Lessons from the roadPosted: September 17, 2014
Leadership lessons from training to run a marathon with my teenager.
I just finished read Richard Branson’s recent blog – Leadership Lessons Begin at Home. #thevirginway
Richard talks about watching and learning from the tenacious spirit, and limitless energy, of his mother Eve. I have a leadership lesson that I am currently learning at home, not from my mum, but from (and with) my seventeen-year-old son.
After running what I thought was my first and last marathon in 2004, my then seven-year old asked if we could run a marathon before he heads off for college. At the time I quickly agreed, and secretly hoped that he’d forget…
In the pre-dawn hours of a New England winter, the thought of running 26.2 miles was daunting, distant and in my opinion; impossible. So we crafted a plan and the lessons began…
Establish the goal
Run a marathon in seven months’ time… this was a stretch to say the least. After some discussion and research we got clear about our goal, and then both committed to it. Get to the start line injury free on October 12, 2014. We figured that if we could do that with all the necessary preparation and training, the running of the race, would be the icing on the cake. Clarity of expectations, getting on the same page, and clearly articulating the goal (with a date) was critical.
Change is personal
I hadn’t run for several years and I was carrying what my doctor referred to as “too much weight for my height”. Early efforts were small, and required changes to diet and a commitment to exercising at least four days a week. The lesson was that the changes necessary to achieve this goal were a personal choice, and not an easy one. If I was serious about achieving the goal I needed to stick to the plan and learn some new habits. We chose a different mind-set from the past to achieve the desired outcome in the future.
Break the plan down
Thinking about running for over four hours to finish a marathon, was incomprehensible at some level. The lesson here is that the biggest, most intimidating goal required a plan, an approach, and a way to eat the proverbial ‘elephant’. We used a spreadsheet to set out the miles that we would run for every single day until October 12, 2014. It became easy to understand, realistic to imagine, and allowed us to take every day one at a time.
We had a plan, we also had lives, and reality happens. The plan had us committed to specific miles that we needed to run every day, “long runs” on the weekends, cross-training days, and rest days.
My son is a senior in high school and I travel quite frequently for work. So we’ve had to get really good about communicating changes to the schedule, adjustments to the miles, and really good about sharing how each of us was feeling in any given week. We also found that communicating during the run was incredibly valuable. Asking for help, sharing what hurts and when, and being clear about our own needs made it easy to learn from each other and adjust the plan in real-time.
Achieving a different outcome (losing weight, running a marathon) has required different habits and choices. Early morning runs have had an impact on family, work, and school, and have required choices that have meant giving some things up. Fewer carbohydrates and fewer late nights are relatively easy sacrifices. The burden that training places on family has been a lesson in open communication, clarity of expectations and forgiveness…
Having a passion or a sense of purpose
Early in our commitment and decision, we decided to do the race in honor of my late mother, the grandmother that my son never met. We joined the team for the American Cancer Society. Knowing that our effort directly related to something that was bigger than us, that we have a passion for, and that we had a belief in, has buoyed us along the way.
Through five months of training we have learned that rest, relaxation and cross training (exercise that is not running) have been as important as the running. While the “work” has required discipline and a plan, so to have the activities that have kept us “whole” as people. This focus on our resiliency has ensured that we have enjoyed this experience, and has set us up to be the best that we can be. Taking care of ourselves and those we work with as whole human beings is something that I am now, more than ever, astutely aware of.
There are other lessons that I continue to learn from my running partner and my all too soon “off to college” son. The lessons of tenacity, perseverance, hard work, sacrifice, good humor at all times, listening, laughing, tradition, and family, to name a few.
Rudyard Kipling’s final sentence of “If” captures some of this sentiment for me:
“If you can fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance, run, yours is the earth and everything that’s in it, and — which is more — you’ll be a man, my son”
Every time we lace up, stretch out, and get ready to run, I realize that we are also creating special memories that will stay with us both for many years to come. Thanks for the lessons my son, I’ve loved every mile of them. I love you!
24 days; 20 hours and 31 minutes to the start line! We’ve got this!