I was trail running with some friends up at Hyner way back in March prior to the Hyner Challenge. If you don’t know about the Hyner Challenge, it is a very intense 25k and 50k in North Central PA near the small town of Renovo along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. (Read 2011 Article about Hyner in Outside Magazine) It is early-March and we were part of a training run about six weeks prior to the race in late-April. We talked briefly about how trail running gives us a release from work and other things in life. One of the runners from the group is a local pastor named Tyler who enjoys Saturday runs as a way to clear some of the stress from the previous week and allows him to clear his mind for next morning’s sermon. John works in construction and Tim does sales for an IT company. I’m a creative director for solutions and services company. We each have different types of jobs yet we all found running as a release from the stresses of work.
Even though it is now the middle of summer, I am constantly reminded of that run and that I always wanted to write about it for a long time. A lot of people talk about how running is an escape. For this blog post, I decided to write about how trail running can help you at work and how some of the lessons from running can be applied and vice-versa.

Rule 1: You Can’t Do Your Personal Best Every Time on the Trail So Don’t Expect To PR at Work
Sometimes I feel like I am a victim of my own success. As a Creative Director, I am assigned to create the look, feel and design for websites, videos, print and other media for dozens of clients. Along the way, I have been awarded with more than 30 awards for my work over the years. Many times I can pull together a piece and “hit it out of the park”. But then there are other days when I come up short.
On the trail, you are not expected to do your personal best day after day, each and every day or race after race. To continually to a PR on every outing is unsustainable. If you put yourself to such demands, you will be setting yourself up for disappointment. The same principle applies to work. You need to learn to take what the day gives you. Often the expectations placed on yourself or the expectations of others just can’t be done day after day. Therefore, you need to learn how to manage expectations -– not just your own expectations but also the expectations others may place on you. If you can manage expectations successfully, your work can become less stressful.
Another point to add: In ultramarathon running there are going to be miles that are going to be completely shitty. Then there will be some miles that are going to be simply amazing. Ultimately, what you need to do is to take the good along with the bad and at the end of the day, it is average that is important. No one will remember or care what you felt like at different points along a race, the only thing they will remember is your overall finish time.

Rule 2: You Need Passion To Succeed: On The Trail and Off
You need to care to succeed. You need to want to succeed. You need the drive and the determination to get you there whether it is during training, at a race, or at the office, or even in personal relationships. You cant just ‘show up’, put in a minimal amount of effort and go through the motions and expect to be rewarded for such malaise. If you do, you are probably not satisfied and unfulfilled in your sport, your career or your relationship with your significant other. Ultra trailrunning is as much of a mental journey as a physical challenge. It is a quest for knowledge. It is the desire to start on a journey, finish it and then to improve. These are traits that should be applied to work.

Rule 3: Plan, Plan, Plan.
You need to set goals… long term goals… goals that at first seem unachiveable. In June 2010, when I ran in the shorter 50k (31 miles) of the Laurel Highlands Ultra, doing the 70-mile version seemed impossible in my lifetime. However, a year later, I did it and finished the 70 mile ultra. How did I do this? First, I clearly defined the finish line and asked myself, “what is it?”, “What does it look like?” Then I began to lay the building blocks to lead me to that goal. Those building blocks were mini-goals. Those mini-goals were anything from running smaller ‘training’ races to prepare me for the big race or knowing that I needed to run several 50 mile weeks to be adequately trained. From those mini-goals, I developed a series of tasks — in my case these were the individual workouts/runs that would lead me to that final goal. When you have all those goals and tasks lined up, you soon realize that you wake up each day with a sense of purpose. Each morning, you would never ask yourself “what I am going to do today”. Instead, you wake up each morning knowing exactly what you needed to do that day. In the end, when you finally have reached your goal, you are left with a tremendous amount of satisfaction in completing your goal and you also have a great road map to use when you decide you are ready to take on your next challenge. This goal setting the and developing tasks is probably the single best advice toward success in running and in the workplace.

Rule 4: Break it Down
Running a 50, 70 or 100 mile race sounds impossible to most. Even for those who actually have ran ultra, when they toe the line on race day, running all those miles seems too much for even the experienced to fathom. A friend of mine, Todd Lewis, never sees a race as a whole. He breaks up the challenge into pieces. Many runners in ultrarunning like to break up the run into more manageable sections like dividing the race in sections based on the terrain or running from aid station to aid station. Yes, ultras may seem insurmountable to most people. Yet one of the things that I learned from long-distance running is that that there is nothing that is impossible. When you happen to find yourself in the middle of an incredible challenge, don’t think of that challenge as one big and formidable task. Think of it as a lot of smaller tasks rather than the whole, whether it is getting to the next aid station, up that hill or even to that next tree. The important thing for anyone is to get yourself out the door to run. Take on that challenge by starting with what you need to get yourself going.

Rule 5: Magic Dust Happens
There are many factors that lead to a stellar race day performance. There is your training, the right equipment, nutrition, the weather, your recovery cycles, amount of sleep and what you ate the days prior to the event, etc. etc. But there are those times when the stars align and you get a lucky break and everything goes your way. Even though the more experience you gain from running and the moments of divine intervention becomes less with the more training you do, the sooner you understand that there are so many things beyond your control, you will also understand that it also happens with work as well.

Rule 6: Distractions
Smart phones, social networking, advertising, phone calls, emails and more seem to interrupt our lives more and more. Then are the time suckers – someone posts a link on their Facebook page and then you realize you been watching movie trailer parodies on YouTube for two hours straight. Whether the interruptions are intrusive or self-inflicted, trail running can give you discipline.
First, you can not ignore your training. This day-to-day ritual can give you the focus on what you need to do that day.
Second, it is race day or an important training day. You would never spend most of that time looking at flowers or cool your feet in a mountain stream for three hours. In a run, you always keep your focus keen and your attention ahead. You need to apply this to your work as well. You need to focus on what is ahead.

Rule 7: Creativity can come from everywhere and at anytime.
Sometimes I am at work faced with a big problem or I might be dealing with a pressing personal issue. Many find trailrunning to be an escape and a mental release. Quite often my biggest problems are solved or my best ideas come while I am on the trail when my mind is free and relaxed. The trails are good for us. Trail running, in general, changes our outlook, improves our quality of life and help us to be open-minded.
A couple of weeks ago, The Oatmeal, my favorite web comic and ultramarathoner penned a great piece on way he is a distance runner. The point is to find your own reasons and embrace it.

Rule 8: When Things Get Tough, The Tough Think Positive
Let me set up scenario for you. It is mile 30 in a 50 mile race and things are not going well. You might be tired as death, sick to the stomach, or something else might be happening that is making this a miserable day. In those trying moments, it is important to keep an optimistic and positive attitude and more importantly you need to work through it. You need to be a problem solver and be innovative. Remember, you got yourself into this situation and now you need to get yourself out of it. Things might be miserable but usually with patience and time, things do get better. It measures how well you confront adversity. The rewards goes toward those who properly plan, take measured risks and who can innovate.