Exactly one week ago, I ran the NYC Marathon...all 26.2 miles.
Now, if you know me and read the statement above, you might have a hard time believing that the two of us belong in the same sentence. I'm proud to say, we now do.
Last year was a tough one in terms of running (and growing) my business. For almost six months, I held serious discussions with another company interested in acquiring us. In doing so, I put several items that were part of our growth strategy on the back burner. Sure enough, we got half way down the aisle and they ran off with someone else! (They sold their business to an even larger company).
It was quite a learning experience. On December 5th of last year, I evaluated myself--professionally and personally. I did not like what I saw. The prolonged discussions stalled the growth of my company. They also took a toll on me. I gained 25+ lbs in 2006 (and I was a big guy at the start of the year). That day, I made a firm pledge to myself. I was going to get back on track.
That's when I decided to run the NYC marathon.
If I was going to dig myself out of the hole I made in 2006, it was going to take a lofty, almost unreachable goal to get me there. But, to me, that's half the fun of being an entrepreneur. Simply saying "I need to get in shape" or "I need to bring in 10 new accounts" was not going to motivate me enough to get out of the comfort zone I burrowed into last year. Saying "I am going to run the NYC marathon" and "I am going to double my business in 2007" will light a fire under almost anyone.
This year was all about focus. I had my strategic goals in place (business and personal). I created two specific, detailed operational plans (how I planned to achieve my goals). With goals and plans in place, it came down to focus. I once read a great quote several years ago that has stayed with me..."The only reason for failure is broken focus."
Three of my brothers and a cousin joined my caravan and we decided to train together for the Marathon. Daily emails flew back and forth--filled with motivation, trash talking and exercise tips. In business, they would be my Board of Directors (as I was clearly the one who needed the most help in getting to the starting line).
The first few months were hard, but I persevered. I took on a business coach who also became my running partner. In April, I ran my first race since high school (10 miles). It wasn't pretty, and I was VERY nervous, but I finished. In May, I ran a half marathon...and I finished. It was exciting to see the results. My time improved with each race. And our business was getting back on track as well. We found a new partner to help build our web site. We dropped two unprofitable projects and we started implementing our growth plans...namely, putting together a Leadership Summit in NYC this fall.
Going into the summer, I started running longer distances in training--12 miles, 14 miles, 16 miles. In doing so, I realized that I still had a long way to go if I planned to run and finish the marathon. The same held true for my company. We made strides, but needed to keep moving the ball forward if we were going to reach our goal.
Fast forward to November 3, 2007. It's a day before the NYC marathon. I've trained 11 months for the race. I dug myself out of the hole, got back onto solid ground and now I'm ready to run 26.2 miles (the first day I ran back in December, 2006--I ran exactly .2 miles before stopping). Talk about BUTTERFLIES. But this is what life...and entrepreneurship...is all about. Taking chances. Walking out onto limbs. Pushing the envelope.
I mapped out the entire course. I knew the locations of the water stations, where my friends and family would be, the hills and bridges, etc. I knew exactly how fast I wanted to run each mile. Like running a successful business, the better the pre-plan, the better your chances are for success.
The race started at 10:10 AM, but runners needed to be in Staten Island by 7:00 AM (one of the necessary evils when you run a race with 40,000 other people). As I waited for the race to begin, I thought about all that transpired over the last 11 months. I thought about the training, the races, the jokes and how very few people took me seriously when I told them I planned to run this race.
BOOM! The cannon went off and the race began. The first mile was a 150 foot climb up the Verrazano Bridge. It is the equivalent of running a mile up 15 floors in an office building. I remember thinking "Wow, this is definitely harder than I expected." But I also knew that, after the first mile, things leveled off. All part of the plan. After the first mile, my brothers took off (also part of the plan--they are much faster and it was silly to think that they would run the entire 26.2 miles with me). I ran with my cousin as we entered Brooklyn.
The crowds in Brooklyn were overwhelming! Sometimes 3-4 people deep, they cheered us on as we ran along 4th Avenue. Strangers clapping, whistling and calling out our names, saying "You can DO IT!" Bands played and runners ran. It was one of the most emotional and inspirational moments in my entire life. I didn't lose perspective on what was happening. I was actually running the NYC marathon. And I felt GREAT! The first 5 miles felt like I was floating. Unfortunately, my cousin started cramping and we had to walk for periods at a time. When it became obvious that she was going to walk more than run, we agreed that it was best to split up. Sometimes, in business and in marathons, you need to alter your operational plan if you want to achieve your strategic goal.
At mile 10, I started running on my own. I was 17:00 behind schedule. Change of plan. I realized that I wouldn't hit my target time of 5:15:00, so I decided to make a new goal in mid-race. Finish under 6:00:00 and enjoy as much of the race as possible.
During the race, I talked with so many different runners. One guy was running his 146th marathon (I ran the 59th street bridge with him). Another guy talked about how his legs hurt at Mile 18 and asked if I had any advice for him (yes, keep running until you hit the finish line. Walk if you have to, but don't let ANY negative thoughts enter your head). I ran with a 60 year old woman from Sweden whose lifelong dream was to run the NYC marathon. We ran miles 24 & 25 together.
I saw my wife and four children twice during the race (miles 18 and 24). Having them cheer me on and shout out words of encouragement made the whole experience worthwhile. I can't accurately describe the chills I got at Mile 24 (some 5+ hours into the race), when my kids (13, 12, 10 & 7) ran out onto the course to hug me and tell me how proud they were of me. It is one of those singular moments that I will remember forever.
After seeing them, I still had two miles to run. That's when I felt my entire body start to break down. Suddenly, EVERYTHING hurt. My feet, my knees, my back. I'm pretty sure even the hair on my head was in pain. It was the only time during the race when self-doubt tried creeping into my head. Thankfully, I quickly slammed the door shut on it and continued to run. "NOT TODAY", I said..."not today."
I finished the race in 5:52:00. Running the NYC marathon was everything I hoped for and more. I did the proper training, mapped out my course and executed the plan...even making changes along the way. And my business is better than ever. This Thursday, my company is hosting the 1st Annual Small Business Leadership Summit in NYC. I expect the same results with the Summit as I got with the NYC Marathon (although my kids probably won't be hugging me in the middle of the conference).
There is nothing more special in life than dreaming big dreams and watching them come true. You cross a threshhold which changes you forever. The only time I ever want to go back to that burrowed hole I dug for myself in 2006--is as a visitor. To remind myself of what once was...
Now, I have more marathons to run, more Summits to hold and bigger dreams to dream.
Moran Media Group