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Lessons from the world of ultra-marathons

Published Mar 2022
man hiking in the forest

This article was first published on Glen Browne's blog on LinkedIn

In today’s environment where change is rapid and constant, you might be tempted to feel that everything is a sprint. But the fast-moving pace and changes do not mean that at all. They only urge us to be open to change, to adapt and to learn along the journey. It is all about moving forward and accepting there will be tough spots along the way when you just have to take a deep breath and push through.

All of that is not very different from running a marathon. Knowing how to leverage physical fitness, such as the ability to think clearly and to look at business in a positive way, it was only natural that I found ultra-marathon.


Ultra-marathons! Tough choice, so why?

I love being outdoors, and when I was spending a lot of time in Japan, I hiked frequently and enjoyed my time in the mountains. When I put all those things together, I realized ultra-marathons ticked a lot of the boxes.

I like the time alone, to think and clear my head. And I find that after being out in the mountains for six to seven hours, finding answers to questions (usually business-related ones) was suddenly much easier. During races, the longer I was out and the harder something was, the more I had to draw from my mental rather than physical reserves. I found a massive kick out of drawing from my own mental strength to get me through very difficult times in a race and coming out the other side.


Thriving in the workplace requires the same resilience

Because of how tough these races are, it has given me the confidence that no matter how challenging or difficult things are in my role and job, I will always find a way. In an ultra-marathon, when you hit the tough spots – your energy level is low as you are tired – you say to yourself: two more hours till sunrise, or 30 minutes to the next checkpoint where I can get some hot food or a Coke to get my blood sugar back up, and then I’ll be fine. You know you just have to overcome that hour or the next five kilometers.

That’s how I think about the business. We’ve gone through challenges, but I have never come across something that appears to me as impossible. When you have experienced those lows in a race, it is not that dissimilar to when you face challenges in business.


To finish the race, battle one thing at a time

Every year, I challenge myself to more difficult ultra-marathons. In fact, I will soon tackle my most difficult race in Mont Blanc, France that will take me through 10,000m of elevation, 171 km, and three different countries. As I think about it, however, I do not focus on these numbers. Rather, I break it down to its components. I know what the first section is like; I’m thinking about the drop bags I’m going to have with different food and drinks; I’m thinking about when I’m going to change my shoes; and I know at which checkpoint I want my wife to be. In other words, I’m thinking about the race, section by section.

When we do a big business deal, I’m very quick to break it down in a similar way – country by country, product by product. If you break it down that way, it suddenly becomes that much more manageable. You battle one thing at a time, then you build those things into a broader opportunity.

Being on the ultra-marathon circuit has definitely given me the ability to dig deep within myself when I need to, and to overcome mental boundaries – all valuable traits and skills to have in the workplace.


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