Four years ago, I transformed from weekend warrior to running enthusiast. First, I started running short-distance races, a 5K here and a 10K there. Then I tried my first half marathon in 2009 and my first marathon in 2010. After those great experiences, running became part of my lifestyle.
People always ask me, Why do you run marathons? Are you a masochist? You really need to run the race and experience the challenge and pain — as well as the indescribable sense of achievement when crossing the finish line — to understand why I run marathons. The feeling is actually similar to when a project manager finally completes and delivers a project. And after running six marathons in less than four years, I have some lessons learned that apply to project management:
Hills happen. Up your strategy.
Hills complement the race and make them more interesting and challenging. At first sight, they impact the runner’s state of mind and even consume his or her energy before the uphill trek. But I like to view hills as an opportunity to slow my pace and save energy that will be required in the final miles of the race.
As a project manager, you may face “hills” (i.e., project challenges). You may want to attack them, but I would recommend slowing your pace and regrouping with your team to define a new or enhanced strategy to address the hardship.
Stick to the numbers.
Marathon runners use gadgets to track time and distance. Sometimes the distance reported by the gadget exceeds the 26.2-mile (42-kilometer) marathon distance, which may be confusing, especially for first timers. But keep in mind that major marathons in the United States are certified by USA Track & Field, the sanctioning body that makes it an official race. The course distance is accurately measured and is the shortest route of the course.
Project managers should not attempt to create metrics or rules that may not be aligned with the sanctioning body. Follow the rules that are already in place and do not jeopardize your project.
Having run a marathon a couple of times doesn’t make you an expert. Even when the course may not change, there are many external factors that can make it a very different race. I have run the Austin, Texas, USA marathon for three consecutive years, and every race has been a different experience.
As a project manager, you may have implemented the same enterprise resource planning or tool several times, but every project has its own twist. Do not be arrogant or a know-it-all, and take that new project as an opportunity to learn something.
Stop and smell the roses.
A personal record, the number of marathons run in a particular year or participation in a prestigious race — these are all factors that motivate marathon runners. Whatever the purpose, these stakes tend to increase the runner’s stress during the race. While running, I take some time to enjoy the scenery, high-five and greet spectators, say thanks to the volunteers at hydration stations or help a fellow runner in pain. All those things help me enjoy the race.
When managing a project, it is important to meet stakeholders’ expectations. But it is also important to have the right work-life balance. Simple actions — such as taking that training that you’ve postponed several times or simply going to the gym — will recharge you and give you new ideas to tackle project challenges.
As both a marathon runner and project manager, I could say that the reason I run is to be able to combine my experiences in races and projects to strive for excellence. And that would be one of the reasons. But just between us, the top reason I run marathons is because I like to be cheered by people.
What hobby has provided you with valuable lessons that you have applied to project management?