“Are you ok? Where’s your bike?” asked a worried-looking couple.
“Oh, I am not biking, I am running,” I replied.
“Wait, you did that to yourself running?” they asked.
It had been a pretty hard fall. Coming down a rocky trail my foot tripped and I went down, gashing my arm deeply. It wasn’t the worst wound, the blood just made it look bad.
“Nothing like a little rock ‘n’ roll,” I said, heading off, thinking I was being funny.
For seven months, I’ve been training for a 100 mile trail run to be held this weekend in Leadville, Colorado. That’s right, 100 miles. In one go. Did I mention Leadville sits at a dizzying and breathless 10,000 feet? And the course demands you run up, as high as 12,600 feet.
To be sure, I am no beginner. I’ve remained a keenly enthusiastic runner for 15 years and competed in dozens of races from my local rotary club 5k to the Boston marathon to a 100k night run in Switzerland. I am happiest when I am running. This is, though, my 100-miler.
People often ask me, ‘why do you run 100 miles?’ The answer is simple. I like to compete and test my mind and body to physical extremes. Thinking on this, it occurs to me that the qualities for success in ultra-distance running are similar to those in PR.
Training. To complete 100 miles you need to be physically prepared. That means having – and maintaining – a discipline of running, time in the gym, and importantly learning about nutrition and what foods and drinks keep your energy stores full. Your body will burn through thousands of calories that must be replaced as you run. Every ultra-run also has its quirks. Leadville is at a high altitude. Another race, Southern California’s Angeles Crest, is very hot. You need to train and get experience in those conditions. Similarly in PR, we take time to read, learn, then apply our skills and experience.
Planning. So you want to beat 24 hours, let’s say. It is essential that, when competing over 100 miles, you plan. A good race plan will determine pace, nutrition and clothing, among other things. Then you execute by ensuring what you need is ready and waiting for you at the aid stations – typically there is an aid station every 6 to 12 miles. Similarly in PR, you need a plan against which your team can execute.
Problem Solving. Thirty miles into the race, you throw up. Or you fall and gash your knee. I once had to figure out how to get around an angry rattle snake on my path. Any number of things will happen that mess up your plan. Every racer and every crew supporting the racer will need to problem solve situations like these. In PR, how often have you faced unexpected issues? A missing spokesperson; a misquote; rain on the day of your outdoor event. In PR, you have to be a problem solver too.
Perseverance. Every five to eight hours, you can guarantee a period of time when you will want to quit. Every part of your body will ache and your brain will remind you how good it feels to lie down and sleep. It is during these dark slumps that courage emerges. I have paced runners who had good reason to drop out – asthma attacks, beaten body from a fall; yet unfailingly, they keep going, one foot in front of the other. Yes you are in pain. But it will end at the finish. If you don’t finish, the pain will linger forever. In PR, we often face grueling hours and sometimes impossible-looking asks. It is always easier to short-cut the solution – give ok instead of great work. Does that make us feel good? No. It’s better that we put in that extra push to deliver the best work we can.
Team. You cannot train for, nor race 100 miles without having an amazing team of people around you. My colleagues at work have done so much to send me off for success: looking the other way when I ice my feet under the desk; taking on my assignments while I am gone; packing me with Clif bars; encouraging me. I know many colleagues will be following me this weekend and that will motivate me through the lows. I mean, I HAVE to finish or they won’t let me forget! To everyone at work, you are all on my crew this weekend.