Throughout this coronavirus crisis, I’ve seen people refer to our current state of physical distancing and at-home isolation as a marathon, not a sprint.
As a leader facing disruptions to my own business, dreams, and goals, it feels right to first acknowledge the sense of utter despair that these difficulties bring. In fact, having run 10 marathons over the last six years, I’ve used distance running as an analogy often, both to describe my journey as a business owner and to describe the need for authors to have a long-term view of marketing their books.
While it’s a useful analogy as it evokes the need to face difficulties with perseverance and sustained energy over time, after that it breaks down.
Here are the ways the coronavirus pandemic is not like a marathon.
This crisis is not predictable. A marathon is a predictable challenge, a distance premeasured and predetermined. When you start, you not only know where the finish line is, but you can also likely predict your time to get there. You know the path you’ll take and some scenic milestones on your journey.
We did not train for this. Marathon runners train their bodies to be prepared for the challenge by increasing their mileage over time. Marathoners train their minds to navigate the distance, breaking it down into smaller distances and mentally checking each one off to measure progress.
We are isolated from our support crews. Most marathons include supportive crowds, enthusiastic cheerleaders, support stations that provide any needed comfort items and fuel, and a triumphant and emotion-filled finish.
We can’t see the finish line. Not only that, we’re not sure if there is one; and if there is, there are no warm hugs waiting there. Running a marathon is a bit like childbirth in that, as soon as you finish, the pain you’ve endured fades in light of the heady sense of accomplishment and completion. It’s difficult to envision any sense of satisfaction or any fading of the pain of this crisis.
The only similarity between this crisis and a marathon is the need to dig deep, the need to keep going when we’d rather quit. Both this crisis and running marathons require extreme perseverance.
So how do we keep running?
By not allowing an analogy to dismiss and sugarcoat the realities of the times.
First, the macro realities: People are sick. People are dying. Millions of people are unemployed. Every day brings news of more layoffs and bankruptcies.
Then the micro realities: People we know are sick. People we know are dying. People we know are out of work.
Having acknowledged the realities, I can then move on to the only moment I need to face: this one.
This is the marathoner’s most helpful meditation, drawn from American half-marathon record-holder Ryan Hall’s recent book, Run the Mile You’re In.
At the start of a 26.2-mile race, the distance is overwhelming, but the only mile I have to run is the one I’m in. Worrying about the miles remaining could paralyze me in the current moment, could discourage me or drag me down. I know I can run a mile. I’ve run thousands of miles in my lifetime.
As a leader facing multiple business challenges, I am paralyzed when I worry too much about next quarter. Long-term planning is critical, but I’ll find the strength to endure if I show up for what’s needed in this moment.
During this coronavirus crisis, with so many changes to our lives and business realities, we can be easily overwhelmed if we spend too much time thinking about all the months of difficulty that might lie ahead of us.
The call to run the mile we’re in is a call to stay present in this day, in this moment. When we do, we find strength and endurance, one moment at a time.