The other day I set a personal best in the 4mi NYRR Gridiron classic, coming in at 26:16 for a pace of 6:34min/mi. I finished 203rd out of over 5600 people who ran.
One of my Twitter friends asked me for tips on improving pace.
My answer "Run faster." :)
Ok, so it was a wiseass answer. Obviously, people are looking for the answer to "How do I run faster?" Some of us do it on a running course. Others swim, bike, or for the more adventurous among us, they parent. People want to know how to move forward in their lives, reach goals, and accomplish more, faster.
So I thought about it. How did I get to this point in my running, and are there any lessons to be applied to other areas where people want to "move fast". What I realized is that so many of what I've learned about running applies to startups and entrepreneurship as well.
1) What you do before the race has the biggest impact.
You would think this would be obvious, but it's the biggest thing people stumble on. I know so many racers AND entrepreneurs who ask for "in race" strategy, when they probably could have made a bigger impact before you started racing in the first place. The networks you build and industry knowledge you gather are the best "pre-startup workout" you could ever do. For me, for racing specifically, I focus a lot more on weight training than most runners probably think about. I need muscles to pull me forward quickly--and being strong and lean is going to make a big impact. It's not oxygen I'm running out of first in a race, especially anything shorter than a half marathon--it's strength. If I want to combat muscle fatigue, I need to get stronger. The biggest impact I've made on my times, is getting leaner and working on my legs in the gym more. Similarly, the biggest advantage I've seen entrepreneurs create for themselves happens even before they start their companies. The best entrepreneurs have a whole career of experience that gives them the insight and connections they need to have an unfair advantage over everyone else.
2) You'll never feel as good about things as you will at the beginning and at the end. The middle sucks.
I felt great about my race beforehand. I weighed in that morning at 174, and I don't like to go above 175 for a race. I'd been biking and swimming all through the cold weather and I was highly motivated to have a great race--because the last two I did were kind of so-so. I was so pumped--just as pumped as the day an entrepreneur has an epiphany at the beginning, or quits their job to go fulltime.
At the end of the race, I knew I did well. It was exciting... and I couldn't wait to see my official time.
The middle, however, sucked. First off, I wasn't beating anyone--at least, it didn't seem like it. I was only looking at the people ahead of me. No matter how fast you run, there are always going to be people running faster. I started out in the fast pen, so I didn't even think about the fact that there were literally 5000+ people who started behind me. I never looked back and never took any solace during the race in the fact that I was ahead of all of them from the beginning. Some people get motivated to run with really fast people, but when you're running as fast as you can, and there are still some people you're just never going to catch up to, it's easily disheartening.
The same works in the startup world. The very fact that you got *anything* off the ground, have *any* customers or was able to raise *any* funding, means that you're ahead of 99% of the people trying to do what you're doing. It doesn't feel like that, because you keep reading about monster rounds being raised in Techcrunch, or who just got a huge new office because they now have 45 people. It can be demoralizing. Forget about those people. You're not trying to win the race--you're trying to finish with as good a time as you have the potential to do. If you train properly, it's going to happen. It's not like poker. You don't play the person across from you--you play your own cards and you make the most of them.
3) You need to measure.
All of the phone based GPS running tools suck--at least in NYC they do. GPS works horrifically bad in a city with densely packed tall buildings. Those tools were throwing me off in prior races--making me think I was running way faster than I was. I got a Nike+ watch and accuracy went up dramatically. When you actually know how fast you're running, it's easier to finish a race at a particular pace.
Startups need to measure as much as possible, otherwise it's going to be incredibly difficult to outperform. It's not just about pageviews or revenues--it's about outbound attempts at press mentions, inbound customer leads driven by your website and how many candidates you're interviewing a week. These are the metrics that are driving your business forward that cause all of the other statistics.
4) Don't be afraid to buck convential wisdom and do what works for you.
There are a lot of startup success stories that get told--and most of them are not applicable to you at all. People are notoriously bad at reverse engineering exactly why they were successful, but they always like telling stories.
You know your own body, what motivates it, and how to get the best performance out of it. Try a bunch of different tactics to see what effects you get out of it.
5) Avoid failure.
This also seems obvious, but it's not something a lot of people think about or plan for--or plan to avoid. In your rush to move fast, you may sacrifice stability and wind up doing more harm than good. Perhaps you're not moving as fast as you can, but you know what causes a startup to move really slow? Running out of money. Having your whole team burn out and quit can also accomplish this. Founder fighting, mistakes in the code... there are literally hundreds of different ways a startup can totally implode and slow to a screeching halt.
It's the same thing with running. Even if I don't know what makes me run fast, do you know what *definitely* makes me run really slow? Injuries. My whole training regimen prioritizes one thing above all others: structural failure. I've never been one of those lightweight, thin legged marathoner body types and so, despite recent improvements, I've always been a heavy stepper. Combine that with years of little league catching, seven years of Tae Kwon Do, and running around as a kid on city concrete and I've got quite a lot of wear and tear going on. So, while other people are hitting 1000 miles ran in a year, I literally do not run between races. At best, I logged about 130 miles run last year total--just the races I did. And you know what? I'm injury free, which is a lot more than I can say for a lot of my friends who are regular runners. On top of that, I do yoga twice a week and stretch before bed, because avoiding all out failure--the equivalent to raising life expectancy by lowering infant mortality races--is one way to make yourself achieve more, mathematically anyway.