Leadership Lessons From My First Official Half Marathon

Two years ago I did something crazy. I partnered with my pastor and a couple of friends to run a half marathon at 3 AM in the morning.

Little did I know what that experience would bring. It was a time of bonding, growth, and helping the less fortunate.

This half marathon was unofficial and untimed.

Half marathon runner high-fiving children

Photo by Ryan Hanson

Last year, I did something I believed I never could. I ran my first official full marathon. The marathon run was challenging, frustrating, and heart-wrenching.

That’s why, this year, when the opportunity presented itself to run for Team World Vision and clean water again, I begrudgingly said yes. I chose to run the Metro Health Grand Rapids Half Marathon because of clean water.

I ran the Metro Health Grand Rapids Half Marathon this past Sunday, October 20th. It was a much better experience than the previous year. It has me excited for the next half marathon in June.

After every major run, I like to look back and see what the experience taught me. There’s always a valuable insight or two that I take away from endurance running.

Today, I’m going to welcome you into my world of running. I’m going to share with you the leadership lessons from a half marathon.

Even if you’re not a runner, I encourage you to stick around. Read what I have to say. You will be inspired whether or not you run.

Leadership Lessons From My First Official Half Marathon

Find a team:

For all of my endurance runs, I try to find a group to run with. It’s not because I can’t deal with running alone. I’m never alone when I run (I run with my Vizsla named Lok).

It’s that I discovered there’s value in finding a running team.

The last three years of endurance running has been with two different churches, the Gateway Church in Ferrysburg and All Shores Weslyn in Spring Lake. We would meet up and run together.

These group runs were more than training. They were an encouragement. They were a time to learn. And they were relationship building.

Leaders, you need to find a team. Your team may come outside of your workplace but you need one.

Your team will help you. They will encourage you. They will help grow you.

Don’t doubt the value of having a team of people to help you grow as a leader. You will become better because of the people you do life with.

Make it fun:

Training for a half marathon takes time. I spent over 300 miles on the road during the 18 weeks of training.

At an average 9 minute mile, that’s 2,700 minutes pounding pavement. Break those minutes down to hours and it is over 45 hours I spent training. This doesn’t count the just under 2 hours I spent on race day running a half marathon.

That’s a lot of time.

Running can be boring. It can also be a lot of fun. You have to look for ways to make running fun but they are there.

Leading can be boring too. There’s plenty of daily drudgeries you have to do. From reading reports to dealing with team members, you will find things not to like about leadership.

Yet, you can also make leadership fun.

You can choose to celebrate with your team members. There are ways to gamify leadership and make it enjoyable. You can also bring life and fun to the office by making your office a reflection of the people working in it.

Don’t let your leadership be boring. Make it fun and engaging.

Have a plan:

I’ve chosen to follow the Team World Vision training plan the 3 years I’ve run the half and full marathons. They are a great organization helping to end the global water crisis. They also are an organization that wants their runners to cross the finish line.

Because of their desire to see people complete a half or full marathon, they put out a training plan to help runners cross the finish line.

Following the training plan provided takes a lot of time. The plan runs for 18 weeks. You’re constantly doing something. Whether you’re running 4 days a week or cross-training two other days, you have something to do.

The good thing is, having a plan to follow when preparing to run an endurance race helps you cross the finish line. The plan helps you to know where you are, where you’re going, and what you have to do next.

That’s just like leadership. You need to have a plan to lead well.

You never know who’s watching you:

After I crossed the finish line, my phone buzzed and beeped at me. I had received a text.

I looked at the name and was slightly surprised. My nephew had texted me.

I opened the text and there was something I wasn’t expecting to see. My nephew had seen me cross the finish line, snapped two pictures, and sent them to me.

Seeing those photos was awesome. Knowing there was someone I wasn’t expecting to be looking out for me was amazing. It made my day.

Joseph Lalonde in a Team World Vision jersey crossing the finish line of the Grand Rapids half marathon

Photo by Levi Lalonde

Runner in a Team World Vision jersey crossing the finish line of the Metro Health Grand Rapids half marathon

Photo by Levi Lalonde

I didn’t know someone would be watching me like that. But there he was…

There are people watching you as you lead. They’re watching how you respond to situations, how you treat other people, and whether or not you do what you say.

There are people who are watching you. They see you as an example of what a leader should be.

Make sure you’re leading well and setting a great example.

Seeing the finish line gives you a burst of energy:

I started the half marathon strong. I felt great. A little too great.

My pace was 8:15 per mile or so. This was faster than what I’d trained and faster than I had as my goal to finish the half marathon.

It was also too fast to sustain…

I burnt out towards the halfway point of the half marathon. I had to take time to walk and recover. But I never stopped.

There was a finish line. I knew it would appear at some point. When it did, I kicked it into high gear.

My feet began to move like I was at the beginning of the race. I felt full of energy and like I could move faster.

I crossed the finish line running faster than I did most of the race. The finish line gave me the inspiration to go faster and push harder than I thought I could for the last 3-4 miles.

As a leader, you need to have goals in place. These goals are your finish lines. They tell you that you’ve reached the end.

If you have these goals in place, you know where you’re at and how far until the end. Approaching the end of a project, you can see the finish line. It’s right there in front of you.

This can give you a burst of energy to finish well. Make sure you can see a finish line at some point.

Have a purpose:

I wasn’t running this half marathon for myself. I was running the half marathon for my World Vision sponsor child Moorosi and to bring clean water to children like him.

Knowing there was more to the run than just my physical health or the desire to run pushed me to do more than I thought I could. My purpose to bring clean water to children who lacked it encouraged me to finish the run. (If you’d like to be a partner in bringing clean water to children, I’m $250 away from my goal to bring clean water to 60 children as I’m writing this. There’s still time to donate here)

You need to have a purpose behind your leadership. You need to know why you’re leading.

If you don’t, you will burn out quickly and not be able to get back on track. Find your purpose and lead through it.

Your purpose will push you through challenging times. It will help you focus your energy on what really matters.

Find your purpose.

Celebrate the wins of team members:

After I crossed the finish line on Sunday, there was still more work to be done. I had 10 other team members who were running for clean water. They were pounding the pavement and looking toward the finish line.

I could have considered my work done. I crossed the finish line. Yet I knew I couldn’t. I had to stick around.

I got to do one of the most fun things I’ve done all training season. I got to stand on the sidelines and cheer on the scores of Team World Vision runners.

Seeing the look on their faces as someone shouted out their name was priceless. They lit up like Christmas trees and began to push hard toward the finish line. Their hard work, their win was being celebrated.

Look for ways to celebrate the wins of your team members. As they close in on the finish line, be their cheerleader.

Shout to the heavens how proud of them you are. Tell them they’re so close and they’ve got this. Let them know someone notices them.

Your team members will be so excited to see their leader cheering them on. Be the encouragement they need.

Know what you want to be known for:

I really focused heavily on fundraising for this half marathon. I knew my why for running: To bring clean water to those who lack it.

If you’re an email subscriber, you saw some of those emails. Being the owner of the mailing list, I saw something else. I saw quite a few unsubscribes when I asked people to partner with me to end the global water crisis.

It shocked and saddened me to know there are people who would feel led to unsubscribe because I asked for a donation. I don’t charge to receive email updates, I do pay to send them out.

I began to question whether or not I did the right thing by asking for assistance in ending the water crisis. That’s when I heard from a former Team World Vision captain named Nick.

I told him about the struggle I had with asking others and how people unsubscribed. He said something profound. He said

If the worst thing someone can say about you (or what you used your list for) was that you asked them to partner with you to bring clean water to a child, you did something right.

Boom. That hit the heart. If the worst thing someone thinks about me is that I was too pushy in my asks, so be it. I’m okay with being known as the author, blogger, leader who invited people to bring clean water to children.

What do you want to be known for? You have to really think about this one. You need to know what you’re okay with people thinking about you.

Make your life centered around that goal. Make it your mission. Then be bold in making what you stand for known.

If you’d like to help end the Global Water Crisis, you can partner with Team World Vision. For every $50 they receive through donations, a child will receive clean water for life. You can make a life-changing donation through this link.

Question: What have you learned about leadership from an endurance sport? Share your insights in the comments below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.