Today is Marathon Day in Boston. Thousands of runners from around the world will come to run the 26.2 mile course from Hopkinton to Boston. This is the 116th year of the race, but in all those years I doubt the runners have ever encountered the heat they will today. The temperature is suppose to reach the high 80’s. Even the most seasoned runners have been advised to pace themselves carefully. Upon hearing the warnings, my young daughter asked me what it means to pace yourself.
As I explained the concept to her I realized that pacing is a pretty foreign concept to a child. Children go at full speed from the very beginning until they hit a wall and completely crash. Their energy and exuberance is one of the great luxuries of childhood. If a child burns out because they have not paced themselves, there is usually a loving adult nearby to pick them up and usher them to the finish line. However, in business, there is no white horse to swoop in and save you if you haphazardly spend all your resources at the outset in a flurry of entrepreneurial enthusiasm. In order to succeed in business you must learn to pace yourself. Of course, this is easier said than done, but if you take notes from the seasoned pros you will have a much better chance of going the distance.
1. Check out the course. You need to know what you are in for. Boston is notorious for Heart Break Hill. If you don’t factor that piece of the course into your race strategy you will be very sorry. In your business, do you foresee any major obstacles? What are your plans for coping with the extra strain they will put on your business? Do you have any cash reserves or any other supports or resources that can see you through those trying times? If you make a contingency plan, it may just save you from pulling out of the race completely.
2. Draft the person in front of you. In racing you can cut down on some of the effort you have to put out by running behind someone else who blocks the wind for you. You can do this in business as well. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel every time you want to try a new idea. There are people who have already been where you want to go and have done what you want to do. Follow their lead and you will quicken your steps.
3. Wear a watch. Runners almost always have a watch on to keep track of their splits. They don’t just guess how fast they are going, they measure their speed. In business you need metrics as well. How else are you going to judge your progress? Are you keeping track of your profits and losses? Do you measure the number of visitors to your website? Keeping track of the numbers lets you know when you are on track and when you need to push yourself a little harder.
4. Pay attention to the competition. When I ran track in high school the coach always used to tell us to keeping looking forward in a race. However, I have noticed over the years that even the most elite runners look over their shoulders towards the end of the marathon. They are looking to make sure there aren’t any surprise challengers sneaking up on them. While you too need to keep your eye on the prize for the long run, you also need to pay attention to the competition. If you turn to check and they are quickly closing the gap, you may need to quicken your pace to keep your edge. There’s nothing like a little competition to put the fire back in your belly.
5. Know your big why. Not everyone chooses to run a marathon in their life time, but for those who do there is usually a very personal reason for doing so. For some it’s the sense of accomplishment or proving a health or fitness goal. Others may be running in remembrance of a loved one or to raise money for a charity. There is a usually a deeper motivation than just getting in a daily run. This personal reason is often what keeps a runner going when the pain of the grueling race sets in. In business, there are many challenges as well, but if you know WHY you are in business those obstacles are easier to overcome. Keeping your motivation front and center can be the very thing that keeps you putting one foot in front of the other.
Running a business is like running a marathon in many ways, however, in business there is no finish line. There is simply the next day and the next challenge. If you can learn to pace yourself through the ups and downs you are more likely to achieve the deep satisfaction of accomplishment without trashing your mind, body or spirit. So lace up your shoes and let the race begin.