Leadership Reflections From The Amway River Bank Run 2023

I participated in the Amway River Bank 25K run this past Sunday. It’s an annual event that was started in 1978. The race, a 15.5-mile stroll through downtown Grand Rapids and more, is one of scenic beauty. You run past the John Ball Park Zoo, along the river bank, and back into the city. Every part of the run can take your breath away.

Over the years, the sponsors have changed. It started as the Old Kent River Bank Run, transitioned into the Fifth Third River Bank Run, and is now the Amway River Bank Run. There’s a lot of history in the race and people are proud.

Something unique about the race is the distance. You hear about 5k, 10k, half marathon, and full marathon but the 25k is an elusive distance. It’s one that brings in runners from all across the country. Over 10,000 people ran in this race. It’s quite the experience to run with that many people!

Runners running the streets of Grand Rapids, Michigan for the 46th annual Amway River Bank Run

As I raced and finished the River Bank 25K, I had time to reflect on the race. This was not my best finish. In fact, I think this was my worst race time for the River Bank Run. 

In this article, I want to share with you some of the leadership thoughts and ideas I had during the run and afterward. I think they will encourage you as you struggle through the challenges of leadership.

Leadership Reflections From The Amway River Bank Run 2023

Leadership Lesson 1: No matter how strong you start, you can fade away in the back half of your leadership

I had trained for months for this race. I followed the official training guide. And I still fell short of my 9-minute race pace. It was a frustrating experience as I started strong, only to fade away.

We love seeing leaders start strong. We cheer them on. We put them in 40 under 40 lists. We have a weird obsession with leaders who start out quickly from the start.

You may have had a strong start as a leader. You may have seen successes that generations past could never have dreamed of. That’s amazing.

But there will be a point when you will struggle. Leading won’t come as naturally as it once did. The pace of change will be greater than you expected. 

Be ready for the fade to hit you. But know that fading isn’t the end of your leadership journey. You can keep going.

Leadership Lesson 2: When you hit the wall, change your plan

On a 15.5-mile run, you can expect to hit a wall. A wall is the point in a race where your body doesn’t want to go any further. Your legs may feel heavy, you may have a mental barrier to overcome, or some other issue.

Sometimes you hit the wall because of poor training. Other times it is due to poor nutrition. Or it might be due to the weather. That’s one of the things about the Amway River Bank Run. It’s hard to train for this race as the weather abruptly changes from cool and dry to hot and humid.

I had planned to run the whole race. I had planned to finish it at a 9-minute pace. None of that happened.

I hit the runner’s wall somewhere between miles 6 and 7. My body didn’t want to perform the way it had in training. So, I had to change my plan to just finish the run.

I forced myself to run for .75 miles and then walk a quarter mile. Rinse and repeat. In doing so, my time dropped, but I was able to finish the race.

Leaders move at a breakneck pace. We believe we have to get everything done right now, right away. 

You’re going to face burnout if you lead this way. You must learn to pace yourself and change your plan when things don’t feel right.

Learn to go slow so you can finish.

Leadership Lesson 3: Listen to your body

Training for a long-distance run will school you in what your body tells you. During training, your body will feel good, bad, and ugly. You’ll try to interpret why your body feels good one day and bad another.

The things your body tells you during your training runs can run the gamut. You may hear it tell you that you didn’t get enough sleep the night before. There may be a shout that you didn’t hydrate enough. Or you might have stomach issues because of something you ate the night before.

All of these are things you should listen for as a runner.

But your body also tells you things as a leader. You can face burnout because you’re not listening.

The tells may be different, but your body is trying to communicate. Listen to your body as you feel sluggish, depressed, or hungry. You may be running into sleep deprivation, loneliness, or poor nutrition. Each of these affects a leader as much as a runner.

Leadership Lesson 4: You can finish

I felt like I couldn’t finish the race halfway through. The thought entered my head that I would have to go to the medical tent and ask to be evaluated. I wanted to do this soooooo badly.

But I didn’t.

I listened to my body. It said I was stupid for doing this but that I could keep going, if I changed the way I was running the race

I slowed down. I kept a run/walk rhythm going. Before I knew it, I was at the finish line. 

I believe you can finish. You have the power within you to keep going when you don’t feel like you can. 

Put one metaphorical foot in front of the other. Keep taking the next step. Each step you take leads you to the finish line.

Me in a Team World Vision jersey with my Amway River Bank Run finisher medal.

Keep Leading

The biggest thing I took away from this year’s Amway River Bank Run is that I could keep going. I had to push my body beyond what I thought it was capable of, change my plans, and finish weak but still finish.

You’re going to go through the same feelings and emotions. You’re going to wonder how you’ll ever cross the leadership finish line.

You can do it. Keep your head up. Push forward. Listen to your body. And adapt to your current situation.

I believe in you.

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