I started running at the age of 38. I could not finish one mile without walking on the first day. But I kept trying, extending my mileage a bit more each run. Within a few months I was running a few hours at a time and started looking for an endurance race to attempt the next summer.
I chose a race called Without Limits and signed up for 100 miles. I told no one how far I planned to run, including my own family. About 50 people had signed up for this distance. By the end of the day, only a few would actually complete the full mileage. I was one of them. 24 hours later, I finished 100 miles, one year after not being able to run a single mile.
That experience taught me a lot about running, but much more about leadership. Three important traits emerged that day. All three relate to the idea that leaders are not those who choose the easy route; leaders choose the difficult path. This is why leaders lead; they are willing to do what others cannot or will not do.
First, leaders attempt outrageous goals. In my first 100-mile attempt, I had no business even trying this distance. I had never run competitively in high school or college and only had one year of running experience. Instead of using my lack of experience as an excuse, I used it as a motivation. I studied everything I could about running 100 miles, tested this advice in my personal training, and actually took the steps necessary to finish.
Second, leaders do the work others will not. In many ways, the same methods I use in my work life were simply applied to planning and completing an ultra race. There was no magic potion, but simply a work ethic that excelled beyond a 9-to-5 mindset. A real leader knows pointing the way for others requires an approach to work that is dedicated to getting the job done rather simply getting done with work.
Third, leaders endure through pain to completion. There is nothing special required to complete 100-miles of running except the ability to put one foot in front of the other over and over again. However, it’s amazing how difficult this process can become after several hours. Leaders recognize that the most important task is sometimes to keep moving forward when others choose to quit. That one call, report, or meeting others won’t do may be the only difference between one who is a leader and one who is not.
The difficult path of the leader involves choosing big goals, pursuing the work to meet these goals, and enduring until completion. However, even leaders sometimes fail in the pursuit.
I most recently attempted the Vol State Run, a 314-mile race across the state of Tennessee in the heat of summer. I finished the first 100 miles in 25 hours, only slightly behind my personal goal. After a two-hour break, I started again, slowly plodding through small towns and along country roads.
Yet the rain and extreme heat had taken a toll on my feet. Within a few hours, my already blistered left foot actually broke open and began to bleed out. After several attempts to tape up the injury and continue, I could only limp. With 200 miles remaining, I was forced to stop the journey.
Did I fail? Yes. But I also ran 116 miles, my longest run to date, just two years after not being able to run one mile. I also learned some valuable lessons I am putting into practice for future running experiences. My failure was difficult, but not final.
Leaders know that big goals may not be met. But pursuing a big goal is much better than not trying. And who knows? Even your temporary failure may later lead to an even greater success. The only way to discover your true limit is to push through your limits—choosing the difficult path that leads to the greatest impact.
Question: What challenge have you faced that has made you more resilient and a better leader? You can leave a comment by clicking here.