Go Slower to Go Farther

As a sexagenarian who is training for her first no-kidding marathon in the fall of 2022, I’m a HUGE proponent of the mantra “go slower to go farther.” However, during a rainy, frigid 5K race in the dead of winter in Saint Louis, Missouri, a couple of years ago, I learned the technical meaning of this valuable lesson from a kind, compassionate race coordinator. As I was huffing and puffing up one of the hills in the last mile of the race with no other human being in sight (everyone else had long finished), the race coordinator pulled up beside me in his car and graciously shared this brilliant advice:

“Whenever you’re approaching a hill – no matter how steep ­– look down at the pavement, not up at the hill. Then, maintain your original tempo (beat of your foot strikes) and breathing rate (number of breaths per minute) as you climb, but shorten your stride (distance between steps), even if it means taking baby steps. Once you’ve reached the top, you can look again at the road ahead and return to your regular stride, without having ever changed your tempo or breathing rate. Yes, your running time will increase as you scale the incline, but you can run much farther having avoided unnecessary mental and physical exhaustion on the hill.”

Having nothing much better to do at that point in the race, I gave it the old college try. And what do you know, it worked! I ran the last few hills without having to labor or catch my breath, and I finished the race. I was over the moon and will never, ever forget his kindness nor his life-changing advice.

So what does this have to do with leadership, innovation, or making a BIG difference in the world? The answer is, “Way more than we think!” While currently building toward 10-mile runs that involve a LOT of hills, I have had p-l-e-n-t-y of time to think about this intriguing question. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

Whether we’re striving to build a successful business, achieve an important mission, or accomplish an ambitious goal, we need to know how to approach and conquer the “hills” we encounter. Instead of dreading them, we need to see them for what they are:  simply part of the journey. When a challenge appears, we can immediately implement a GO SLOWER TO GO FARTHER strategy. That means looking down (switching our focus to the immediate tasks at hand); maintaining our tempo (awareness, acceptance, conscious choice) and breathing rate (confidence, trust in the process, 100% energetic engagement); but shortening our stride (immediate expectations for achieving goals), even if that means taking baby steps to conquer the challenge. Then, when we top the incline, we can return our gaze to the road ahead (our long-term vision) and resume our regular stride. Yes, the time it takes to be successful may be longer than we wish, but we can go much farther on our intended journey having avoided unnecessary physical and mental exhaustion. (Simply priceless.)

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