5 Things I Learned About Business from Running

Race Starting LineThere is nothing like the feeling before a race. The excitement and thrill that comes as adrenaline surges through the circulatory system is unmatched except for the feeling of accomplishment that comes from beating your personal best. This is a feeling I know all too well from the number of PT tests I personally ran when in the Army.

In some ways, running a business is a lot like running a race. At the start, there is this thrill of excitement from a combination of having a great idea and the uncertainty of whether it will work. Along the way, there is the struggle that comes from setbacks, doubts, and fears that beckon quitting before reaching the finish line. It is in those moments that a leader has to find inner strength to persevere. Only through that inner strength and personal motivational pep talks will you finish strong.

It has been nine years since I started PetCorps but I will never forget what it was like when I started running this race. If only I knew then what I know today, perhaps I may have run my race differently. Here are some lessons I have learned from running and how they relate to running a business.

Pace Yourself

My goal in running a PT test was to finish my two-mile run in less than fourteen minutes. In order to accomplish this, though, I had to pace myself. If I started my race in a full sprint, I would burn up energy that I would otherwise use to finish strong. I learned to start running and to focus on my run while blocking out everything around me. It didn’t matter to me if other soldiers were running ahead of or behind me. All that mattered was that I was running in such a way to meet my splits. Sometimes, this would require speeding up or slowing down. To adjust my speed became an intentional decision I used to meet my goals.

The same applies in business. First time entrepreneurs run the risk of running too hard too soon. I remember as I dreamed about what PetCorps would become how my vision became very large – almost unmanageable. I wanted PetCorps to provide dog waste clean-up service, pet sitting service, dog walking service, pet taxi service, dog food delivery service, and a doggie day care. What a big vision! Certainly not something I could do all at once or without considerable capital. As Dave Ramsey frequently says, “The only way to eat an elephant is a bite at a time.” So instead of trying to do all of this at once, instead of going into debt to get started, I picked one service and started. Along the way, I have tried to implement the other services. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t. Timing is everything. Just like knowing when to speed up or slow down, you have to know when to move forward and when to stay the course.

Know Your Limitations

Everyone is built differently. There was a soldier in my basic training unit who ran the two mile run in ten minutes! My first PT test, I ran in just under sixteen minutes. While it would be easy to fall into the comparison trap, instead he inspired me. I might not have been as fast as him on my first run, but I had a baseline – my baseline – and as I continued to train, my times would improve. In fact, the fastest I ever ran was 13:54. That was my personal best and it was a considerable improvement from that very first PT test.

In business, you have to know your limitations. What are your strengths and what are your weaknesses? There is a lot of research that suggests we should focus on our strengths and delegate those things that are weaknesses. Some feel that spending the time to improve on weak areas is not the best use of time and reduces productivity. That may be so but it just goes against my experience not to improve my weak areas.

When I started PetCorps, I didn’t know anything about running a business. Because of this limitation, I decided to do something about it. Because I was a soldier, I had access to the Montgomery GI Bill so I enrolled in a business program at a community college. The knowledge gained from this experience was well worth it; however, if you are not able to get a degree without going into debt, there are other ways to get this knowledge.

Don’t Give Up

Just when you want to quit, that is the moment right before you get your second wind. At least that’s what I had heard from drill sergeants. Whether or not this is true, I believed it to be true. Because I believed it, it became true in my life. Right when you hit that wall – your legs want to quit, your lungs want to stop, and your whole body aches – it is pure agony. I’d start telling myself, “Don’t quit! Don’t quit! You can do this! Hang in there! You’re doing great!” And soon after that, when my body quit having its pity party, I’d get my second wind.

Business is like that, too. I cannot tell you how many times over the years that fear and doubt tried to convince me that I wasn’t good enough to be a business owner. I had done everything I knew to do and I had setback after setback. Nothing seemed to be going the way I had hoped. I’d have a personal pity party and I would contemplate quitting again and again. But something inside me said, “No. I am not a quitter. I can do this. Even if it doesn’t look like it. If God called me to it, He will see me through it.” The truth is times like these will come. What are you going to do when they do?

Have a Specific Goal in Mind

My goal was to run the two-mile run in fourteen minutes or less. My average run time was approximately 14:30. You might consider that a failure. The truth is, it is still success. Since my first PT test was just under sixteen minutes and my goal was fourteen minutes or less, any improvement towards my goal was actually a success. And since there were three events on the PT test – push ups, sit ups, and two-mile run – I knew I could max out both the push ups and sit ups and that my run was my weakest event, I didn’t necessarily have to run thirteen minutes to beat my personal best.

In business, we tend to do the same thing. We set lofty goals and when we don’t hit them, we tend to think that we are a failure. But was it really a failure? It depends on how you define success. It also depends on the actions you took to reach your goal. I love Jim Collins’ suggestion about setting BHAGs – big hairy audacious goals. Set a goal so big that it scares you. Do everything you can to reach that goal. If you make it – that’s awesome! If you don’t make it but you come really close – that’s also awesome! Any positive movement toward your goal is success. So instead of dwelling on the fact that you missed your goals, celebrate your progress toward it and evaluate what happened this time and how you can improve next time.

Finish Strong

No matter what happens along the way, always finish your race strong. Sometimes we get muddied up in the messy middle. At the start, we pace ourselves, we know our limitations, we combat quitting, all to achieve our goal. It is all for naught if we don’t finish strong. There is nothing like the feeling of sprinting toward the finish line racing against the clock to finish faster than before.

I am a long way away from finishing my race in business. But it is never too early to consider how to end the race. In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen Covey wrote the first habit is to “begin with the end in mind.” Visualize what your ideal ending will look like. Are you planning to hand off your business to the next generation? If so, what things can you do today to pass on your knowledge to the next generation? Make a plan to exit the business on your terms so that you can finish strong.

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