Those who know me would say I am not a sprinter. They might even suggest that a marathon is out of my reach right now. And I would have to agree.
However, I’m not interested in the running type of sprint or marathon. When I talk about these different approaches to running, the going fast or going the distance, I’m talking about the work we do, the businesses we build, the lives we lead, those things we chase.
As I have journeyed through life I have certainly met many people who fit in either approach strongly. They have a bias toward the sprint, the short game, or the marathon, the long game.
One thing I’ve come to learn about long-lasting success is that it’s the marathon mindset that prevails. It’s easy to be impressed by the sprinters, who run hard and fast and excel at accelerated speeds. Their energy and effort climaxes bright and strong, but it only lasts for a short period, they fade. I am sure we all know of the one-hit wonders from sport, music or even characters from our life. The ones we recall in passing but have not seen, heard, or thought of them for years. Much like the well-known song “Spirit in the Sky”. Do you know who sang it? Does Norman Greenbaum ring a bell…..
On the other hand, the marathoner’s energy is managed, tempered, sustained. The effort may not appear to be as dazzling as the sprinter’s, but it endures. Through the good times, the not so good time, and the just plain bad times, the marathoner stays strong. It can be relied upon, especially in times of complexity such as now with all the challenges we individually and collectively face. And once this complexity is over, dare I say we’ll be plunged into another soon after, when a marathon mindset will prove useful once again.
Why you need to build your endurance
One certainty in life is this: change and challenge will always arrive. Some of it will be good; some of it not so good. It is for this reason that the capacity to endure is the key to great leadership and performance. And it’s why I think the marathoner does so well.
The sprinter requires all conditions to be just right to win. They need the energy of the crowd. They need a short distance. They need absolute one-track focus, so there can be no curveballs. Otherwise, the sprinter may falter, lose momentum, and finish poorly.
The amount of energy a sprinter requires is huge, such that it is unsustainable for any longer distance. If the need to run longer distances occurs this can lead to burnout for the sprinter and, likely, falling short of the finish. I am sure we have all felt that at times over the last few months. Racing to somewhere, anywhere, and ending up nowhere.
By contrast, the marathoner is not the fastest over the short distance. They don’t want to be. They’re in it for the long haul. They pace themselves, find a rhythm, and plug away consistently over incredibly long periods. If the unexpected happens (and it will), the marathoner knows that there are many more miles to be travelled yet, they don’t give up. They remain steadfast, determined. At all times, they keep their eyes on the prize – their long-term goal, which remains front of mind in every activity they do and in every decision they make. For them, victory is staying in the game, adapting, growing and evolving. Rather than peaking rapidly, their energy is even and sustained over long periods, making burn out much more unlikely.
A critical benefit of “running” a marathon is that when your pace starts to drop, you can recalibrate, re-energise and re-focus. You have time to refuel and top up your energy reserves. This is not the case if you’re in a sprint. Sprinters have mere seconds or milliseconds to regroup, and there’s no time to refuel. The race is short and sharp; it either ends in glory, or it doesn’t.
I choose to treat business and life like a marathon because I play the long game. I want to build a business and a community that I can be a part of in 10 or 20 years – maybe longer.
Which distance do you choose?
So the question…. To sprint or marathon?
I would offer the answer of ‘yes’. What do I mean?
Like most things in life the either or is less useful. The power sits in the ‘and’.
The opportunity in the ‘and’ is to do both.
Short sprints are terrific for doing a project, solving a puzzle, managing an issue or opportunity AND the sprint needs to sit inside a marathon mindset which never loses sight of the truth that we should always play a longer game.
The long game allows us to adjust our rhythm, to change our direction, to build something in us that endures, is resilient, is great.
If all we do is a series of short sprints without an underlying marathon mindset, we will stop and start a lot of things and never recognise the true potential of our effort.
The marathon enables the sustenance, the slow burn, the long game in our work, our businesses, families, and communities. A quick hit of energy may ignite our enthusiasm and kick us into action at times. But it’s the ability to endure that builds, nurtures and strengthens these spaces.
So, as we start to understand and adjust to the complexities we’re currently working with, ask yourself: how am I managing myself to ensure I endure, to develop my resilience, to sustain and progress?
What are my goals, where am I heading, how am I managing the marathon on all 6 life elements effectively?
Where do I need a sprint to move something along?
Where do I need to stop sprinting and put in place a marathon mindset?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this conversation.