Business lessons from the Soutpansberg Mountain Marathon

I have recently completed the Soutpansberg Mountain Marathon in a spectacular time of 9 hours and 29 minutes! Do I regard this as an impressive accomplishment? It all depends on how you look at the situation. As always, I have tried to mine some business lessons out of my experience in the Soutpansberg mountains.


Getting over my fear

It might be important to note that this was my very first official 42km race. This means that I am a complete newbie in running, and by the looks of it I tend to do things the wrong way round.  The first 42km distance that I have covered was in Lockdown in my garage on my treadmill. (Joseph Murphy’s ‘The Power of the Subconscious Mind‘ audiobook was the winner in this instance.) 

I have done a 45 km virtual half-Comrades in 2021. I have also done a 50km Mont-Aux-Sources trail run/walk as part of a training camp at Mahai. This was however my very first official in-the-flesh-on-the-spot marathon. The bottom line was that I was scared beyond belief to do this race. That type of fear tends to paralyze you. I don’t know about you, but I have experienced this very same feeling in the business many times over. I am pretty good at mustering up massive courage to initiate new business adventures only to wonder ‘how the hell am I going to pull this one off?’.

Business Lessons from Soutpansberg Mountain Marathon.  Freezing cold, super anxious, but let's go.
Nervous, but ready.

Like with my pre-Soutpans jitters it does help to have a partner to do all these adventures with you. Together one can accomplish so much more. Or to have a coach to talk to who can hopefully help you work through everything that needs to be done and get the right preparation in.

My running coach certainly played a big part in me lining up for the start of the Soutpans race and my business coach helps me to stay on track in my business.

You create your own dramas

The Soutpansberg Mountain Marathon was hosted in conjunction with EWT or Endangered Wildlife Trust and KZNTrailrunning. At our pre-race briefing the night before the race, one of the EWT rangers gave a presentation on the game inside the Ingwe Management Area, where we were about to run through. This included a couple of leopards and wild dogs. At the briefing, I was already thinking ‘Sh**!! This is not good!!’ While I was running, of which the majority was in absolute solitude, I kept hearing these rustling sounds from the bush. Needless to say, I had a couple of panicky moments. Only to find out very late in the day, that the rustling that I was hearing came from my runner’s vest on my back behind me.

One positive from this was that I did pray a lot!! I think if I had to meet my Maker, I was ready beyond a shadow of a doubt. But the reality is that we often create our own dramas. And if you start to believe your own dramas, your business would become fried! These so-called dramas are one of the reasons we lose our sense of adventure in business. And if that happens a snowball effect of insecurities creeps in, and we lose our ability to innovate, be productive and have fun.

When you hear the next rustle of drama, I suggest you take stock of where this rustling sound is coming from and reorientate yourself before you write a drama with more nuances than Shakespeare’s plays.

Focus girl, focus

One of the big advantages of trail running is that you have to have serious focus, or else you will acquire some land and possibly a few scars to boot. Or at least this is true for me.

Business Lessons from Soutpansberg Mountain Marathon.  We need to follow  the pink ribbon over rocks.  What pink ribbon?
Follow the pink ribbon

I often say that going on a trail run is like a mini-vacation. You concentrate so much on where you have to place your foot, that you completely forget about everything else.

But Soutpans was different. I have not encountered terrain like this before. Not even on a hike. (Please bear in mind that I am still a newbie on this.) I had to do next-level focussing. Whenever my mind started to wonder, I would have a near fall, which would have been detrimental between all those rocks and boulders.

It comes as no surprise that comparing this scenario with our business lives is very easy. The moment you lose focus or start to think that you are the bees-knees, you risk falling flat on your face. Focus on why you are in business. Focus on what pains, needs & gains you are solving for your clients. And it will help to focus on one target segment of the market at a time. The list can go on and on into infinity. 

And whenever fear gets the better of your thoughts, revert back to focus on why you are doing this. If you have the right why and truly want to help someone else other than yourself, your fears will disappear faster than the dew on the grass once the sun rises over the mountain.

Trust experience. Not Technology

Did I mention that I am a newbie at trail running races? In my effort to be super prepared I came across this app that works out a pacing chart for your race given your past performance, your elevation, whether you want a negative split etcetera. I thought I was uber cool! My coach at Mindful Runner, on the other hand, reminded me that the app does not take terrain into account. Boy, was I in for a surprise. My coach unfortunately was absolutely correct and it took me exactly two and a half hours longer than expected to complete the race!

In business, and in life for that matter, we are relying on technology to manage our every move on an increasing basis. We tend to disregard the value of good old human experience. Yes, I suppose we can go into a fierce debate on the value of artificial intelligence, but this run in the Soutpans has definitely reminded me that human experience and specifically the advice from my coach is of much better value than the best technology at hand.

Stop and enjoy the moment

This is such a debatable subject. In trail running and in business alike. In fact, while I am writing this, I do have a nagging feeling that to stop and enjoy the moment is a bit of a contradiction to having complete focus. But wait. I do have a point to make here. When you are in a race, or even a training run for that matter, all you sometimes think about is your time and position.

Business Lessons from Soutpansberg Mountain Marathon. Talking a selfie on top of the world.
On top of the world.

I have run (and walked) through the most spectacular scenes in the Soutpansberg. Some of the views were just breathtaking beyond belief.  I have taken a couple of pics, but the pictures I have taken do not come close to how beautiful it really was.

Life goes past so quickly. Taking a moment to appreciate where you are and what you are so blessed to experience will keep you grounded. Those three extra breaths, while you are stopping, will give you newfound energy to push some more.

In business, we need to appreciate where we are and what we have. Taking time to be thankful for everything we have at any given point will give us more energy, courage, and tenacity to keep on doing what we are doing. A gratitude journal is one of the most powerful tools you can use. Whether it is a formal journal that you write in at night before you go to bed or just a couple of notes on your phone, being aware of our blessings makes light work of our challenges.

Tough times never last

I do see how you might be misled into thinking that this was a blissful experience. It was tough!! 

Business Lessons from Soutpansberg Mountain Marathon. Running though the forest to the end.
Forget the pain to enjoy the next step.

There was a time when I almost ran out of water and persuaded a ranger to go and fetch me some water. I went to sit flat in the sand on my pink flowery bottom and considered just staying right there. On my way down the forest, back to the start, my knees became so sore from the insane descent that I also considered just staying flat on my bottom on yet another slide down a rock.

In business, our situation often gets to the point where we consider giving up and calling it a day. Numerous studies have been done on people’s regrets on their death beds. Giving up and not pushing through definitely ranks up at the top of this list and I sure as hell don’t want to extend my list of give-ups!

We often think we are the only ones that are having a tough time. Whether it is for an hour, a day, or a week. Somewhere someone is going through the same issue as you. I am often reminded that even the most successful entrepreneurs have their own low moments. The only difference between them and someone quitting is that they know how to deal with it and get back up and going again.

My impressive accomplishment

Getting back to the question of whether or not my 9 hours and 29 minutes is an impressive accomplishment. For the average trail runner, this would be very slow. A road runner would cringe at the thought of a 9-hour finish! Luckily there are some people that understand that the terrain, over and above elevation, makes a massive difference to your time, with or without being super fit. And some people would understand that it is possible to get so lost that you run a kilometer longer! Whatever the technicalities, a run is a run and I can bag this one.

Business Lessons from Soutpansberg Mountain Marathon Victory
Victory is achieved one step at a time.

As with business, it is much too easy to join the crowd and chant that only the wicked run. Or that running is only for people without cars. Life’s too short to follow the crowd.   Life’s too short not to push the boundaries every once in a while. And life is definitely too short not to try, even if it means there is a possibility of failure.

“Each obstacle that we overcome, makes us stronger to face the next even bigger challenges.”

I am proud of completing the Soutpansberg Mountain Marathon and you can be proud of yourself for sticking it out in your business or wherever you are, even if you have a battle scar or two.

After all, the only way to gain sustainable elevation is one small step at a time.

Happy trailing through your business adventures.

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