Business lessons from Two Oceans Marathon

The lovely Easter weekend started early for my wife and I on Saturday morning, when we walked down to Fish Hoek Main Road to watch this year’s running of the Two Oceans Marathon.

The Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon has earned a reputation as one of the world’s most beautiful marathons.

The first race was held nearly 50 years ago and saw 26 runners line up to face the unknown challenge. Since then, the race has become a national institution and a firm favorite with local and international athletes.

Participants can choose between various distances – the scenic 56km ultra marathon or popular 21km half marathon and the 5km or 2.5km fun runs. The event attracts close to 26 000 runners across all the distances and provides them with a mixture of breathtaking scenery, a grueling test of fitness, and an unrivalled race organisation and atmosphere.

I couldn’t help parallel the Ultra race to the journey of an entrepreneur and would like to share five brief thoughts in this regard.

Top runners

The first runners came through quite early. Fish Hoek is some 21km’s on the journey; yet these dedicated athletes looked like they had just got started. They looked very similar to one another; running with incredible focus; with very little body fat and at an incredible pace. I liken this to those entrepreneurs who have learnt the ropes, got into healthy habits and started excelling on a regular basis. I salute them.

Perhaps you can relate to some of these forerunners and pioneers.

I think of these runners as VIPs, or very inspiring people. Their contribution draws us forward and spurs us on. I am mindful of people like Luvuyo Rani; Allon Raiz; Ellon Musk and Richard Branson to name a few.

Main body of runners

Just in case you couldn’t relate to the first group; I found the second group’s body shape, pace and focus something I could aspire to.

One of my friends from Port Elizabeth ran his 11th Ultra Marathon, and received a blue number in recognition.

These men and women came in all shapes and sizes. They showed what could be done with training, dedication and a good dose of courage. They made up about 90% of the runners. They represent the entrepreneurs who are starting out and perhaps to still complete their “first race”.

We have a group of more than 30 beneficiaries on our programme at the Centre for Entrepreneurship (CFE) who are starting their journey. To both the runners and entrepreneurs alike, we salute you.

The challenge

For some of the runners; the race is to get into gold or silver times. Yet for the vast majority, they run to achieve personal bests. They challenge themselves to go faster or longer distances.

Challenge yourself to give 5% more, when you don’t seem to have the reserves; to go 1km more, when you want to stop; to see opportunities when the voice of “too much risk” screams for attention.

Every year for the past four years I have undergone a goal setting course that helps me to have the best year yet.

I have seen that measuring my progress against the goals has resulted in my achieving at least 80% to 85% of these stretch goals. The sense of achievement and momentum is invaluable.

Entrepreneur, what is your BHAG (Big, hairy audacious goal)?

The value of support

The runners ran in a gruelling race that demanded top-notch support.

From overhead filming by helicopters; support staff on motorbikes and bicycles; to many volunteers supplying energy drinks and water; the support was astonishing.

The reason a business incubator has the word incubator in it is a clear reference to incubators at the beginning of babies’ and chickens’ lives. Entrepreneurs are neither chickens nor babies, but do need support at this vulnerable stage of startup. That’s why we believe the CFE supplies an important role of support to its beneficiaries.

Successful entrepreneurs were asked what they owe their success to. There were the expected answers, such as seeing and taking opportunities; a bias towards action; managing risk and mobilising the resources required in the opportunities.

What is interesting is one common answer which was expressed as: A strong, supportive environment. Incubators, accelerators, business coaches and mentors can all add to the value of your support.

What support can you muster?

The value of encouragement

I somewhat lost my voice shouting out the runners’ clubs as they ran past me. Why? Because their response was amazing.

They straightened their backs; smiled and waved. Why? Because someone encouraged them in their race.

Perhaps you are not yet yourself running the entrepreneurial race but you may know someone who is.

How about taking time to affirm and encourage them. Your voice could be the difference between giving up and completing the race.

My friend from PE relayed this response, “We love the support and just a small thing like saying “come on you can do it’ is a motivating factor.”

To end off, here is a quote from Barbara Bush: “If human beings are perceived as potentials rather than problems, as possessing strengths instead of weaknesses, as unlimited rather that dull and unresponsive, then they thrive and grow to their capabilities.”

Steve Reid is the manager of the Centre for Entrepreneurship at False Bay College. His column appears once a month.

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