I became a better runner once I saw all it has in common with starting a business

Pacing is everything.
Pacing is everything.
Image: AP Photo/Kevin Frayer
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Inspiration is an unexpected guest, an unknown young woman at a party, high on whisky and the thrill of romantic pursuit. For reasons unfathomed, she took a break from her dalliance, and turned to the oldest man in the room—“I really want to do the Delhi Dream Run next month.”

“You must,” seemed an appropriate response.

“But I’ve never run before.”

“Nor have I. Let’s train together. Tomorrow morning?”

Then, as she took another slug of whisky, “The day after.”

We never met again. November passed, as did Christmas and the excesses of the New Year, all of which showed up on the bathroom scales. I’d been overweight before, but at age 54, the window of fitness was all but shut. I resolved to nudge it open, one step at a time.

Which is exactly how I began. My first jog was 100m long. My second, two days later, was two stretches of 100m each, separated by a 2 minute walk. Surfing the net, I found this training schedule that mimicked my instinct. Using it as a rough guide, I took six weeks to hit my interim target of 2 km.

Getting from 2 to 5 km took me another two months. That winter, I ran the Delhi Dream run with ease. The Christmas indulgences seemed deserved, but the scales weren’t happy. That New Year, I set myself a target of 10 km. With a year of running behind me, building the distance was easier. But there’d still be mornings when I’d wake up and regard my shoes as cruel slave-drivers. Sometimes, I’d take a deep breath and submit to a hot morning in the cotton fields. Others, I’d head to the pool and relish not just the coolth of the water, but also the reprieve from training. Between the indulgences and the discipline, I hit my 10 km target by the end of May. Before my summer break, I resolved to run the half-marathon that November. Two years from zero to a half-marathon—is that too long? I don’t know, but in play and in business, that’s me—start off on a whim, or a random inspiration, give it time to become a part of me, build on it, and set new goals only when they feel right.

Listening to yourself is key. In the early days, I experimented with different ways to run—longer strides and shorter; on the mid-foot and the front-foot; lots of arm action or not. I was mindful of how I held my lower spine, watched how other runners held theirs. And, as I ramped up the distances, I watched for tensions emerging in my neck and shoulders, sought the stride, the pace, above all, the ease that eliminated them.

The author at the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon.
The author at the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon.

It’s like experimenting with different business models and delivery systems for a new business. The most successful—especially in the digital space—have beta tests going all the time. But, once you find what works best, Keep your form. In the second half of a long run, especially if you have a target time, you’re most liable to drop form—allow your limbs to splay, your head to roll, try to compensate with the rest of your body for the tired muscles that have been driving you for hours. STOP. Take a break. There is only one best way for you to run, and engaging these other body parts is not going to help. If you break form, you’re liable to crack. We fashion our selves, our lives, from awareness of self. When we lose that awareness, to ambition or greed, the results can be ugly.

Finding the right pace is key. After four years of running, with eight half-marathons under my Nikes, it still is. Every few minutes, as the rhythm builds and the endorphins flow, I’ll find I’m running ahead of myself. “Slow down before you’re out of breath. After is too late.” If you pace yourself well, you’ll be running most strongly at the very end. And if you can cross the finish line with grace and a smile, well, that’s the way to live life.

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