Sunday, March 1, 2015

SAL Lessons from a Half-Marathon

As many of my readers know, I have run 13 marathons in a quest to qualify for the elite Boston event, yet never succeeded. My best time fell short by 9-minutes.

Following my 13th 26.2-mile run last year, I "retired" from the marathon distance feeling deflated, defeated, and disappointed.

Yesterday, I felt a measure of vindication by conquering an elusive personal goal of breaking 1:30 in the half-marathon. My time was 1:27.30 (6:40 mile pace). The purpose of this blog post is to share some of the Self-Action Leadership lessons I was able to take away from the experience.

1. Self-sacrifice precedes all meaningful accomplishments and growth.

I am not very good at regulating my personal diet. I am particularly weak when it comes to my love of soda pop -- especially caffeinated and diet soda. I was never strong-willed enough to give up soda during my marathon training. But over the Christmas holidays, I received a providential challenge from my Father-in-law to give the stuff up. It was the trigger of motivation I needed. I have not had a drop of soda pop for 10 weeks. This no doubt helped my cause yesterday.

2. Consistency is a key to the achievement of any meaningful goal.

I travel a lot with my work. My wife and I are also busy raising a 2-year old. These two life realities made it difficult to train as often and as much as was necessary to achieve my ambitious marathon goals. Insufficient training was a key component in my marathon underachievement. Fortunately, the past ten weeks, I have had a much lighter travel schedule as I have been working more from home building my own business. This schedule change provided me the opportunity to train more consistently. Instead of getting 3-4 runs in per week, I was able to get in 4-6 runs per week. The results were clear: consistency is a key to the achievement of any meaningful goal. It's not just about doing the work; it's about doing the work consistently to prepare your muscles in a way that only consistency can.

3. Your chances for success go way up when your goals align with your natural strengths.

I have known for most of my life that for races longer than a quarter mile, my natural talents are better suited to shorter races than longer races. My PR for the 800 meters (a mere half-a mile, is 1:55 (a 3:50 mile pace). As races get longer, I get slower. My next best event was the mile/1500 meters. I once ran a 1500 meter time that was the equivalent of a 4:15 mile. My 5k PR is 15:18. Without exception, my talent lessens as the race lengthens. No wonder I had such issues with the marathon!

The half marathon distance is a fascinating one for me because while it is half the distance of a full-marathon, it is only about 1/8th as difficult. I know, it doesn't make much sense, but there are many other runners who would agree with me. Without having to face the dreaded "wall" of the marathon somewhere between miles 17-24 (depending on the day), the half marathon is genuinely a pleasure by comparison. The results of turning my attention to events I have more natural talent in are already starting to bear fruit. After I get tired of the half-marathon, I am eager to turn my attention once gain to 10k and 5k races, where I will, no doubt, do even better at than the half marathon. And someday as an older guy, my goal is to compete on an elite masters level at my beloved 800 and 1500 meters.
Self-action leaders are wise to pursue personal and career pathways that align well with their natural talents and abilities. Successfully doing so requires that you try a lot of different work tasks and hobbies to figure out what you are best at. Socrates once advised: "Know Thyself." The more self-aware you are of your own innate talents and abilities, the better you will be able to plan for success now and in the future.

One of my favorite verses of scripture reads:

"For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby." [1]

Despite the gifts I have been blessed with, I am profoundly aware of the many gifts I lack. With the minimal amounts of time we have in this world to make the most of our lives, it makes sense to spend the majority of our time focusing on our strengths. That is not to say we should ignore or neglect our weaknesses; it just means that every one is better served when we become the best You and I that we are capable of becoming, which involves a primary focus on our strengths.

For example, I took algebra I three years in a row in high school. Higher level math has never been a strength of mine. It was necessary for me to work on my weaknesses in order to pass algebra so I could eventually graduate from high school and go on to college, but it would have been foolish to try and become a mechanical engineer like my wife -- who is brilliant at math. I am better suited putting my efforts and focus on my gifts, and then enjoying and being AMAZED at the remarkable gifts others have that I don't.

Words can hardly express how glad I am to not be running marathons anymore. Good riddance to 26.2. The distance simply doesn't suit my natural talents, abilities, or desires. While I am grateful I ran 13 marathons because of the lessons I learned and the confidence I built doing hard things, it is enormously satisfying to be working on events that better suit my natural talents and abilities, and it is incredibly rewarding to be breaking personal records and becoming competitive again.

Points to Personally Ponder: 

  1. What is one area of your life where you could benefit from exercising more "Self-Sacrifice?"
  2. What is one area of your life where you lack Consistency? Make a plan to be more Consistent in this area beginning this week.
  3. What are your greatest strengths? Are you currently neglecting them in a way that is impeding your long-term success?

1. Doctrine & Covenants 46:11-12

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