6 Business Lessons from a Trail Run

What happens when a business coach mixes up with a bunch of serious trail runners?

The inevitable result is that you keep on seeing business lessons around every corner of the trail. This is what happened to me when I joined a group called Mindful Runners at the end of 2021. For all intense purposes, I am still very much a newbie trail runner, but the similarities between business and trail running are intense. So much so that it might be more beneficial to send your child on a trail run as opposed to business school.

Jokes aside, below are some of my business lessons as experienced on my Mahai Adventure Trail Run Camp in the Drakensberg.

1. The Average of 5

Tony Robbins famously coined the term ‘the average of 5’ and nowhere is this more prolific than on the trails. Essentially you are who you choose to surround yourself with. My extended trail run expeditions are a direct result of my friends who all suffer from a serious case of FOMO. When I came up with the insane idea of joining Mindful Runners for a weekend at the Mahai Adventure Trail Run Camp, they immediately responded with ‘awesome, let’s do it.’ Not a due diligence of whether or not we will be fit enough to cope with three days of running in the Berg. Not a let’s check if it fit into our schedule. Just an almost immediate yes. In their defense, Coach Fred did say that the weekend was ideal for beginners and that we can cut short if we want to.

The moral of the story is that our group of three middle-aged moms descended on the Berg at the end of January 2022 for three days of running. Without Rentia and Isabel, I would probably not have gone on this adventure.

In business, we often miss the opportunity to connect with people outside of our comfort zone. To find more people that can inspire us instead of dragging us and our business down. Look around you and take stock of whether the 5 people closest to you are an inspiration or a drain. Do they motivate you to step outside of your comfort zone or at least just help you to nudge the boundaries? Or do they have a million excuses before they say yes?

Since that ‘fateful’ weekend at Mahai, I have met so many more amazing adventurous people that have influenced my life in so many positive ways. An inspiration reservoir that keeps on filling up, instead of running out.

2. Know your Why

As with so many things in life, it is cardinally important to understand why you are doing what you are doing. We cannot keep our business momentum going day in and day out if we are in business for the wrong reasons, and we will definitely not survive the trails if we started for the wrong reasons.

I for one started my trail journey in order to be fit enough for the next adventure. And the adventures are what fuel my inspiration. Almost like a snowball effect in a positive loop. The fitter I get, the bigger the adventure I can attempt, and the bigger the adventure, the more inspired I get.

Imagine if you can keep that mindset in your business. It would be a constant gratification loop that escalates rather than deflates. Not because your income grows, but because you absolutely love what you do. Warren Buffet recently explained in an interview: “find something that you would do for free.” When the why you do it is not for fame or fortune, but because you are truly fulfilled.

3. Pace Yourself

Our 50km Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge on Day 1 of our Adventure Camp started very slow. Almost embarrassingly slow. Or that is what it felt like to me. Luckily, we had a highly experienced Coach Oliver with us that kept on assuring us that we are not slower than most 100-miler participants. Yes, it does help to have a very patient coach that does not make you feel stupid for being slow.

In business, we often feel like we have to go at an all-out pace with burn-out waiting for us just around the corner. We did eventually finish our first 50km Mont-Aux-Sources attempt in 13 hours, but we did finish. At the time it was insane to think that some of the people that did the challenge with us finished the same distance in less than half the time it took us, but two of them did end up on the podium of UTD (Ultra-Trail Drakensberg) 2022 and broke Ryan Sandes‘s record!! As an extra bonus, most ‘normal’ people that I spoke to after our adventure weekend were amazed that we did the distance in that terrain in only one day. A viewpoint that always brings a big fat smile to my heart.

My late dad, who was a phenomenal entrepreneur for more than 50 years, once wrote to me while I was at varsity with this message: “It is a big act of heroism to take off your clothes and use them to spare your brother from dying of hyperthermia, but it is an even bigger act of heroism to put on your clothes each day for 30 to 40 years to provide for your family.” And this can definitely not be achieved if you are in a constant race.

Pace yourself. Finish the race late if you have to, rather than DNFing, because of dehydration and exhaustion.

4. The Hill Reset

Have you ever gone up a steep hill where it feels like your heart is going to explode out of its sockets and you’re waiting for the white light to appear at any moment? Coach Fred taught us that it is OK to stop, but do it with deliberate action.

Stop. Turn around to see how far you have come. Take three deep breaths and then continue on your merry way.

Our business books and motivational gurus tend to focus on the goal ahead. Set one massive goal that scares you and then go after it with all your might. This is probably why so many people bail out before they could reach their initial goal. Give yourself the luxury to stop for a brief moment. Look at how far you have come before you continue. The positive psychological effect of constantly reminding yourself of how freaking awesome you are can not be bought for any money in the world.

And yes, it is important not to overindulge in your break. Three breaths are all it takes to get the oxygen back into your veins. Forward once again.

5. Change tactics if need be

Showing grit is one of the most important aspects of business and trail running alike. The research done by Angela Duckworth, the woman who coined the term GRIT, shows that exceptional performance is not from IQ or EQ or any other aspect more than that of grit.

But not knowing when to recognize the warning signs can be a bigger stumbling block than the chain ladders up Mont-Aux-Sources while the hail is coming down on you.

I was so incredibly stupid to test out a pair of multifocal contact lenses on my first trail ultra. From the moment I put them into my eyes, I felt as if I was floating through the air. At some point, I felt so woozy that my friend thought that my sugar levels might be dropping. It was only at Witsieshoek Hotel on our way back, that I decided to take them out. After that, I finished the last 10km feeling a zillion times better and in control of my expedition. Looking back, I should have stopped and taken them out a very very long time ago!

In business, we often try to stick things out to the verge of insanity. If we stop and take stock of where we are and what the impact is of the status quo, our modus operandi becomes a breeze.

This is often where the help of a business coach comes in. To speak to someone who is completely independent. Not a nagging husband or boyfriend. Not your kids who always know better. And definitely not your siblings who will use it as an ‘I told you so’ later.

6. Be creative

No matter where you are or what the situation is, there is always an opportunity to find a creative solution. By the time we finished our second run on day two, our bodies were complaining like there was no tomorrow. Friend Isabel jokingly exclaimed in a candid video on the day that it’s only her teeth that don’t hurt. After some serious creative thinking, we ended up in the nearby ice-cold stream. Normally the water would be way too cold to endure, but it became our saving grace. That ice-cold water was like Manna to the Israelites. It saved us from feeling really sorry for ourselves. We were also able to get ready for our first night run later that day.

By the same token, we often find ourselves in dire straights in our business. Creative or lateral thinking gives us the opportunity to find solutions that normal wisdom would not afford us to do. Often at a fraction of the cost of a conventional alternative.

The moral of the story

My serious trail running adventures have just begun, but the learning comes in leaps and bounds. Sometimes just underpinning what we already know, but a nice reminder nonetheless.

Be cognisant of the average of your five.

Know your why.

Recognize when to stop and realign.

Spot opportunities to be creative and choose a pace that will ensure that you finish your expedition.

Let’s keep the adventures rolling.

Your business depends on it.

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