Completing the MBA Marathon

A marathon is 26.2 miles.  After months of training your body to go the distance, you set out the morning of the race with only one goal…to finish the race.  The starting line is packed as each runner lines up according to pace time and starts the race with nerves, hoping that the months leading to this one race pay off.  With a gunshot, the race begins and 26.2 miles lay ahead of you.

Some runners have a strategy to start strong and get a lead in the beginning.  Others try to conserve energy and have faster “mile splits” in the second half of the race.  And others, just have a goal of not collapsing.  Those first few miles are exciting.  You’re running in a pack and you’re all together.  You have started.  There’s no more waiting, it’s time to run!

After a few more miles the pace groups start to spread out and reality begins to set in, that you need to find your own pace and settle in for the longer distance.  The end seems far away, and rather than counting down, you’re counting up.  Mile 1, Mile 2, Mile 3…oh how far away the finish line seems.

You continue though.  You’re motivated.  You’ve rehearsed this scenario in numerous training runs.  You can do 13 miles before breakfast and not break a sweat.  You can slam gels without gagging.  You don’t even feel the blisters anymore.  Before you know it you’ve reached the half way mark and you realize that it’s all downhill from here.

Now it’s time for what runners call “negative split times”.  In layman’s terms, you pick up the pace.  With your goal of the finish line in site you begin to push yourself just a little bit harder than you did in your first half.  All the energy you conserved in the first half gets expended.    You feel your speed increase and you are proud.

Then…it happens…somewhere between Mile 18 and Mile 20…dun dun dun…”The Wall”.  The short term fuel you have from breakfast and from your carb load the night before is gone.  Your body has consumed all the energy it has available and now must tap into other sources.  Your body is screaming, and all of a sudden the thoughts start popping into your head, “I can’t take another step.  I’m so tired.”

You’ve trained for this.  That last long run, the 20 miler where you pushed through, you tap into that memory, and you somehow tell yourself that one foot can keep moving in front of another.  Just one more mile and you’ll take a break.  Just one more hill and then you can coast for a few minutes.  It’s somewhere about Mile 22 that you realize it’s 4.2 miles left.  Even if you’re running slow, even if you walk, you’re going to finish!

Nothing can stop you now.  The pain goes away.  The thoughts become less about not moving and more about finishing.  If you can move faster it will be over with sooner.  The cheers from the crowd push you on.  You see your family holding up signs, and you run a little harder for them.

There it is.  You finally cross the finished line.  The numbers on the clock don’t matter.  Where you placed doesn’t matter.  Within only a few hours your mission is over.  Months of training boiling down to these few hours are over.

When I think about marathon running, I see so many parallels with our journey to achieve our CC-MBA.  We’ve moved through the first half of our race and each of us has found our pace.  Now, in Term 5, we find ourselves hitting “The Wall”.

So much of what I learned in running, was that often it was not about my physical ability to complete run, it was about the mental ability to push through whatever was challenging me.  Particularly when you hit “The Wall”.  You have the choice to give up and to walk it in, but would it all have been worth it?

Instead of turning in my running shoes, I decided to consult my go to guide to find better ways to handle my obstacles in Term 5.  In an one of my marathon guides I found these tips for overcoming “The Wall”.

  1. More Sleep – Set a goal to get your 8 hours of sleep in.  This isn’t about being lazy or slacking off, it’s about keeping yourself refreshed and avoiding that “I’m to tired to…” feeling.  Not only that, but you need those extra hours of sleep so you can keep your mind clear so you can keep focus your goal.
  2. Perform a Visualization Exercise – Yeah, yeah, you’re rolling your eyes now.  But hear me out.  When we talk about marathon running, all of those training runs are little mini practice races.  In my head, that last mile, no matter how long my run, was the last mile of my race.  I was tired and I wanted the run to stop, but I pushed myself to “finish the race”.  I visualized crossing the finish and seeing my time on the clock.  You can do the same thing with every team assignment and quiz.  What’s so different about a final exam, when you’ve had so many successful “training runs”?
  3. Use the Other Runners for Inspiration – When you came to Shanghai you realized for the first time that you weren’t in this race alone.  The excitement of the others in the program made you even more excited.  Take a minute to look around and think about your classmates, and look at their excitement and the positive changes you’ve seen for them as a result of the program.  As these last few miles get harder, it’s keeping pace with our pack that herds us towards the finish.
  4. Feed Off the Crowd – If only there were people calling out your name, clapping and screaming to keep going, all along the way of the CC-MBA program.  It would feel so much better if on your way to work you saw someone holding up  a sign saying “This way to the CC-MBA Finish Line”.  But we do have a crowd of onlookers.  Our friends and family, who always ask “So what classes are you taking now?  Wow!  That’s crazy!  I’m so proud of you.”  Or your co-workers who say “You learned that in your MBA program?”  Or when you tell a complete stranger, “I’m getting my MBA in an international program and we’ve done ALL of these cool things!”  So when you see the look of awe or hear that pang of jealousy, use that to push yourself forward on the next assignment.
  5. Remember Why You’re Running – Many runners dedicate their run to a cause.  The CC-MBA cause you’re running for is the new job, the new business, or the big promotion.  It’s not a final exam or a diploma you’re running towards…it’s the prize!  Run faster!  Run harder!  It’s so close!!!
  6. Plan to Reward Yourself After the Run – We’ve talked about a Term 7 trip, we’ve thought about all of the naps we’ll take, the fabulous dinner we will have, and the monstrously large bar tab we will rack up on the day when classes finally end.  So start planning it.  Get yourself psyched!  It’s so close we’re planning the victory dance!  How can you not keep going when you have an ice cold beer to re-hydrate you awaiting at the finish.

If all else fails, you can always use some mental imagery from one of my favorite movies, Run Fat Boy Run!