Playing a mind game. On distance running and product launches.

Yesterday I ran twenty miles. I’m marathon training rather than being chased by a bear, but this was my first race over half marathon distance so something of a milestone. I’m not a fast runner, my half PB is just over 2 hours. I knew as I stood at the starting line that I had about three and a half hours of running ahead of me.

As I up the mileage, past the point I can comfortably just go out and run, I realize how much running is a mind game. Three and a half hours is a long time to be alone with your thoughts.

Breaking it down

As I leave the starting line and head out into the Gloucester countryside I break it down, telling myself that twenty miles is only four five mile runs. I run at least five miles several days a week. I can do that. Look, here’s the mile marker for 5 miles, only three more of those to go. At this point I’m enjoying the run, sticking to my planned pace I’m running quite slowly looking at the scenery. This is fun!

Somewhere around mile 7 and this second quarter of the race is taking a long time. There’s a big hill, it’s getting warm. The 10 mile mark seems a long way off and then I’ll only be half way. I slow down, I have no idea why I’m doing this. There are better ways to spend a sunny Sunday morning.

At mile 12 I suddenly get a burst of energy, the mile to the half marathon distance is downhill, I had some of my energy sweets and water at the water station a little while back and it seems to be kicking in. I run a faster mile and feel great as I sail past the half marathon distance and have now run further in a race than ever before, as I see the marker for mile fourteen I tell myself that all I had to do is run a 10K now, and I’m home.

I just have to finish. Tiredness bites me. On the final hill almost everyone has started to walk, marshals are checking that people are ok reminding us to drink water at the water station, it’s a hot day for March. The first hot run most of us will have done after a winter of training in the rain. Why am I doing this? Mile 18, everything hurts, mile 19, I tell myself that I have ten minutes of running to go. I see the finish, at last I’m done, I can stop.

I tell Drew I’m exhausted, he says that I looked ok running over the line, I wasn’t staggering in.

What running has taught me

The thing about running is that by the time you get to the start line, there is little you can do about the time it will take you to finish the race. At best I run these distances a little under 10 minutes per mile, on a hot day, on a trail race I could run much slower than that. I’m not going to speed the process up significantly. There are no short cuts, to get home early I’d have to give up.

Back in my work life I get an increasing number of emails from people who are looking for short cuts to success with their product business. It’s understandable, especially when you are bootstrapping your business as a side project, to want to get things done as quickly as possible. If you are working every weekend or evening to push that project forward, then the finish line that is your product launch or big feature release can seem an impossible distance away.

Unless you are dawdling and seriously wasting time then there is probably little you can do to get from today to launch faster. You have a set number of tasks to do, and a limited amount of time to do them in. Here is where the breaking it down approach I take to long races can work. Where is the five mile marker? What stages can you map out, places where you can allow yourself to celebrate an achievement and see that the next stage isn’t so far away?

You are playing a mind game with your motivation, there will be points where you feel stuck, feel that the end is impossibly far away. There will be points where you are on a roll and in the zone, when you feel as if you could just enjoy this journey forever.

If you get to launch, realize that you have done something a lot of people never do. There are half finished products abandoned on many hard drives, I’ve got some of my own. Even if you feel you staggered over the finish line, celebrate your success. Remember that from the outside it will look as if you simply pulled it out of the bag. Do not be surprised the first time someone infers that the journey was somehow easy for you. They weren’t inside your head as you kept going when it would have been easier to call it a day.

It doesn’t stop here

My twenty mile run was essentially a training run for the marathon in a month’s time. I can’t stop now, I’ll be out on the road again tomorrow. The same is true for your product post launch. The launch is just the start. Now is the time to re-evaluate, set new goals, and get back on the road.

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