A couple weekends ago while most of us were asleep, some terribly talented runners began a race on a Formula 1 track in Italy on a quest to break the world record for the marathon AND the 2 hour barrier. Sponsored by Nike, these exceptional gentlemen were chosen from amongst the best in the world for their qualifications for this unique pursuit, and they were given every training advantage anyone could hope to have – the best trainers, doctors, coaches, nutritionists, and other fitness professionals in the world converged to optimize their health, get them to their peak fitness, and plan and strategize for a race with the best possible conditions.
When I woke up Saturday morning, I was excited to head to social media to check up on the results, to find out what these super-humans were doing while I was sleeping. The winner of the staged race, Eliud Kipchoge finished 26.2 miles in 2:00:25 – an INCREDIBLE feat that SHATTERED the previous world record yet left 25 seconds between we humans and the sub-2 marathon. While it won’t officially count as a new world record due to the use of strategic rotating pacers, this undoubtedly lends confidence to the trainers, coaches and athletes invested in breaking this barrier, confidence that it is, in fact, within reach.
While following the event on Instagram, I was inspired by a post from one of my running and food superheroes, Shalane Flanagan. She asked the question, “What’s your sub-2?” Specifically, she was asking what would be considered a comparable feat for female runners. But couldn’t we ask that question on a more personal level too? The big picture, the “sub-2 marathon” is a question about the limitations of the human race. But what are my personal limitations? What is that thing that I think sounds unimaginable, but if I devoted my entire being to achieving it, I would have a chance, not a guarantee, but a chance, of achieving it?
So many things come to mind. They don’t have to be athletic accomplishments. I was able to quickly narrow my list down to just a few topics. Specifically, I want to know what my limitations are in business and in running. A disclaimer/caveat – I’m a very moderate person. I value my health, my income, and my free time with family and friends. I’m never going to choose one of those things to the exclusion of all else just to see how good I could be because I don’t believe that would lead me to the fullest life that I could have. I don’t say that to diminish the worthiness of pursuing a goal at all costs, but I do believe that for these marathoners, since running is their full-time job, it made sense to give it all they had. The same not being true for me, I’ll have to settle for giving something “pretty serious” if not “complete” focus.
So, to return to the topic at hand, I asked myself, could I grow a successful business? Could I run a half marathon faster than 1:50? Could I write blog posts that actual humans would want to read?
And then I reflected. Those sound like realistic goals. Those sound like goals that no one would really care whether I achieved or not. That’s not what the sub-2 is about. The sub-2 attempt is about pushing the absolute limit. It’s about trying to achieve something that will be life-changing and noteworthy if completed. It’s about training and preparing for months, maybe years with single-minded focus on the end result. It’s about gathering resources, acquiring more knowledge every day, resting and recovering appropriately, identifying and strengthening weaknesses, measuring progress, tracking statistics, testing yourself, then training some more, then testing yourself again. It’s about making choices consistently with the best interests of your goal in mind. It’s about gathering support from your family and friends, from your community. It’s about uncertainty and the absence of guarantees. It separates the average from the spectacular.
And it turns out that business and running have a lot in common. While our elite marathoners were training, they were constantly having statistics measured – trainers tracked their sweat rates and how quickly they lost electrolytes, the VO2 max, their time trials, core body temperatures, amongst many other things. This is not unlike tracking production, marketing dollars spent, ROI, and customer satisfaction. (It’s like they always say, “What gets measured gets managed…”) This is not unlike the amateur runner who records miles run, injury history, and resting heart rate (since we don’t all have access to world class training facilities).
Tracking the data isn’t enough though. Next the marathoners would make changes based on their data. They would alter their hydration strategy, mileage, and recovery. We too can make changes based on our data collection. If I struggle with running more than 25 miles per week, maybe I need more sleep? Better fuel? It’s time to experiment. See how I can fix that problem. We’re struggling to exceed a production goal? Identify the weakness and strengthen it. Are we not advertising effectively? Or are we struggling to convert new business after initial customer contact? Strengthen that weakness and move forward!
The lesson here is that insurmountable obstacles may be closer than we think, if we just give them the time, devotion, and attention that they require. We have to make a choice. Would I prefer to rest on my laurels and continue into mediocrity? Or do I want to be the one breaking the sub-2 barrier? And even if you don’t reach your sub-2 goal, wouldn’t you like to be the guy who got pretty damn close and broke the world record on the way?