How are endurance running and business planning related?

The dust is settling, back in to work mode (mostly) so I thought I’d write a bit about the weekend just gone and draw some parallels and shoe how business planning and endurance running are related.

The finish line

For those not aware of the event, I took on a team challenge at an event called Equinox24.  This isn’t my usual kind of thing (I usually prefer to run a half marathon and have run 3 full marathons) but was recommended Equinox24 as an event in 2019 and loved it.  It’s popular with ultra-runners, people who like to regularly go beyond marathon distance!  The format is simple.  The race clock starts at 12:00:00 Saturday and finishes at 12:00:00 Sunday and you run as many 10k laps as you can.  If you’ve started a lap before the timer has finished on the Sunday you can finish it and it’ll count towards the total.

Planning

The first parallel to draw here is an obvious one.  Planning.  Of course you can wing this kind of event, everything in life you can wing.  I was the team captain so it was on me to make sure the basics are covered.  Was everyone registered in advance to make it easy at the event and also for small things such as the finishers t-shirts.  On top of the event planning, I’d decided to take the kids too, so had to figure out sleeping arrangements, food and all of the small stuff like toiletries, clothes and then all of the running clothes.

Getting the prep done

Once you have a plan in place, you might then need to move on to getting prepared.  This overlaps with the plan execution, but the next parallel to draw is that it doesn’t have to look pretty!  The art to a plan is that it’s written, it’s committed to but it can change.  I had lists on Trello, rooms with bits partly packed but as you can see from the photo below, executing the plan was not so pretty!  I’d also asked each of the team what their expected 10k times would be on the day so built myself a spreadsheet.  That allowed me to predict the best case scenarios to see what we could do.  Similar in business a plan can be drafted on scrap paper, a fancy system or a spreadsheet.  So long as there is a plan it allows you to predict outcomes.
Packing the camp

Executing the plan

When it comes to executing a plan, history is always going to be helpful when predicting the future.  In our team we had one who had never run the course, and one who’d suffered a little at the previous event.  For me I’d been running 4 times a week for 16 weeks until I picked up covid 4 weeks before race day.  If all went well, our team could achieve 27 laps (270k).  As a minimum, we wanted to run through the night and keep someone on course at all times.  With this kind of event anything can happen.  We were up against 82 teams in our category, and 648 other entries in total.  The last time I was in a team we finished 7th in the category, completed 25 laps and I ran 4 laps.  I didn’t tell the team, but I wanted to beat that!  Similar to business planning, you know what you have done before, you know what resources you have, you can plan for best case and likely case.
Setting up camp

The challenge

The course itself is an undulating 10k in the shadow of Belvoir castle.  The ground is tough on your body as it’s rutted in places, it’s on gravel, tarmac, grass, mud and takes on two hills affectionately known as “That hill” and “Not that hill”.  When you run at night (a head torch is mandatory) it’s pitch black.  It drops cooler and the course goes quieter.  Some of the teams are there for the social, they’ll run a few laps at night but also have a few beers and pick up again in the morning.  There’s not a lot to compare to business here other than to look at what is in front of you and deal with it.  Control the controllable.  The pic below is me after the first lap, I felt stronger than I had expected, but had at least 4 more to go to beat my best.
Finish of my lap 1

Don’t get ahead of yourself

When we went in to the night, we were 5 minutes ahead of our target, which gave us a total of 20 minutes in the bank to reach 27 laps.  We’d also reached a highest of third in our category.  But here’s another business parallel, don’t get ahead of yourself.  Business progress is rarely linear, you can surge forward, ease back, but overall you make forward progress.  Same for our team.  We’d made progress but with everyone having run one lap and starting their second we were only 1/5 of the way through.
We carried on through the night, took on the fuel and even had a curry on the go.  My kids had a great day, having their faces painted, having snacks, curry and a firepit but then they hit the hay.  I wasn’t jealous of them, I was focused on the night time laps.  My third lap was unique in that I start running on Saturday and finished on the Sunday as I ran over midnight!  I got back satisfied with my time, but it was the next one I was worried about, around 4am.  Last time this was where I had a major wobble so ate, drank and sat in wait while my partner cracked open her bottle of red wine!  I didn’t sleep at all at that point, worried I’d not want to get up for 4am!
Edward at Equinox24 Jessica at Equinox24

Deal with issues as a team

As we got deeper into the night, it was clear we were losing time.  We got to the point where 27 laps was very much at risk, so rather than deal with this individually we continued to talk as a team.  We agreed we’d carry on, keeping someone out at all times, but we also agreed the target should be lowered to 26 laps and to ease back on pace to make sure there was enough in the tank for when dawn came.  This is something all businesses need to do, call out what is going on and deal with it pragmatically, the route is never without issues.

Dawn breaks

I was looking forward to dawn, it’s when the camp starts to wake up, people get the surge of adrenaline and the motivation comes easier.  On the flip side to it, it’s also when people fall down.  Our team started to drop, one member got to four laps and couldn’t do any more.  The other members came back after their fifth laps and couldn’t go again.  It was my fifth lap and I agreed with myself I’d do two laps and take us to 25.  I had 2 hours to run one 10k and get another started. I’d averaged under an hour for the four before so didn’t think it would be too difficult.  I hoped if I finished my first in an hour someone would change their mind and go out again and get back for me to go and get lap 26.  I got round in an hour but no, no change of heart so I took 10 minutes to grab some fluids, change my t-shirt and get out again for my 6th lap.

Enjoy the success

By this point the team knew they’d done all that they could.  We were sitting in 4th in our category with a big gap to 3rd, we weren’t getting on the podium.  I didn’t know how far 5th place was behind, and didn’t ask.  For my 6th and final lap, I was going to take my time and enjoy it.  I sang with people, ran, walked, chatted, laughed, and soaked up the atmosphere.  When I say soaked, I really meant it too.  Within 5 minutes of starting the lap it started to hammer with rain.  This lap was all about me celebrating my personal success, encouraging others and getting round in one piece.  This is also the case for business, successes should be celebrated.
When it came to the team, I took the time to speak to each member and congratulate them.  As a team each member played a very important part and without one performance, we wouldn’t have the team performance.  We had a few team pictures taken, shared a few moments but still held back a little on the hugging and high fives.  It was then they told me the news about the finishing position.  We had managed to finish in 5th place in our category against the other 82 teams and in 20th overall from the 648 entrants.  We were delighted!
Team finish - endurance running

Use the experience to learn

With the team performance, if the same five were to enter again next year, we’d have a much clearer baseline to plan from.  We all know what we achieved this year and what we could do next.  The same goes for business planning.  I sit with clients each quarter to understand what happened in the last quarter, and what can be done in the next quarter.  We then repeat that each year for annual planning.
For running, I don’t see me returning to a team again for Equinox 24 2022.  There’s a strong chance of us camping and running just the day or night 10k race but I want to focus on marathon running and half marathon running.  The lessons learned from me over this weekend are that my body is in a reasonable shape for more winter training, and if the training goes well I could be on for another personal best in spring.  Watch this space!