I recently completed the Anchorage Marathon — the same place I completed my first marathon a decade ago.
People think I’ve always been a runner. Not so. Actually, for most of my life, I despised running. If we’re being honest here, I would have told you I had a better chance of being a professional bowler than a marathon runner.
So, how did I get from 0 to 26.2? There were many milestones on this journey (and I mean that literally). But part of transformation is that you can’t necessarily see where you’ll end up before you begin the journey.
The Anchorage Marathon
I turned 50 this year. The Anchorage Marathon was the fifth full marathon I’ve completed and my 50th half marathon. To understand why I continue to do something I don’t naturally enjoy, it’s important to return to why I started doing it in the first place and what I’ve learned along the way.
At 40, I’d been a consultant for all my professional life and I had years of specializing in large-scale business transformations. When you do change management, you are all in for your client — you must be as much a part of their business as an employee, and you must get there 10 times as fast.
After helping many clients with their businesses and immersing myself so deeply in the work of others, I woke up one day with a profound realization: I had never completed anything for myself. In fact, I wondered if I had it in me at all. So, never being a joiner and unsure if I was a finisher, I signed up for my first marathon.
Let me tell you, a marathon transforms you — personally and professionally. I am a better consultant and leader today because of it.
The most introspective and difficult moment in a marathon is not when you start off full of hope and excitement — it’s the very last miles, between miles 20 and 26.2. That final stretch tests the salt of even the most experienced marathon runner.
You can barely think at that point, but you do reflect on why you would ever choose to do this.
Here’s what I learned in those last 6.2 miles:
Miles 20 to 21: Being a starter is the only way to become a finisher. Every person on that early morning start line woke up one day and decided to be a starter. They declared it to the world, on Facebook, in conversations and in blogs, despite their own quiet uncertainty. It was the daily affirmation they would put into the world as they went forth to achieve their mission and become the person they hoped they could be. Becoming an endurance athlete isn’t something you’re born into, it’s something you transform into. Every transformation — personal or professional — begins with a single step.
Miles 21 to 22: It’s not a race. It’s a process. Less than .5 percent of the U.S. population has ever completed a marathon. As in business, few succeed. It is completely about envisioning the finish line, the goals you want to achieve, and assessing the results each mile and adjusting. It’s about training. It’s about patience. It’s about drive. And when you get to the last few miles, it’s about pure will. Training for a marathon is an affirmation you repeat to the world when you show up every weekend to do another long training run that spans from four to 20 miles before you ever see a start line.
Miles 22 to 23: It’s not about who you’re competing with. It’s about your strategy. You may pass some people along the way, but there are many players on that stretch of trail that can distract you from your goals. Chase the runner that’s faster than you, you burn out and never finish. Pace with someone who doesn’t push you, you fall behind. It’s about having the best personal strategy that will get you to the end. As with a successful business, it’s a long race where you must have a clear mission, intentionally work a strategy, and adjust along the way as the course changes.
Miles 23 to 24: You will want to quit when you are the closest. Push through. You train for the first 20 miles, but every marathoner knows there is nothing you can do to prepare for what mentally and physically happens to you the last 6.2 miles. Nothing you have trained for or brought with you helps — it’s completely mental. Every breakthrough in business I have ever experienced felt as if all the preparation I did before didn’t matter. The playbook gets thrown out the door because you have just gone someplace you’ve never been before.
Miles 24 to 25: Choose to be a finisher. I’m always amazed at the diversity of people milling around before the race. In the Anchorage Marathon, 48 states and 15 countries were represented. But stripped down in race gear and trash bags to keep warm before the race stands every body type, age, education and story. Not unlike in business, it’s those who showed up in the early morning with the determination to finish that achieve their goals — no matter what happens along the way.
Miles 25 to 26.2: Cross the finish line. It is awesome and a relief. There are medals, fanfare and free t-shirts. However, not unlike transforming something, only you know all it took to get there. You don’t transform after you cross the finish line; you transform along the way.
Sometimes you need to return to the place where you started and run the race one more time to remember how far you’ve come. It’s hard to see this the first time you run the race and there is always more to learn; both you are the terrain change over a decade. Transformation: If you’re willing to start and see yourself as a finisher, you’re already almost there.
A version of this article originally appeared in B the Change, a publication by and about Certified B Corporations, a community of people using business as a force for good.
Leila Lance is Certified B Corporation Future State’s Chief Solutions Officer. Leila has more than 20 years of experience consulting with corporations, public institutions and nonprofits to clarify complex issues and mobilize teams around new strategies. She lives in San Jose, California.