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Career tips from the London Marathon

Seven hours, 45 minutes, 54 seconds. In that time, you could fly to New York; watch most of the Lord of the Rings trilogy or perform a heart transplant.

It’s the time I took to complete the London Marathon on 21 April.

Injured, hobbling, and unsure whether the body would hold out for 26.2 miles, it was not what I’d planned. But I made it and I have the same finishers medal as Peres Jepchirchir who ran a record- breaking two hours, 16 minutes, 16 seconds. I clearly got more value from my entry fee!

But of course, marathon day was only the final part of the crazy campaign which began 12 months earlier, in April 2023 when my place was confirmed. From that moment onwards, (bearing in mind I was a complete novice runner who’d actually always hated it), I was in uncharted waters, out of my comfort zone and experiencing amazing highs alongside the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”.

For 52 weeks, I was learning. And it was clear that the lessons were applicable not just to running but to our professional lives too, whether we’re starting a small business, seeking a new job, going for promotion, building a self-employed ‘practice’. Here’s what I learned………

  1. Preparation is everything. I’m already a slightly obsessive planner so this came naturally to me. I did, after all, spend 5 months prepping for my 14-minute TEDx talk. Whatever your objective, success will hang on: attention to detail; anticipating setbacks and creating a ‘plan B’ or indeed ‘plans C, D and E’; putting in your 10,000 hours (Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliershttps://www.waterstones.com/book/outliers/malcolm-gladwell/9780141036250); controlling what you can and relinquishing control where you can’t (very hard for me); and focusing on the process not the outcome (thank you Dr Steve Peters and The Chimp Paradox for this – https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-chimp-paradox/prof-steve-peters/9780091935580). It’s easy to get disheartened at the enormity of an objective. If we break it down into a series of small manageable tasks and only concentrate on the next one, we will maintain momentum.
  2. Commitment not motivation. Also from The Chimp Paradox, this has been, for me, for decades, a mantra for overcoming inertia. Whether we’re struggling at the prospect of another rainy 5 mile run or can’t muster the energy to send another batch of marketing emails to potential clients, the idea is simple. We override our lack of motivation and simply do the activity anyway. Take the emotion out of the equation and go through the motions. One foot in front of another. This came in handy at 19 miles.
  3. Create helpful habits. James Clear’s Atomic Habits is excellent on this. Practical, simple techniques for making small positive changes which eventually, with patience, lead to significant results.

I’ve always thought marketing to be like whipping cream with a hand whisk. You beat and beat and beat, thinking it’s not going to turn and then suddenly it does. When I was first freelance, trying to break into TV presenting, I sent out, in the post, VHS tapes to the top 100 production companies in the UK. Only one response! But it led to my first role in front of the camera on BBC2. Patience and repetition.

  1. You don’t build a business or win a race without the right mindset. I love the concept of The Stockdale Paradox – a combination of optimism and reality (https://robertglazer.com/friday-forward/stockdale-paradox/). This was most helpful when my pelvis decided it didn’t like running. Also valuable is the idea that we should embrace discomfort because, frankly, over the course of a career/life, there’s going to be plenty of it. It’s normal. Roman poet Ovid – “one day this pain will be useful to you”. And in the meantime there’s Ibuprofen…..
  2. Build your network. I failed to do this in the early stages of my career and paid the price. I know now that I should have been making connections, gathering allies, seeking out mentors. On project marathon, there were physios, coaches, masseuses, nutritionists, runners, pelvic floor experts (oh yes), and many friends and family who were with me every step of the way.
  3. Gather intelligence. In the workplace, curiosity is a much-valued trait. Those who achieve success are hungry for knowledge, receptive to new ideas. They seek out expertise wherever they can. I bet you didn’t know that a medium sized potato contains 26 grams of carbohydrate.
  4. Don’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd. Sometimes we have to plough our own furrow, even when everyone around us is following a different path and even when people are telling us to give up. On the big day, I knew to even try to run would be disastrous, leading to a very early bath. As I crossed the start line with a few thousand others, literally every person started running. Except me. They had to weave around me. I felt so ashamed and so embarrassed but I held my nerve. Funnily enough, 7 hours later, down the Mall towards the finish, a lot of people were walking!

Two months on, my toe nails are still black, I still can’t run but the medal’s in pride of place and, in my memory, it will remain forever a red letter year. Whatever your version of project marathon is, I hope there are some tips here which you might find useful.

One foot in front of the other………………….

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