Leadership Lessons From A Marathon Run

What a marathon taught me about leadership

Never in my life did I want to run a marathon. I thought it wasn’t for me. And the distance, 26.2 miles, seemed too far for my legs to carry me. Yet, this past Sunday, I ran my first (and I’m saying my only) marathon.

What running a marathon can teach you about leadership

Image by Matt Biller

I ran the marathon for a reason. In areas without access to clean water 1 out of every 2 children die before the age of 5 because of water-related issues. Because of this, I chose to run with Team World Vision and bring clean water to these children. Currently, the West Michigan Team World Vision team raised over $400,000 in donations for clean water. That’s a lot of people’s lives changed! You can still make a difference by going HERE and donating.

So, that’s why I ran a marathon this year. Through this marathon experience, I was reminded of key leadership truths. We’re going to take a look at those leadership truths in the rest of this article.

Leadership Lessons From A Marathon Run

You have to invest time to become a better leader:

Training for the marathon wasn’t a quick and easy process. Marathon training took our team 18 or more weeks to acclimate our bodies to the torture we were about to experience.

We ran Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays for months. We changed our eating habits. And we built our strength.

This wasn’t done overnight. We had to push through barriers and weeks of training until we could cross the finish line.

You might have been tossed into a leadership position and had to quickly learn what to do. Looking back, you may see mistakes you made because you didn’t have the time to know what a great leader would do.

Over time, you see those areas. You work on your weak areas. And you become a better leader. Leadership wasn’t a quick journey. You’ve spent the time to grow and mature into a better leader than you were when you began.

There is the possibility of getting hurt:

My marathon training began with a major setback. I’d purchased a pair of running shoes that hurt me. After running, I could barely walk. Weeks later, I still struggled with the injury. I was hurt.

There were other runners who didn’t get injured during their training. They were able to train without taking time off to heal.

Like the runners training to run a marathon, you may or may not get hurt leading. However, chances are, you will get hurt.

A good friend will leave your organization on bad terms. Someone will accuse you of an inappropriate action. Or it could be a failure in the business.

Hurts come and go as you lead. Be ready to be hurt. But also be ready to heal.

Leading will be emotional:

For the first 20 miles or so of my marathon run, I felt fantastic. My pace was under my goal. I was on cloud 9. Then the wall hit.

After mile 20, my body felt like it was being broken. Muscles spasmed and I could barely move forward. This changed my mindset. I began to become very emotional.

I called my wife to talk during this time. She encouraged me I could do this. All I had to do was put one foot in front of the other. I didn’t want to go one more step. I wanted to sit and cry.

Had I let my emotions take full control, I wouldn’t have finished the marathon. I would have been on the side of the road being picked up after the race ended.

Leading will take an emotional toll on you. You will have mountain days where you feel like you’re the king of the world. Then there will be days where you feel like you’re in the lowest of low valleys.

Know you won’t always be happy leading. There will be days you want to give up. You’ll want to stay at home pulled into the fetal position.

These feelings will pass. You’ll realize these emotions were a brief moment in time.

Leading is better with friends:

Running 26.2 miles by yourself is challenging. What I found to make it better was running the race with someone else.

I started running the Metro Health Grand Rapids Marathon with Greg and Marcia. After Greg left and I lost Marcia, I paired up with a really cool lady named Amanda.

She is a 50-year old woman who’s husband biked parts of the run to bring her fuel. She’d previously run a marathon before. This time around, she was used the Hanson method to train.

For the next 15 or so miles, Amanda and I shared about our lives, the run, and so much more. Having her next to me made the miles go quickly. She said the same thing when I reached out to her after the run.

Don’t think you have to lead alone. You don’t. You can find someone to stand next to you during your time as a leader.

Finding someone to run the leadership race with you will help take off a lot of stress. They will be there to hold you up when you’re feeling down (Remember, there will be emotional battles leaders will face!).  And they can remind you of why you’re leading.

Leading is always better with a friend. Find one.

Be careful of the comparison game:

I finished my marathon at the 4 hours, 54 minutes, and 53 seconds mark according to my chip tracking. This was much slower than I’d planned. Worse, it was even slower than the guys I’d trained with.

This wasn’t how my first marathon was supposed to turn out. I was supposed to be able to run the race well, like Ben and Greg.

Comparing myself to them hurt me. I looked at my effort and saw failure. And that’s not the truth.

I finished a freaking marathon. I ran 26.2 miles. And I brought clean water to over 32 children in need. That’s not a failure. That’s success.

When you begin to compare yourself and your efforts to others, you hinder the great work you’ve done. You fail to see what you did and you see what wasn’t or what could have been.

Stop it. Stop it. Stop it.

Your accomplishments matter. Even if they’re not what you expected or what someone else did. What you did is unique to yourself and something other people rarely do.

Kill the comparison giant. Know you’ve done great.

Question: Have you run a marathon? If you have, did you take away any leadership lessons from the marathon? If you haven’t, what leadership lesson I shared resonated with you the most?

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