Last month I ran the Rome Marathon (that is me on the far left). It was my 9th marathon and around mile 20 I always think it will be my last–but probably not. It was a lot of fun as I got to run with four of he people I work with here in Italy. The course is beautiful as you might imagine–the organizers make sure that you run by most of the great historical sites. As you may be able to tell from the picture the race begins and ends at the Coliseum. That alone is pretty fun stuff. It was warmer than I preferred for that type of race–I am not a very good “warm day runner.” But I also have to admit that I was not as well prepared as I should have been. I think with all that has been involved in making our move to Italy and leading our team–the training will power was a little low. I finished at 3:50. Still not bad for a 50 year old dude.
I enjoy running marathons–or maybe I should say I enjoy finishing–I always learn a lot from the preparation and from the race itself. As I have mentioned on previous posts I see a lot of parallels between long distance running and the Christian life–and leadership.
This year, I tried something a little different for my mental preparation in running the race. I read an article that suggested you break up the 26 mile race into three segments of 10: 10 miles, 10 miles, and a 10K. The article also suggested that you take a different mental approach to each segment. So was is mine: for the first 10 miles my central thought was “Enjoy!” Good night I am running in Rome Italy–what’s not to enjoy? So I took in the sights, I chatted with other runners, I took little thought of my actual pace and time. For the second 10 miles my central thought was “Concentrate!” The time is over for chit chatting and a sight seeing race. It is time to consider how your legs are doing, your breathing, your pace, your hydration and nutrition. It is time to focus more keenly on where you are and what it will take to finish well. During the last 10 kilometers my central thought was “Bear Down!” This is the last 6 miles of the race (6.2 to be exact–and let me tell you the last .2 matters!). Your body hurts, you are becoming mentally fatigued, you are longing for the next water station–and hoping there might be a banana or orange slice to boost your energy. The race is nearing the end and you are dead serious about making it to the end–but there is a slight reservation about that reality. Somewhere in this last “10” there is always the proverbial wall. Runners know that somewhere along the way they will “hit the wall.” I have always said that for me the wall feels like I have been shopping all day at the mall–and more than anything I just want to sit down–anywhere. That is how I feel in the race too. Can I just please sit down–just take a load off for maybe an hour or two. Getting past the wall is all mental attitude–its about denying your inner cravings and focusing on the finish line. For me it always involves some prayer too.
Leadership has some similar rhythms. The early years of your leadership life could be labeled “Enjoy!” It is a season for trying things, enjoying the learning, venturing out in faith–not worrying too much about failure. It is an energetic time in life–the adrenaline is flowing–you don’t mind over commitment. It’s time to enjoy the leadership scenery–get to know people–not concentrate so much on pace and the end. But the second phase of “Concentrate” probably kicks in around 35-40 years of age. You know more who you are as a leader–you also realize that over commitment wont always take you where you want to go. You begin to see that leading is ultimatly more about who you are than what you can do or accomplish. People follow character. It is a season to take stock–because you can begin to see the end. The final phase of “Bearing Down” is probably about your leadership life at 50 and beyond. Now it becomes critical that you finish well–you may be feeling the pain of past choices–especially during the “Enjoy” phase. This may be the season you “hit the wall”–wondering what your life has been about and how you can make a maximum contribution as you press toward the finish line. It is a lot about mental attitude–but there is another more critical component. That is Christ and the grace of the gospel. I am already seeing that all of my leadership experiences will not compensate for character gaps–I desperately need Jesus Christ. And the same grace that rescued me as a teenager is the same grace I need now to finish well.
At the end of the marathon all those who finish receive a finisher’s medal–but in the leadership race for the cause of Christ our hope for reward should be those words of Paul near the end of his life–he longed to hear Christ say to him, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”