How the journey to running 90km’s prepared me for starting a business
In 2015 I finally made it to the start (and finish) of the Comrades Marathon after starting to train for the race four years earlier. Taking four years to achieve my goal developed an unbreakable grit in me (so far, anyway). In December 2016 I was filled with a clear sign of my purpose whilst in a very dark place following immigration. This purpose was to help sports people take part in their dream events worldwide by being hosted for free, and resulted in a platform which will launch early January 2019 (follow our social media channels for more updates)
We moved with 7 suitcases, we had no furniture, little money, sat on a mattress on the floor, had no fancy technology or desks. But I had a big dream, and nothing was going to keep me from realizing it.
Don’t overtrain (and when you train, make sure it’s with the right people)
Every run or exercise that you do is a building block towards your goal. Who you surround yourself with in training will have a massive influence on your state of mind during your training sessions and your races.
Don’t think that you must do every single run and training session to succeed, as our bodies are all unique, or listen to everyone. Sure, if you want to tackle a beast like Comrades you need to follow a program, but don’t overtrain. You run the risk of starting to hate running, you will most likely get injured and forget why you started in the first place. You want to make it to the start so that you can make it to the finish.
Similarly, in business, don’t listen to all the advice that you receive. There are way too many people with opinions who simply want to be on the ‘Entrepreneur and Startup bandwagon’, which I realized at the first Startup event I ever went to when someone said they wanted to ‘get into Startup’. I was relieved to find that this hype about startups is a common fear amongst Entrepreneurs, as I later learned when getting to know Sue-Ellen Watts from Scrappi.
Use your head and trust your intuition. I believe that there will never be a clear ‘finish line’ in business, but you do want to approach this business journey with a view to build a lasting, sustainable, scalable business.
Expect to run some of the easy and hard miles with complete strangers
I didn’t finish the Comrades with the person who I trained with for almost 4 years, and whom I ran about 90% of the race with. This person is my beloved mom, who I have the world’s admiration for. It was my biggest dream for years to cross that finish line with her, and we didn’t get to cross it together. I was devastated that this specific moment did not happen, but I decided to eventually focus on the many finish lines we did get to cross together instead.
As your business grows it will pass through many phases. You should expect to, and prepare yourself for not finishing with the same people that you started with. I now know that not finishing the Comrades with my partner in crime prepared me for this lesson. Many people will be perfect for a certain phase of your growth but won’t be a good fit for the long run. Embrace it!
Expect to run some of the easy and hard miles in perfect harmony with familiar faces, and some with complete strangers. Take the lessons from each, allow yourself to find joy in those moments and peace in the fact that nothing lasts forever.
You WILL feel like giving up
When I was about 2km from the finish I could hear the roar of the stadium, the announcers, and the music. The roads started getting more crowded with thousands of cheering spectators and I was filled with new energy (and a slight lump in my throat because I would finish without my mom, thereby not realizing a lifelong dream). Nonetheless, I would finish (and she would too, about 8 mins after me). Knowing what I know now I would have waited for her, but I didn’t, and there is no redo. There is also no point beating myself up about it. Life hardly ever goes as planned.
I am finishing this article from a hotel in Phuket after I started writing it over 4 months ago. I distinctly remember one moment about 4 weeks ago where I thought that I should perhaps pull the plug on this – the moment my personal life fell apart around me.
It was a short-lived moment, as pulling the plug on my business would not have changed anything regarding my personal situation. It would have, however, changed me as a person forever had I decided to give up. Also, the thought of giving up on everybody that I could possibly help around the world filled me with an even bigger sadness when the thought crossed my mind. Most of all, giving up on my dream was not an option.
Here is where I truly believe your ‘why’ matters most, as this is sometimes all that will see you through the toughest times. You are foremost responsible for and to yourself, and the worst thing that I could do was to give up on myself.
Know your ‘why’
I learned some tough lessons in a very adverse childhood, which I now see prepared me for some even bigger challenges that I have faced in life, and there are undoubtedly more to come. A big lesson I learned is that you must do things for the right reasons.
My mom ran the Comrades because my father sneered at her when she said she wanted to run it. ‘You? Run the Comrades? Oh please!’. She then decided ‘screw this, I’ll do it’. And she did (you go mom!). Admittedly, she started running Comrades for the wrong reasons but kept going for the right ones. She runs because she loves it and is an act of self-love to do something she loves so much. To date, she has finished 13 Comrades Marathons and committed four years to help me run my first.
If you are starting a business with the sole intention of making millions, then good luck. Although there is nothing wrong with wanting to make money, which is essential in sustaining a business, I have found that the Entrepreneurial world supports those who want to make a real difference in this world over those who are in it purely for the money. Monetization can be figured out later, and at this moment in July 2018 I’m still not 100% sure how this free hosting platform will reach that point, but I am ok with that.
You won’t have the answers immediately, but your ‘why’ will drive you like it drives me. My motivation to help others is significantly stronger than my motivation to make millions.
The named hills
There are many named hills on the route for which my mom prepared me in every race we ran together by saying ‘this hill is like Fields Hill’, or ‘this is good practice for Pollies (Polly Shorts)’. My successful conquering of the similar hills was a great mental tool for me to use when I finally faced the named hills. If you google Comrades Marathon, you will see thousands of profile shots with all those feared hills plotted out.
There are some ‘named hills’ in the Startup world that you will undoubtedly find across many literary sources, hear at events and find yourself experiencing the second you decide to pursue your idea. If you’re working on monetizing an idea for the first time, then see this as your first hill training sessions. The only way you will broaden your mind, learn new ways of doing it and improve on your ideas is to keep working on them, over and over. One try isn’t enough, and neither is two or three. Do it until you get the result you are after, no matter how long it takes. There is no failing, only learning, and this is probably the cheapest and most valuable business education I will ever get.
The unnamed hills
What nobody tells you about before you start the race are the unnamed hills, which I stopped counting very early into the race.
No book, blog or person, no matter how successful, can ever prepare you for the ‘unknown unknowns’ of starting a business as every business will face a few unique challenges specific to its market and target audience.
The journey is fascinating but scary, and you will constantly go from 0 to 100 to -100 in about 5 minutes every day. The trick is to get on that rollercoaster and enjoy the ride (most of the time, anyway). Cry if you need to, laugh, share your joy, share your failures, but never stop learning and reminding yourself that pursuing your purpose is a great gift to yourself.
Enjoy the journey
I was so obsessed with finishing the race that my last 10km’s were my fastest of the entire race. I don’t run with gadgets. I honestly don’t know what my heart rate or resting heart rate is, and my bestie and running friend Toni had to explain calories to me about 100 times already.
I also didn’t run the Comrades with a watch (gasp!), which turned out to be one of the best decisions I could have made. Why?
Here’s why this was perfect for my personality:
- It made me depend on my group. I did not ‘sprint ahead’ when I felt strong, which is what made me crash completely in the Deloitte Marathon. I knew I was reliant on the group, fellow runners and our pace charts, which Danie, or Daynie as we affectionately call him, carefully worked out for us Four Musketeers before race day (he also logged our km’s on a spreadsheet and did some cool graphs #Engineers).
- It made me panic less. By not obsessively looking at my watch (which I tend to do), I did not have the ‘I have been running for what feels like hours and really only ran for 3 km’s’ feeling which is very discouraging.
- It forced me to trust my training I’ve put in.
- It forced me to control my mind.
You need others to take you to the top of the hill
About 86km’s into the run I was filled with a new energy when I heard the announcer and the crowds in the stadium for the first time from a distance. Then I turned a corner and saw yet another hill (what would be the very last hill) and I stopped dead on legs that were very hard to get moving again and I started crying. I loudly proclaimed in a panic ‘you have got to be bloody kidding me’ as I stared at the very small hill.
A young chap from Rand Athletic Club immediately stopped and started talking to me and told me ‘I’ll take you to the top’. This act of kindness and immediate recognition of my need by a complete stranger who associated with my goal got me through to achieve my lifelong dream.
I have found exactly the same thing in my business journey to date. By attending selected Startup events and researching the speakers, I found myself around the right people who recognized the journey I was on and could associate at so many levels.
I hate being late so always arrive notoriously early to things ‘just in case’. On this specific day, I attended my first ever Startup event, hosted by Fishburners, to listen to Sue-Ellen Watts and Sally-Ann Williams who both very successful women. I took the front row seat and shortly after Sue-Ellen Watts walked in. Before I knew it, we made eye contact and drink in hand she walked over to me.
I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I had no pitch, nothing prepared, no experience and no plan. But I had a dream that I was deeply passionate about, and that turned out to be all that counted. I took up Sue-Ellen’s offer of reaching out if I needed anything, and I did. A year later she still inspires and motivates me on a personal and business level.
When people reach out and go out of their way to take me to the top of the hill with them, take the offer. Exchange numbers, follow up with an email, add them on LinkedIn. Be human. On this journey there will be many hills with various offers for a quick ‘hello’, there will be a simple wave of a hand in acknowledgment because you are too tired to say hi properly (all runners will relate!), but the fact that I am not alone always drives me forward.
Be around your own kind and you are guaranteed to be caught when you fall
At about 68km’s into the race my mom passed out. She didn’t feel well for a few km’s and didn’t feel like eating for the major part of the route. Nutrition on race day is almost more important than before race day in my experience. I am like a pug in the sense that I am always hungry and never have an issue with eating, not even 68km’s into a 90km run.
Those who have worked with me would know that I eat non-stop, have ‘emergency food’ stacked away everywhere and carry little snacks everywhere with me. If I’m invited to an impromptu meeting where three is a chance of it running over the scheduled time I always take food ‘just in case’.
When my mom passed out, she fell backward and miraculously there was a runner right behind her who caught her. To catch a person at 68km’s into a race when you are tired is another testimony of the incredible human spirit of running. I hit an immediate panic as I didn’t know what would happen from thereon forward.
She was taken to a gazebo next to the road where she woke up and was given a pink milk drink. After a few minutes, I told her that I was going to go ahead and that she must please stop, as she was clearly not well and could take the bail bus. She jumped out of that chair and said ‘I’m not quitting’ and off we went. I felt like the parent with a disobedient child as I forced my mom to lick salt off my hand to replace much-needed nutrients.
If we weren’t around people who shared our journey with us, who shared our passion and goals, there would not have been someone around to catch her.
On your business journey, surround yourself with the people you need to succeed and who will catch you when you fall (or even before you fall!). Find people who inspire and motivate you and who you can learn from. These people won’t just turn up out of the blue; you are going to have to work to find them. Ultimately, as with all things in life, who you choose to surround yourself with and take advice from will define a huge part of you.
One can compare the disappointments that are undoubtedly faced in business very much to obtaining an injury. The overwhelm is equal to pulling a (mental) hamstring sometimes, along with the sheer surprise and horror at which seemingly unsurmountable problems suddenly appear.
Be realistic but be kind to yourself, to your efforts, your journey and your struggles. It is OK to not know something, and it’s OK to not understand half of what people say, and it’s OK to say that you don’t know! The best conversations I’ve had was when someone shared their business or idea with me and I responded with ‘I have no idea what that even means’. Level with people and be human.
No finish in sight
I was elated, highly emotional and so grateful when I crossed the finish line after 11hrs and 38mins of grueling joy, struggle, hunger (more than usual), exhaustion and perseverance. I finished alone, without my mom, and when the volunteer put my medal around my neck I hugged her and I sobbed.
‘I made it’ I said between a mix of sweat, snot and many tears. It felt like I clung onto her for ages as she stood there patiently holding onto me. I held onto her so tight that I am pretty sure that she was unable to wash out my 12hrs of sweat from her clothes, so she likely just threw them away (Sorry!).
I don’t believe that there is a ‘finish line’ in business, just a journey. This journey has taken me through many ups and downs and I’ve grown immensely because of it. I will continue to be open to all the lessons that I will learn from it and the value I can add to others by helping them just like I continue to receive help.
As for running, my next goal is a 100-miler in the next 3 years (I haven’t decided which one yet), and I am currently training for the Blackmores Sydney Marathon in September 2018. I’ll enter some of the Abbott World Majors and see where I get in, and once I can afford it, make a week of the Australian Outback Marathon.
If anything in this article hit home, or you need a little advice or encouragement, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I spend most of my days between Sydney and Adelaide if I am not traveling overseas, so if you are ever up for a run then reach out!
See you at the start line soon, happy running!
With running love,
Mom and I still looking and feeling fresh on the Comrades Marathon in 2015
Here are some books that I have read that really helped me through this journey (in no particular order). I trust that they will add value to your life as well. Happy reading!
Disclosure: Affilliate commission is earned on all sales from the above links. Article published July 2018 and updated November 2018.