Fast or Far

Like many of us, I entered the New Year committed to getting back in shape. As part of that process, I began to run…again. Perhaps it’s the endorphins or my best efforts to distract myself from the pain, but I have started to notice more parallels between running and leadership.

Specifically, one of the biggest decisions that leaders need to make is the choice between going fast or going far. Rarely do they end up requiring the same things from us. Neither one is inherently better than the other. Becoming a world-class sprinter or a champion marathoner are both amazing athletic achievements. Yet, they require different types of training and focus.

Here are some post-run reflections…

1. Going farther requires attention to pace and rhythms

When I try to approach a long run like a sprint, I end up dragging and barely able to finish. Similarly, leadership for the long haul requires a pace that is sustainable. You can only go “all out” for so long before you drop over.

2. Train for EITHER quick results or sustainability

Sprinters and marathoners don’t train the same way. The type of muscles that sprinters work so hard to develop would deplete a marathoner’s body of oxygen in the middle of a long race. Similarly, systems that would be ideal to see quick results often don’t end up being what you need to have a long-term impact.

3. Having a community of people around you will help you go farther.

I’ve had the opportunity to run the “Tough Mudder” a couple of times. The first time I did it, the course was 11 miles of mud, obstacles, mud, hills, mud, feats of strength…and mud. It would have been impossible for me to navigate the course on my own. As a matter of fact, the courses are specifically designed so that you HAVE to depend on other people. Life has much more in common with a Tough Mudder event than a sprint. The farther you want to go, the more you need to depend on the people around you.

4. Tracking your progress is essential for staying in a long race.

Why are smart watches that keep track of your pace and distance so popular? Well, one reason is because when you are running for a long time, it’s motivating to know what progress you are making. That’s also the reason why there are mile markers in races. Mile markers let you know how far you’ve gone and give you the psychological strength to keep pressing on. If you are leading something over a long period of time, it is imperative to have ways to measure your progress.

Those are four similarities that I have noticed. I’m sure there are a ton more. I’d love to hear your insights on this too!