Over the past six years of competing in ultramarathons — with a particular focus on 100 mile races — I’ve been privileged enough to challenge my mind, body, and soul to my absolute limits during some of the most demanding endurance events humans have invented. And I volunteered for this punishment, whether it was running 135 miles across Death Valley, CA in the middle of July with temperatures approaching 130 degrees or running the Leadville 100 Mile Trail Run (a.k.a. “The Race Across the Sky” in Leadville, CO), where nearly the entire distance is run above 10,000 feet of elevation, as the runners climb three different mountains — twice.
What I’ve learned about running and how to improve my performance over the course of these races has been incredibly useful in my progression. But what I’ve learned about myself — sources of strength that I didn’t know I had and strategies for success in life that the races taught me — has been invaluable.
Preparation is key. In a race lasting anywhere from 20-50 hours non-stop in variable conditions, there are all sorts of calamities that might befall a runner. Even though I can’t correctly guess in advance what will go wrong or the severity of the problem, I try to plan for as many contingencies as possible and envision what I will do to solve that problem IF it arises.
The race doesn’t run itself, and the race doesn’t care. With few exceptions, most of success in life has to be earned. Someone can’t do it for you. Further, we all have excuses for why we can’t do something — and often they’re valid excuses. However, in running, when you show up on race day, the race itself is indifferent. The distance is the distance, and it’s on you to get to that finish line. Bring that same mentality to your everyday life.
Run a strategic race. It’s often been said that you can’t win a race (like a marathon) in the first mile, but you can lose it in the first mile. Until I started getting serious about racing, I always found that to be an odd comment. But it’s true. If you start too quickly—in a race, in a business, in a relationship—and don’t budget your effort (or money or time), you may end up in the dreaded place of being burned out (or broke) only halfway to your goal. And trust me, those final miles are PAINFUL when that happens.
Mind over matter. So much of success in life is dependent on your mind overcoming obstacles to power you to victory. Sometimes the obstacles could be negative thoughts/self-doubt and other times they could be physical fatigue or pain (like in racing) or practical ones such as a seeming lack of time. In all my racing, I’ve seen people achieve remarkable performances because they simply willed themselves to success, leaving all of those obstacles/excuses in their wake. It’s one of the most powerful feelings in life — to discover firsthand that you’re capable of far more than you think.
Have an objective support crew. Given the difficulty of any ultramarathon, at some point every runner is going to be suffering, tired, and prone to making sometimes rash or emotional decisions. In other words, they often lose the ability to reason and make objective, strategic decisions. Having the right support crew with you in your race to reframe your thinking and make small adjustments to your current plan can be the difference between finishing or not. Find your support crew in life — family, friends, or colleagues who will “give it to you straight.” Beyond their honesty, they’ll likely also have a considerable amount of practical advice for you.
Avoid complacency. I’ve learned this the hard way a few different times, including losing the chance to win a 100-mile ultramarathon because I essentially started a victory lap about 2 miles too soon and in other races taking some nasty falls descending on a mountain trail (after mentally thinking the battle was over because I reached the summit). In a race, a business, or a relationship, if things are going well, it’s because you’ve done the little things (and the big ones) along the way to put yourself in that position. The key to continuing to stay on top in business or in having a healthy relationship is to ALWAYS do those things. Many of the world’s greatest leaders embrace this mentality.
Enjoy the ride. Running ultramarathons is one of my passions in life. Granted it’s a demanding one that taxes one’s limits. But when things appear to be in a downward spiral mid-race, I try to remind myself that I love my sport and that I should be grateful that I get to follow that passion. Make an effort to smile and remind yourself that you’re doing something you truly enjoy and value, especially when the chips are down. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can mentally reboot.
Eric Spencer is the Chief Financial Officer/Head of Investor Relations for Universa Investments L.P. and a Strategic Advisor to IVY. He’s completed 14 races of at least 100 miles in distance over the past 6 years, in addition to competing in a number of shorter ultramarathons, marathons, and other endurance challenges. He lives in Miami, FL.