It matters how you train for fundraising, sales, or product development. There are no quick fixes for developing these skills or building a successful business. Find a coach, mentor, or advisor who can assist you in developing a strategy for accomplishing your goals in each of these critical areas of your organization. Count the miles.
Take the remainder when you can.
I had a plan in place for my second marathon attempt. I purchased Hal Higdon’s online training program, updated my Apple Watch, and began aggressively charting my miles and heartbeat while putting in the work, including big 20-mile weekend runs.
My objective was to qualify for Boston by running a 3:05 marathon in my age group. I was in a great mood. During my training runs, I was keeping a seven-minute race pace and had read on running sites that adrenaline frequently propels racers to an even quicker pace during the race.
I wanted to put everything I had into training for this race, so I chose to do two non-prescribed squat exercises during my taper week three days before the event.
The end result?
On race day, the adrenaline kicked in, and I kept a 6:45/mile pace for the entire 18 miles. However, I started out too quickly, and those two extra leg workouts eventually stressed my IT band to the point that I couldn’t put any pressure on my left leg. This pain resulted in additional GI difficulties, which erupted (literally) around mile 23. My average pace for the last eight miles was nine minutes per mile. I completed the marathon in under four hours but came far short of my aim.
What did this experience teach me?
Take the remainder when you can. I was extremely stupid for ignoring taper week and doubling down when my body needed to recover. We as entrepreneurs cannot always force an outcome by pushing all of the time. Rest when you need to or when it is prescribed for you. You’re striving for the best possible outcome for your company, and there’s no extra credit for going above and above.
Furthermore, you can’t control all of the variables that emerge when things start to go wrong. I had trained to eat during the race, but the pain in my IT band produced reactions in my body that I could not have predicted. Negative momentum can be just as powerful as positive momentum. Accept it for what it is, and be gentle with yourself when things don’t go as planned.
Accept the suck
After a few marathons and half marathons, two of my friends persuaded me to participate as a third teammate in a CrossFit competition (Hey bro, did I mention I do CrossFit?) I entered the tournament with confidence, knowing that I had just completed a rigorous marathon training program and felt confident in my strength and endurance. The tournament consisted of four different lifts to measure an athlete’s fitness level.
I absolutely crushed the field for the first lift, which had a high cardio component and a long outdoor run. However, for the second lift, we were instructed to perform a single rep maximal clean and jerk movement. This was strictly a strength exercise, and I am unquestionably an endurance athlete with limited shoulder mobility.
The end result? On the big difficult lift, I finished dead last out of 35 people. My particular performance made me feel quite humiliated. However, my other two teammates on our squad blasted their individual lifts, propelling our average to the middle of the pack.
What did this experience teach me?
It’s fine to fail at anything and thoroughly internalize your failure. It keeps us honest and humble about our talents and provides us with a foundation to work on. It also reminded me of the need of a varied team to overall success. We all have strengths that we will excel in, so focus on those and lean on the strengths of the others on your team. For what it’s worth, I did place ninth in the heavy farmer’s carry, which I’m assuming stems from a mix of hauling groceries, growing up on a dairy farm, and carrying small humans (a.k.a. my kids) around.
As entrepreneurs, we query the impossible and test the boundaries that have been set for us. Many individuals believe that we are either predisposed for success (nature) or born into circumstances that predict success (nurture). This process, I would say, is an evolution, not a static moment in time or something we inherit or are born with. It’s also something we should attempt to enjoy.
I’m trying to remember that as I train for an Ironman competition this fall and have already discovered my lack of buoyancy and inability to move my hands and feet at the same time. So, if you’re reading this and know someone who can recommend an excellent swim coach, you know where to find me. I’m the lanky guy in the pool with limited shoulder movement, laughing and crying as I struggle not to drown, fully embracing the suckiness.
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