Leadership Lessons From Running A Half Marathon At 3AM

Why I Ran A Half Marathon At 3AM

Many months ago, my pastor came up with a crazy idea: Let’s run a half marathon! (For those of you who don’t know, a half marathon is 13.1 miles. That’s a long distance to go by foot.) That sounds crazy enough on its own. The next thing he said was: at 3 AM.

Wait… What? Did I just hear Pastor Ben right? He wants me to run a half marathon early in the morning? Well, he had. And I tentatively agreed.

half marathon leadership lessons

There was no firm commitment on my part. I think I said: I think I could do that.

Over the next couple of months, we did a couple of preparation runs. We started out at a 6 or 7 miler. Our last run together was 10 miles. That was two weeks before the half marathon.

I was cautious. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to accomplish the whole distance.

Sunday was race day. And our team killed the half marathon.

Why I Ran A Half Marathon At 3 AM In The Morning

Before you think I’m crazier than I am, there’s a good reason we ran the half marathon at 3 AM. Our church had brought in World Vision to discuss running a half marathon at the Grand Rapids to raise funds for clean drinking water in Africa. The people at World Vision are doing amazing work.

For every $50 donation, one CHILD will receive clean drinking water for their entire life. That’s not clean water for 6 months. Or a year. That’s clean water for the rest of his or her life.


Their mission resonated with our pastor. He desired to run the half marathon and support World Vision.

One problem: Our church’s missions convention started on race day and over half of the staff would be running in the race. This put Pastor Ben Vegh in a tough spot.

Would he miss church and put the remaining staff members in a bind? Or would he show up and do the services? He chose to be there so his team could run the official half marathon.

His mind began to turn. Could he still run a half marathon and fit it into the same day? The answer was yes. Then the next question was what time would the half marathon have to be run? The answer was early in the morning.

So, I joined with Pastor Ben, Mike, Greg, and Steve to run the half marathon at 3 AM. We had a desire to support our pastor and World Vision.

Every person running on the morning of October 15th, 2017 also donated to the cause of World Vision and clean water for children in Africa. If you’d like to support them as well, you can donate at the World Vision donation page. Any sized donation helps but please consider donating $50. This will change the life of a child forever.

So far, along with the other runners, our church has raised over $12,000 for World Vision. This means over 240 children’s lives have been changed forever.

Leadership Lessons From Running A Half Marathon At 3 AM In The Morning

The preparation for the half marathon at 3 AM took many months and hard thoughts. I wavered on whether or not I could do this. In the end, 5 people from the Gateway Church chose to run at 3 AM.

The time to complete our half marathon was 2 hours 14 minutes and 54 seconds (we actually went a little over the half marathon distance). Our average pace was 9:51 seconds. And the calories burned were 2,138. Not only that, the sky was threatening rain and so was the weatherman.

But, let’s look at the leadership lessons from running a half marathon at 3 AM.

1. You don’t need to see clearly:

Being as we ran the half marathon at 3 AM, there was very little light. The moon was covered by the ominous rain clouds looming overhead. What light there was came from the street and house lights and a couple of headlamps.

But with the minimum amount of light, we could see just enough to get us to the next leg of our half marathon. One foot in front of the other and we were able to cross our makeshift finish line with my wife cheering us on.

You may think you need to be able to see every step of your plan clearly. You don’t. Start with what you can see, then make the next step, and then the next. You will eventually get to the finish line.

2. Community makes leadership better:

In all of my previous runs, I’d only run with a team a handful of times. The rest of my runs were by myself, headphones in so I could listen to music or podcasts.

For this half marathon, most of my training came with group runs. We’d meet up early in the morning and hit the road.

This changed my running preparation. No longer was I listening to music or podcasts. There were no headphones in my ears. It was me and the other runners.

And this community changed how I ran. I began enjoying the quiet running times. I enjoyed the community of runners running with me. And I enjoyed noticing things I didn’t notice when there was noise around me.

You can’t do leadership alone. Leadership requires you to surround yourself with strong people. People who will push you further than you believe you could go.

Don’t be a lone ranger leader. Find people you can surround yourself with and have a community of people you can look to.

3. Faster isn’t always better:

One of my running traits is to run as fast as I can for as long as I can. It’s what hurt me in my longest run, the 5th 3rd 25K (a 25K is 15.5 miles). I wanted to finish 15.5 miles in under 2.5 hours. So I pushed and pushed myself.

Towards the end of the 5th 3rd 25K, something wasn’t right. I hurt like no other and had no energy. I felt like I couldn’t finish the run. That’s when my pace slowed to a crawl. I began to walk instead of run.

For the half marathon, I decided to run the pace of the other men running. Our pace wasn’t fast. The pace of 9:51 miles feels slow compared to my 5K and 10K times but the slower pace also allowed me to stay consistent. And strong.

There wasn’t the feeling of complete exhaustion at the end of my 3 AM half marathon. Instead, I felt like I could continue to run more.

This was a good feeling. The slower pace could have allowed me to continue to run.

You can get burned out by going to fast in running. You can also get burned out leading if you push yourself too fast in the beginning or for too long.

Be aware of how you’re pushing yourself. Are you leading at a sustainable pace? Do you need to slow down or change your methods?

Look at yourself and have a come to Jesus moment with your pace. Then work out a sustainable pace so you don’t burn out in your leadership.

4. Most of leadership and life is mental:

Starting out on any run, I struggle to get past the first 5 to 10 minutes. I’m huffing and puffing, though I’m not going to blow any houses down. Instead, I feel like I’m going to collapse.

Something magical happens the longer I run. Once the first 5 or 10 minutes past, I feel good again.

There’s a mental barrier telling me I can’t keep going. That running is too hard. Or that the gains from running aren’t worth it.

But once I hit my stride, those thoughts go away. And they went away during the 3 AM half marathon.

Some people call this the runner’s high. I’m not so sure that’s the real reason you get through it but I believe there are mental barriers in running any kind of distance.

You have to get past the mental barriers you’re facing in your life and leadership. You have to keep going.

When you push through those mental barriers, you discover you can hit a good stride. The stride you hit will help carry you to the end of your leadership.

Keep moving. Don’t stop because your mind is lying to you. You can make it.

5. You can support great causes doing the things you love to do:

Since I’ve begun to run again, I remember how much I love running. This love of running has now resulted in changing the lives of children in Africa. The half marathon I ran this morning will provide clean water to children and families who didn’t have clean water before. All because I did something I love.

The things you love to do can also support great causes.

Figure out ways to support the organizations and causes you love with the work you’re doing. You could offer your team members a paid day off to support the local United Way in their Day Of Action. Or you could choose to give a child clean water for life through World Vision by asking your team members to donate or through a corporate donation.

Find ways to use your organization to benefit worthy causes.

Question: Have you run a half marathon before? If you have, what leadership lessons did you learn from a half marathon? If you haven’t run a half marathon, what’s stopping you?

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