It is often said that one of the key to endurance sports is pacing. Most people who have enjoyed the sport of triathlon or any one of its components in a race environment know the truth behind the importance of proper stamina over long periods of time and how an early sprint can kill a race. As I watched the 2009 Ironman World Championships, I heard someone (I think it was Dave Allen) comment that the race doesn’t start at mile 13 of the marathon; for those unfamiliar with the event that would be after a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and the first half the marathon. That same month, Lance Armstrong reminded some of the Livestrong runners in the New York City marathon this year that “Remember, 20 miles is half way..”. All these endurance athletes know full well that maintaining that pace is crucial to finishing strong in any endurance event and – as I discovered over the years – in business events as well.
I am often called upon to support large opportunities as a subject matter expert or from a general advisory perspective. I’ve always enjoyed participating in these “mega-deals” as I get to learn directly from the clients what they are looking for and I have an opportunity to have a large impact on the business. As such, I often raise my hand to join these projects. When I started in these roles many years ago, before even joining my present company, I blindly followed others who typically really kick things into high gear and hit the ground running. There’s always so much to do in these engagements and there’s enough work to go around that one could work 24 hours a day and still not get everything accomplished. It’s usually quite easy to burn out rapidly in these long and often stressful events.
Some people – as I did in my early years – perform a herculean effort early on in the project only to crash well before the proposal is due leaving the team with additional burden to pick up. Others always seem to have an uncanny ability to float up above like an eagle, supporting the deal of course but with a more moderate effort. As the deal comes closer to the end and as the team gets nearer the finish line, these people fly down low and start accelerating their participation and often carry it across the line. This analogy is similar between sports and business where pacing yourself serves not only you but the team well. It prevents burning up too fast and it offers more support when it is truly needed.
Now this doesn’t mean that at the end of a complex sales pursuit one can’t pull an all-nighter to put the finishing touches on a proposal, it just means that those should be saved for the end just like a sprint at the end of a race. Though I won’t give the entire credit to my triathlon journey for the discovery of this analogy and strategy in both sports and business, I will however note that this is one element when both passions are complimentary. The sports has certainly given men some insight into pacing, reverse-splits, and stamina. The business on the other hand has given me some mental toughness, and helped build a psyche that can endure long stressful events.
I now find myself in the last 3-day sprint of a large and complex proposal where the hours seem to never end and stress heightens the senses. I’m ready for this last push and I know that triathlons have made me a better businessman and business a better triathlete. After crossing that finish line, I can go back home with my head held high knowing that I ran a good race and finished strong. Though I loved my time in France, I must say that I’m truly looking forward to seeing my family again.