Nine Life Lessons Learned From a Very Recent Half Marathon

Steve - Half Marathon
Is that an elbow brace on his right knee?

Last Sunday I ran a half marathon in San Jose. It was my second half marathon overall, and my first in three-and-a-half years. My original plan after running Santa Cruz in April of 2012, one week shy of my 50th birthday, was to run a few half events every year. It didn’t work out that way. In fact, due to injuries I ended up taking more than two years off from running altogether and in that time period didn’t anticipate I’d ever run again.

Most people within 10 years of my age seem happy to give up running. “It’s way too hard on your body.” “It kills your knees.” “It kills your hips.” “People in their 50s aren’t meant to run.” These are just a few of the comments I regularly hear. As for me….Booze. Chocolate. Coffee. Running. I love them all, particularly running. I simply relish the feel of hitting the pavement very early in the morning and taking in nature while music pounds through my earbuds. And I really enjoy the post-run endorphin-laced rush.

I have read many an article on how to prepare for longer running events. Here is a slightly different take: nine life lessons I learned from my most recent half marathon.

1. Set Specific Goals – I know this one is obvious, but common sense is not always common practice. I frequently encounter people who don’t set goals, or if they do, fail to establish desired time parameters for achieving those measurable goals. As for me, if we had spoken 12 weeks ago, I would have mentioned a “desire” to run a half marathon, but not a GOAL to run one. It was about eight weeks ago that the bug hit. I just HAD to run in one. Why? After experiencing left hip pain from a torn labrum for so very long, I felt like my body was in a happy place. I was running about 16 miles per week and everything seemed pretty good. The hip pain was “there,” but was tolerable. Thus I thought, “It’s now or never.”

The 2015 San Jose Rock ’N’ Roll Half Marathon was only seven weeks away when I signed up for it in August. But I latched onto Week 3 of an accelerated eight week training plan and dove in, thankfully aided by the fact that my ongoing weekly running mileage was high enough for me to do so.

2. Don’t Get Too Attached To Your Goals – Yes, this is paradoxical, but conditions change and life can throw obstacles at you. If you strictly build your self-worth around goal attainment, you are setting yourself up for a fall. I’d submit that self-worth is an inner game and should not be dependent upon achieving “goals” or obtaining any other externals. As mentioned, I took a lot more time off than anticipated after my half marathon in 2012. I had completed that run in about two hours and three minutes. My NEXT goal was to finish a marathon in two hours. I visualized this frequently. Two hours. Two hours. Just give me TWO HOURS! Why?? E-G-O! Heck, at least I’m admitting it.

As I was preparing for the marathon I completed a few weeks ago, I modified that goal to simply completing the run without injuring myself additionally. My prep runs indicated I’d finish in about two hours and 20 minutes. While this didn’t “thrill” me, I was more than happy at the prospect of simply running in and completing a half marathon, something that a year ago I never thought I’d do again.

3. Build and Live By Your Plan – Another obvious item. You’ve got to build and execute against a plan. It should be logical and battle tested. It should be aggressive but not foolhardy. Increasing one’s weekly mileage by more than 10 percent may not be foolhardy, but it is close. Think about parallels in business. Let’s say your demand generation webinars typically bring in 10,000 registrants. Setting a goal for your next webinar to generate 100,000 leads is sort of foolhardy…unless Tony Robbins is on the docket. Then you should set your sights at 200,000 leads.

4. Embrace the Daily Grind – The road between setting the goal and crossing the finish line is a very long one. If you don’t relish the repetitive and seemingly monotonous daily ritual and journey, then why do it? Yes, cold weather runs, windy runs, raining sideways runs, runs when you feel like crap — ALL of them. Similarly, if you don’t somehow “enjoy” that six weeks of hell leading up to your huge annual event, then why are you in that job of yours, since you know that every year you will endure six weeks of hell, preceded by four months of semi-hell? That’s nearly 50% of your life every year. Learn to love hell. That’s what I do. And no I’m not kidding.

5. Prepare in ‘Real World’ Conditions – “How would the Cardinals EVER win at Gillette Stadium in January? Wind chills are expected to be 20 below?” Yeah I made that up and it might not even make sense as I’m not much of a sports guy. But you can’t anticipate being prepared if you don’t complete at least some of the hard prep work in conditions that replicate the arena in which you will be competing. This was a great lesson for me. I completed most of my long training runs in pre-dawn, nice and cool San Francisco Peninsula temperatures. Even with our frequent heat wave-laden summer, It was never above 65 when I ran most of the time, and I completed my eight-to-ten mile jaunts by 6:45 a.m.

As a result, last Sunday in San Jose, as the sun beat down on me starting at about 8:45 a.m. — 45 minutes into the race, my brain went “Ruh roh!” By mile seven I was hurting. It was only through typically maniacal positive self talk that I kept moving forward.

6. Anticipate Setbacks – In the running world, expect injuries, colds, flu, dyspepsia, tripping on sidewalks (see below), etc. In the professional world, expect colleagues who don’t deliver, YOU who are hung over the morning of a big performance, getting shellacked by an executive, last minute do-overs, etc. The big question is: How do you respond? How resilient are you? How quickly do you get back up?

7. Study What You Can – This was another teachable moment for me. Many of the articles I read advised studying the running route. But in my mind, I knew San Jose was relatively flat, so why bother? Here is why: to pace yourself dammit! I thought my Apple Watch would get me through since I didn’t plan on using ear buds or a running app during the event. But I quickly learned, as I had in 2012 in Santa Cruz, that the course measurements were “different” from the GPS indications provided by my watch and iPhone. Had I simply studied the mileage for every water station on the route, I would have been fine. But as it was, I flew blind other than the occasional course markings and the elapsed time my watch provided.

8. Live In the Moment – Goals are great and anticipation is wonderful, but what about anxiety? Not so much. My nerves got the best of me in the days leading up to the half marathon. Here are two reasons why: 1) I had been running a low grade fever due to a nasty head cold and read a bunch of bologna juice on the Web about the risks or running long distances with a low grade fever; 2) In mid-August I tripped on a sidewalk during a training run and banged the hell out of my right knee. I kept running with it, even with water on the knee that developed soon thereafter. My doctor, who I frequently run into at my gym, told me I was an idiot and not so jokingly warned that my knee might “blow up” if I ran a half marathon on it. So of course I nervously anticipated my knee blowing up during the race. I figured it might lock up and then I’d have to take an UBER back to the garage where I had parked my car IN COMPLETE SHAME.

But last Sunday morning as I left my house at 6 a.m. I had simply had enough of the nerves. I was definitely running a fever. And my knee was most definitely out of sorts. But thankfully a friend had suggested I get a compression sleeve. I had quickly ordered one a few days before, so quickly in fact that I unwittingly wore an ELBOW compression sleeve on my knee and wondered why it kept falling down while I was running. But before and during the run I literally operated in the moment, breathing very deeply through my stomach, and just taking in the sights and sounds around me — no expectations, no anticipation (until the last few miles) — just living in the moment. The knee didn’t blow out, and my fever didn’t get the best of me either.

9. Savor and Enjoy Your Personal Victory — Perhaps it’s human nature but in business I often see people complete a huge “event” (sales meeting, customer presentation, quarterly business review, CEO meeting, etc.) with great success and then immediately begin nervously preparing for their next one and/or hyperactively conducting trailer_park_boys_lpost-mortems on the one just completed. Where is the recognition of a job well done? Where is the celebration? Where is the well-deserved sugary dessert? To me, life rings a bit hollow without the celebration. As for me, I’ve been celebrating all week. Here is one example. While I don’t often watch TV, this week I’ve been basking in binge watching that most low-life awesome of shows — straight from Canada — “Trailer Park Boys.”

On a more serious note I’m basking in the fact that somehow I finished on Sunday in 1:59.58 — two seconds below my aforementioned original goal of two hours that I had repetitively drilled into my brain. Yee haw!!! Coincidence? I do not think so. Boom!

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