I have been an athlete my whole life. I love to be busy; I love a challenge; and most of all, I love winning. The problem is, I hate running. I always have. During my time in the military, I can still remember doing mental math to solve for the slowest possible time I could run in order to still achieve an "excellent." I much preferred short, intense efforts at 100% rather than long sustained efforts at a tempo pace. When my college football career came to an end, so did my regimented workout schedule. I had to find something else to keep my mind and body busy. Being the glutton for punishment that I am, I decided to sign up for a marathon. But not just any marathon -- because anyone can run a marathon. I decided to sign up for an ultra-marathon. So, without ever running even a 5k in a sanctioned event, I had just signed up for a 50km (31.1 miles) race. Now that I had something to prepare for, I just needed to figure out how to train. Over the next six months of training, I would come to learn four very valuable lessons that I still carry with me today.
Lesson #1: Building Your Base
When I get interested in something, I get downright obsessive over it. I can easily lose a day devouring as many books, how-to videos, and blog posts as possible on my newfound subject. Once I signed up for this ultra-marathon, running went from being my enemy to being my obsession. In all my research, a theme that continuously popped up was the concept of "building your base." Without getting into the actual science, building a base entails starting at a comfortable slow pace, then gradually and consistently adding miles to your program. The goal is not speed, but consistency and an increase in training volume each week. In the beginning, a 3-mile run felt awful, but after a few weeks of consistent training, I could feel my body starting to adapt. I could run longer and faster without feeling tired -- now three miles felt effortless. As I crossed the finish line of that 31.1 mile race, it was hard to believe that just six months earlier, I had barely been able to run three consecutive miles without stopping. I have since been able to apply the mindset I built and lessons I learned throughout that training to building a business and guiding entrepreneurs in the earliest stages of their companies. I learned the importance of spending the time to build the foundation. When you focus upfront on the processes and procedures that make it possible for the business to be easily scaled, it will help the business grow faster in the long run. Go slow to go fast.
Lesson #2: Measure Backwards
The rate of change in your overall fitness when first starting to train is exciting. You can physically see and feel the changes taking place each week. However, there comes a point when those gains are starting to slow down. At first, I was able to trim minutes off of my original pace, but as my training continued, I began improving only by seconds, not minutes. It was frustrating at first, but all I had to do was remind myself of where I had started. After that, seconds of improvement didn't leave me feeling defeated, they were simply tiny gains that brought me even closer to my end goal. It's common for most people to become discouraged and want to give up altogether. One way I have found to help give yourself a boost is to "measure backwards." Don't continuously try to shave 30 seconds off your 10-mile run, as there will come the point when it is physically impossible for you to do so. Instead, measure where you started from, and it will give you the confidence to continue forging ahead.
Lesson #3: Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
Both physical and mental gains start when you push yourself out of your comfort zone. When starting to train, it is normal for an individual to quit as soon as they reach their perceived limit. Being mentally strong and telling yourself "just one more step," or pushing yourself to run until the next aid station gives you the ability to see how much further your body can push itself. That is where you are able to see real gains in your training. As an entrepreneur, your job will constantly require you to move outside your comfort zone. Building a business is hard, and you will fail – a lot. Failure is all part of the training process, and it will get easier as you continue to push through the hardships.
Lesson #4: Have a Plan, but Expect to Deviate
Endurance athletes are fantastic planners. They must plan for training around a full-time job as well as family obligations. They even plan their nutrition for the entire race. But every endurance athlete will tell you that no matter how good their plan is, come race day, they know it will never play out exactly as they expected. Processing all of the information available and adapting on the fly is a trait that carries over to the startup world. Everyone can create a business plan and a go-to-market strategy for an idea. But where success will be realized or lost is in how you react when the data or product isn't conforming to your well-laid-out plan. Visualizing all of the worst-case scenarios and mentally planning some alternatives will allow you to respond to setbacks in a much more thoughtful and rational way.
Whether you are starting a business or training for an endurance sport, take a page out of the endurance athletes' playbook. Always build a strong foundation, measure backward when you start to feel frustrated, get comfortable being uncomfortable, and always plan and prepare contingencies.