By Kevin Meyer
I've been a little quiet on this blog lately – sorry about that. Basically I've been tied up with training for a marathon. Seriously.
For about the last fifteen years I've had a couple of annual personal goals: visit two new countries and do something radically different each year. I've been remarkably successful, especially on the travel part, which has taken me all over the world. Last year it was Cambodia, Thailand, and Hong Kong and this year it will be India and Singapore. The "radically different" has ranged from learning to scuba dive to learning to write html code to hang gliding to doing a century bike ride. One year it was to figure out what blogging was about… and look what happened.
Earlier this year I decided to do a marathon. Not exactly a small endeavor for someone in their mid-forties who has never run more than three miles at a time in his life, although I am in fairly decent shape. My wife did the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon in 2007 by training with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training program so I thought I'd do the same – even though I knew I'd have to wear the purple team shirt and I really don't like purple.
Training started in February… 3 miles, 5 miles…6… 7… 9… 12… the Wine Country Half Marathon… 16… 18…20. By mid-May the program called for nearly 50 total miles per week. Individual runs during the week then a group long run early on Saturday morning coupled with coaching on nutrition, form, and the like.
About two hours of training a day, with the effort causing me to sleep two extra hours a night, which becomes 28 fewer waking hours a week. I was bemoaning that fact when Dan Markovitz of TimeBack reminded me that it's just a matter of priorities, and I had made the training a priority. Writing a blog post every day was a bit further down on the list, sorry, someplace after sleep and do a good enough job at the real job to stay employed.
It became a journey. Lots of pain, stress from not having enough time, but lots of time to think on those long runs. I especially enjoyed being able to eat whatever I wanted – including entire large pizzas, and still stay the same weight. I started this as a personal endurance challenge, but the real meaning behind what LLS and Team in Training try to accomplish also set in – raising money for blood cancer research. My Central Coast Team raised over $120k, all Teams raised over $9 million at this event alone, over $1 billion since the organization began. Hundreds of thousands of new "athletes" trained along the way.
Last Sunday I ran the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon, all 26.2 miles. I wasn't all that fast, but a few thousand of the 35,000 participants still came in after me. It was brutal, especially the last four miles. My wife said I was actually a little delirious and babbling when I crossed the finish line – perhaps that's related to why all the medics and Team in Training support coaches were coming up to me asking if I was ok during the last mile or two.
It's probably more a mental endeavor than a physical challenge. 26 miles just seems nuts and you have to convince yourself you can really run for hours and hours. But I finished, and am one of the 1/1000 people in the country that get to say they finished a full marathon in their lifetime. Three days later most of the pain is gone – and already there's the desire to do another to see if I can improve my time. Seriously. Someday…
Now think about the lessons from a leadership and organizational perspective: this group took me from 3 miles to 26.2 in four months. Not just me, but thousands of people, many in much worse initial shape than I was in. And the vast majority finished.
Standard work – a standardized training program that has been refined and refined over the years. It's a lot of work, but follow it and you will succeed. Standardized, but flexible and it gets tweaked a bit after every event.
Coaching and mentoring – by people that had gone through the same program. Individualized, but also group reinforcement. Teaching, knowledge transfer.
A common underlying mission with a personal connection – we all know people who have battled cancer, and we want to improve that condition.
Logistics support on the journey – those of us training didn't have to worry about anything except the work we had to do. All of the logistics, planning, and support was handled for us. Perfectly I might add. That let us focus on doing the best we could do.
Pushing yourself way past your expected physical and mental limits does change you. I will be making some changes, doing some things differently, taking advantage of opportunities I previously thought a bit too difficult to achieve.
And getting back into the habit of writing a couple times a week. Let the second half of the year begin!