This week’s post is written by my wife Alexandra who is a passionate marathon runner. I am not only proud of her because of her personal achievements, but because she is offering great wisdom and advice that can easily be applied to entrepreneurship. I know, because I live by some of the principals on a daily basis!
“I am a wine ignorant married to a wine-lover. I am a marathon runner married to a non-runner.
The only connection between marathons and wine seems to be that during the first modern marathon in 1896, which the Greek Spyros Louis won, legend has it that he stopped about 1/3 into the race at a small tavern and gulped down a glass of wine with the words: “I’ll beat all of them.” So he did. Could the wine have been that miraculous?
No doubt that wine lifted his spirits, at that moment, but it takes a lot more than wine to get you through the finish line.
My motivation to run is very simple: I do it, because I enjoy it – it feels good. It is the only time in the day, that I have to myself and it is the one thing that I do for myself, so I complete my daily run with religious dedication.
The fun in running has its roots in some self-imposed competitiveness: it’s always about running against oneself, developing, testing the personal limits, achieving. And there is no better way to focus one’s running sessions than the goal of a race. The daily jog becomes training and the aim becomes improving.
On October 16th this year, I ran the Marathon in Istanbul for the second time in my third attempt to complete the 42,195 km in less than 3 ½ hours.
Race preparation takes place on more levels than just physical training: it’s about the choice of shoes, the do’s and the don’ts, the right nutrition, the best strategy. More important than that is mental preparation, i.e. how to preserve your motivation through hours of training and hours of racing.
It’s a few simple mantras that did it for me.
A writer whose books have inspired me greatly is George Sheehan (1918 – 1993), a cardiologist who gave up medicine to write and to run at the age of 45, back in 1963. Five years later he ran a 4:47 mile, which was the world’s first sub-five-minute time by a 50-year-old. “Don’t be concerned if running or exercise will add years to your life,” he would say, “be concerned with adding life to your years.” He was an amazingly inspiring philosopher and his books are a highly recommended read – his thoughts are of invaluable wisdom and insight. On this occasion I will share the simplest and most basic of his quotes, yet it is the one that unfailingly keeps me going out for my run in the worst of rain, in the hottest heat, on the most tired days: ‘Have you ever felt worse after a run?’ No. Never. The answer is an absolute truth every time.
Whilst training for the marathon, I had the great fortune to get to know Maria Polyzou, Greece’s female marathon record holder. She is a soft, classy, low profile lady, respectful of anyone engaging in athletics, regardless of their achievement potential. She was a catalyst for me to focus on what’s important.
She happened to observe me during training a few times, upon which she remarked: “Your training should be a respite in your life, not punishment – even during high intensity sessions.” That, from her mouth, suddenly put training into perspective: I had a right to enjoy my training! I was supposed to enjoy my training. So I stopped worrying about the days when I didn’t reach my limit. I stopped wondering about whether one missed session will cause me to fail my target. I stopped doubting myself, just because I had had mediocre performance on a bad day.
One of my more serious worries about the race was the prediction of abysmal, cold and rainy weather. Maria was surprised: “So why do you care about the weather? You are there just to run!” Once again my perspective was put right. Indeed – I wasn’t there to sunbathe. So why did I care?
On the day of the race, there was only one thing on my mind: the-world’s-best-race-strategy! Back in 2009 I had read the article about it, and it never left me since. Kristin Blanck of Annapolis, Md., was the women’s winner of the 2009 Annapolis 10-Mile Run. The article read:
What plan did Blanck follow to snag her 1:03:29 victory? In a post-race recap ‘…’, she summed up her strategy thusly:
“I positioned myself toward the front and just started running.”
Let me just break that down for you. Blanck’s race strategy was a bit of a “one-two punch”, delivered as follows:
1. Positioning herself toward the front.
How’s that for Zen-like clarity?
The simplicity of the strategy is indeed the calming answer to all anxieties just before a race: Do your thing. Don’t worry. Don’t think. Just go. A treasure of a mantra!
On the day of the race there was one more thing that had contributed to my upbeat spirit: I was standing at the start, with bib number 1646, only thanks to the genuine kindness and goodwill I had received in Turkey. Although marathons are generally not part of their culture, hospitality and respect for their guests certainly are.
I was not going be able to pick up my race pack in time, and had asked the hotel for help. This is the response I got from the hotel’s guest relations manager, Oezlem, a lovely young lady:
Good Afternoon Dear Alexandra,
Thanks for your very kind e-mail!
I called the Congress Center, they said that we can take it for you. Tomorrow we will go and take your race pack. Don’t worry! Just concentrate on your effort, energy! ‘…’
Really the important thing is your performance. We will do our best for you. Tomorrow I will let you know again about your pack. I hope that everything will be better in Greece and also here! We need peaceful all over the world!
Alex, thanks for your friendliness.
Hope to meet and host you at your home, LEVNİ Hotel!
They got my race pack, gave me a room upgrade and provided breakfast at 6 am just for me, at no charge, with lots of smiles and more good wishes. If only for that attitude, I owed it to them, to do my best.
So, at exactly 9 am on October 16th 2011, I positioned myself toward the front of the start on the Asian side of the Bosporus Bridge and just started running. I crossed the finish line 3 hours, 27 minutes and 12 seconds later. Finally my goal had been achieved!
This was the first race that did not drain my psyche. I finished tired yet refreshed, not beaten up. At no point during the course did I feel that I was suffering. I kept thinking: I am trained to do this, so it has to be possible to do it. And believing that is what mental preparation is all about.
As a reward for a goal met, I had promised myself one marathon of pure fun. What better race than the Athens Marathon, four weeks after Istanbul, on November 13th 2011. I had absolutely no other ambition than to have fun on the course and to complete it. I did both. I saw and chatted with numerous people I knew among spectators and runners, the crowd was great, and the fellow runners cheerful. Finishing the race after easy 03:48:25 in the home of the 1896 Olympics and of the ancient games inspires a magical feeling. You become part of marathon history!
I share George Sheehan’s stance: Running has without a doubt added life to my years. Running is life:
Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up.
It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed.
Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up.
It knows that it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or a gazelle
when the sun comes up you’d better be running.
(But, unless you’re a runner, you won’t understand)