In most endurance races, I push myself to achieve a breakthrough performance. Preparing for a successful race requires weeks and months of focus and discipline. The actual race performance requires energy management. Of course, the same is true of leadership.
Race day. All of my training, physical conditioning, and nutritional management has been focused on this moment to achieve my targeted outcome.
Races are opportunities for breakthrough performance. For a week or so prior to the race, I taper down my workouts to ensure my body isn’t sore or worn out. In the hours leading up to the race, and during the race itself, I follow a specific nutritional program that I’ve discovered through trial-and-error to help me avoid intestinal surprises and renew my energy through the end of the race. And at the starting line and along the race course, I engage with spectators, volunteers, and other athletes — feeding off their energy and feeding them energy in kind. This combination makes race-day different from a normal workout — a moment of intensity, adrenalin, and fun that’s so important to my long-term, overall health and progress.
In most races, I have zero energy as I cross the finish line. I’ve left everything on the course, with nothing held back. For the first few minutes after finishing, I’m spent, empty — standing in place with a weak, goofy grin.
In some races, however, my goal is not my personal breakthrough performance. As others have done for me, sometimes I throttle back my pace to keep friends company and help them achieve their own goals.
In my most recent race, my dad and I ran a half-marathon together on a hot, hilly course. For the first mile, we chatted excitedly as the bunched-up crowd of runners slowly spread out. For the next couple of miles, we were quieter as we finished warming up, found our pace, and regulated our breathing. Then we chatted and joked for a few miles, pointing out the sunrise and the views over the nearby water. For the remaining 7-8 miles, I focused on leading the energy for Dad.
I don’t have the energy formula completely figured out, but I think Einstein was onto something when he said:
E = mc2
In physics, Einstein figured out that energy (E) equals matter (measured by mass or M) times velocity (measured by the speed of light squared, or C2).
In the dynamics of leading human energy, Matter is the “what” that matters … a worthy goal, a common vision, targeted results, relationship with people, a higher purpose. Velocity is the speed of progress toward that purpose.
E = mc2
Human Energy = What Matters x Speed of Progress2
Dad’s goal for a finish time required a pace that he’d managed before, but it would be tough to achieve it this early in the season, on a fairly difficult race course. At certain points in the race, it energized him when we discussed race specifics in support of that goal … How was our posture and form? How did our performance so far compare to last year’s race and other events? Wasn’t it going to feel great to complete the race so much earlier in the morning than last year, before the day became so hot?
At other times, Dad seemed more energized by discussing topics that distracted him from the race … business, politics, family. At many moments, it helped to point out a beautiful view and express gratitude that we were able to enjoy such a gorgeous location. Sometimes, he clearly just wanted to be quiet; for several long stretches, he preferred me to run ahead for a while so he could be alone.
For the last two miles, Dad was a trotting zombie. In contrast, I became aware that I was enjoying the rare experience of approaching the finish line still bursting with energy. I waved back to spectators and gave them high-fives. I cheered for the bands who were playing for us. I delighted in the views of the long beach and endless ocean. I cheered Dad on moderately, hoping my encouragement would energize him rather than annoying him.
At last, we crossed the finish line. I posed for a photo and high-fived everyone I saw. Dad stood in place, with a weak, goofy grin. He had beat his stated goal, performed much better than he had allowed himself to imagine, and only missed his stretch goal by seconds. Soon, he felt rejuvenated and spoke with conviction about how my support had made all the difference.
“A leader helps people make things happen they wouldn’t otherwise accomplish,” he said. “A leader keeps the vision in focus, keeps the energy high, and won’t let you give up.”
Jesse Lahey, SPHR, is the host of the Engaging Leader podcast and the managing principal of Aspendale Communications. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.