This blog is a story about sports….and business. We love sports analogies to explain issues and events in our lives, and very often the lessons of sports EXACTLY parallel the lessons in business.

Last night I received a phone call from my son. He had watched the San Francisco marathon over the weekend and was thinking about training for the race a year from now.   He was a talented distance runner in high school, he’s done several half marathons in very good time and he is still in good shape and certainly has the raw talent and experience to complete a marathon.

In his days as a cross country and track athlete, he learned to appreciate the value of training and preparation. He learned about the psychology of “race day”, he understands the impact and effect of diet and hydration and a host of other valuable lessons.

He also knows something else: that I have run exactly one marathon in my life. But I did it in under 3 hours and I trained for 8 months to achieve that goal. So he thought he might get some advice from someone who had been there before – who had done the training and who had achieved success.

So while this story is about my journey – think about it in the parallel terms of how to run a business, launch a product, or how to grow personally and professionally.

Make a Plan

I had done some homework on how to train, and one of the pieces of advice was schedule to run 6 out of every 7 days even if “life got in the way”. So I built an 8 month training plan, and I tracked my actual results against the original plan.  I did not always make the 6 days, but I was close.

Keep Track

I recorded every day’s run on a large poster size calendar that was taped to the wall for me to see. I would learn later in life to call these “Key Performance Indicators” of my progress and success. In business or sports, measure progress against your plan. Make it visible.

Start Slow

I had previously started to train for a marathon 2 other times. Once, I just didn’t get in the groove and the second time, I did too much too quickly and injured myself in a matter of weeks. The third time, I started slowly. Short runs, slow times. I had to build a base and make sure my body could handle the growth and intensity. This time, it worked.

Be Flexible

Every day was different. Some days I was tired, some days I was sore. I went a little easier those days. By the same token, some days I was feeling great and could fly – so I did.   I was still careful not to push beyond my capacity, but I leveraged the good times.

Stick With It

It is very easy to quit.   It is hard to keep going. There is always something. While training, I had to run at night after work. From September to March it is darker in the northern hemisphere so my Monday through Friday training was generally in the dark. By the way, this was winter in Seattle.   As you can imagine, there is a lot of rain there, so a great number of my evening training runs were done in the rain.

Set Goals

I was a pretty good recreational runner in those days. I did weekend 10ks and a variety of other fun runs. So I had 2 specific goals for my running career. 1) Complete a marathon without stopping and without injury and 2) Complete a marathon in under 3 hours. I never forgot, nor changed those goals. I kept them in mind during the entire 8 months of training.

Be Obsessed

I’m sure my coworkers were tired of hearing about my previous day’s run, my awesome speed, how to combat “nipple rash”. I was probably hard to live with. But my obsession, at least for me, was a very important part of my success. Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

The Power of the Mind

In order to complete the marathon in under 3 hours, I had to average 6:52 per mile over the race. I visualized that pace. I rehearsed that pace in my mind. On race day, my conscious and subconscious minds were aligned and keeping score and made sure that my body would follow the programming my mind had written. And it worked.

Set Daily Training Objectives

This was important. Based on the situation of the day – I had a specific training objective for each session. It could have been maintenance, recovery, speed or distance. But I had something specific to accomplish each day.

Handling Adversity

During the months of training I sustained injuries – twice.   Once I could not run for just a couple of days. Another time, I had to stop for an entire week. That’s an eternity on such an intense program.   But because my body was physically fit and mentally prepared – I healed and got back on track fairly quickly.

Seek Help

Running is an individual sport and most days I trained on my own. But I still had to leverage the power of coaching, science and help from friends.   Occasionally I would run with a partner. I would talk to other runners about their training. In fact, I may not have finally succeeded without the aid of a good friend, John McNulty, who met me at the 24 or 25 mile mark. He paced me, he yelled at me, he encouraged me right into the finishing chute.   I really appreciate the gift he gave me and the power of peer support.

Set Milestones

I planned a number of 10k races and a half marathon as part of my training. Racing with a few thousand friends – at “race pace” is a whole lot different than taking a jog in the park. This way, I would really test and measure my progress.

Take a Break

Days off were critical.   Physical healing and mental and emotional rest are extremely important. Often, when I thought I could absolutely not take a day off – I did, and came back even stronger the next day. Get plenty of sleep and maybe learn to meditate.   Rest the body and the mind.

Race Day

There are a lot of things to do and think about on race day. Getting there on time, getting enough sleep, eating right, not starting out too fast.   The devil is in the details. But if you pay attention to the details, the big things take care of themselves. Bottom line: do as the Boy Scouts do – Be Prepared!

The Final Score

2 hours, 58 minutes, 46 seconds. Yes, the destination is the goal, whether measured in profits or personal bests. But the journey is probably more important. The work and preparation are a great part of the reward, but they are also key to success. There may be efficiencies, but there are no shortcuts. In the end … we’re all in it for the long run.