I ran my first marathon after my fiftieth birthday. I've run nine more since then, including the New York and Boston marathons. I'm proud of that fact for a number of reasons, not because I ever came anywhere close to finishing first, but that I finished them all.
A marathon is 26.2 miles. It is as much of a mind game as a physical challenge. You train your body to keep going when you think you can't take another step. You visualize the finish line and the celebration as you cross. The key ingredient is motivation.
There are more than 500 marathons held every year around the world. Most of the participants are amateur athletes, whose reasons for competing span the spectrum.
Training for a marathon is much like preparing for the challenges in business. The pace may be different, but endurance is every bit as important.
My good friend and marathon coach, Bill Wenmark, knows plenty about both running and business. Bill says: "If success in business, like a marathon, were easy everyone would do it. Whether you think you can, or whether you think you cannot, in either respect you are always going to be right. When you master this internal strength you will become a respected leader of others.
"People who start a marathon are not the same, and never will be the same, once they cross the finish line. I just finished my 100th marathon. It was just like my first: proud, strong and willing to take on any challenge. Confidence, character, integrity, grit, focus and determination go a long way in the marathon of life and define many successful people."
Any business or career that wants to be around for the long haul can benefit from these marathon training tips that I received many years ago.
- Set your goals and share them with others. When you announce your intentions, you are more likely to follow through. Write down your goals and hang copies by your desk, on your bathroom mirror, in your car, on your smart phone, and anywhere else you will see them regularly.
- Keep a record of your training and progress. When you run, it helps to keep a log of the dates, distance, conditions, times and whatever else affects your performance. When you work, your record-keeping will remind you about project progress, expectations, agreements and factors that could determine outcomes.
- Remember that you are only human. As important as training and preparation are, there will be days when not even your best efforts are enough. Every now and then you need to recharge your batteries and give yourself a rest.
- Use the buddy system. Work out with a few friends to stay motivated and on track. Ask other friends to act as coaches and your support system. Do the same with your career. Use trusted friends as a sounding board, and develop your network with contacts whom you can also help.
- Take it a step at a time. Don't think about the whole course -- break it into doable segments. You've heard the saying, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Well, you can't get to the end of anything if you don't start at the beginning and work your way through each phase.
- Have some fun. Exercise or work that is all drudgery saps your energy as well as your spirit. Running a marathon is hard work, but hard work can be fun. Building a business or career is like a marathon that doesn't stop at 26.2 miles. If you're going to go the distance, you should enjoy the scenery along the way.
Running may not be your thing, but most all of us have to earn a living one way or another. The majority will work anywhere from 25 to 45 years. The average person will have three career changes and perhaps ten jobs before their fortieth birthday.
Statistics like these make a foot race pale in comparison to the treadmill so many workers must master just to bring home a paycheck. Good training and the right mental preparation will help you find a job you love, that challenges you and satisfies you, and makes you want to get back in the race every day.
Mackay's Moral: Start off on the right foot -- preparation is the difference between dropping out of the race and finishing it.