Photo: NUTS Karhunkierros 2022, Rami Valonen

I’ve tried to avoid writing about the similarities between and learnings from ultra-running & work life on purpose, but as I’m in between two major races, reflecting on the previous race while planning for the next, felt like writing few things down helps me in my preparations. And more from the mental side of things, on mindset. Plus the team. As very seldom anything is possible without a proper team.

But first of all: when running, I compete against myself, not others. I set bars to myself which I want to reach. Pretty much the same way as in professional life: I compete against myself & if somebody else succeeds/achieves more, it is not away from me. So I don’t see life in general as a zero sum game, a competition against others.

One important distinction to make before we go to the learnings/similarities: I’m talking here about ultra-trail runs which are typically done in the wilderness, in the middle of nowhere. So, if anything happens, you don’t have the luxury to just step aside & take the first taxi back home, have a beer & continue watching Netflix.

Keeping that in mind, it’s actually surprising how seldom, if ever, accidents happen during these events, although there are some horrible examples of things really going sideways (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/may/28/an-ultramarathon-ends-in-tragedy-runners-describe-horror-of-gansu-race). So you need to be properly prepared. One step in wrong place can easily take you to hospital. If you are lucky.

So, here is my list of critical mental elements for success similar to startup/entrepreneurial life and in ultra-trail runs:

Preparations: get in shape & mentally ready well before you start. Get a coach or a mentor, learn from experienced. You don’t need to get lost at the same place others have before you. Ask & you will be answered.

Self-awareness: know thyself. You can keep asking for advice, but at the end of the day you must decide which ones to follow. How far do you think you are able to take things? Only you (should) know. I’ve gotten both good & bad (or should I say inappropriate for me) advice, for running as well as for business/leadership/selling. You just need to know where to draw the line & how far you think you can stretch. Most likely much further than you think: had I followed most of the running advice, I wouldn’t be running ultras!

Planning: do your homework & plan the route, including the service breaks & resources you need to be successful. Build the roadmap for success.

There’s no plan B: either you finish, or you don’t. If you don’t, chances are you have a long hike to do to get to the next service station. There is no easy way out. Just like in corporate life: you have colleagues, partners, customers etc to consider. You are accountable to them all.

Living with the uncertainty: there is always the possibility of failure, things happen. In startup world, you may be doing things for the first time: nobody can tell for sure what to do next. On trails, anything can happen, you can twist your ankle around the corner and its game over. You need to be mindful of that, but not let that affect your performance.

Team/Support crew: you cannot do it alone. You need to have service breaks, re-stock energy & change gears. It’s a team effort where everybody has a critical role to play: I like to think nobody is more important than the other. We succeed or fail together, as a team. If anybody in the team fails, the whole team may fail. So, look after your team.

Flexibility to changing environment: not having plan B doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be ready for everything the nature throws at you, good planning helps. Be ready to adapt if needed. Have tools/equipment/resources available for the unexpected.

Valley of Death: there will be obstacles & dark moments. You must push through. Do not give up.

Grit & determination: it’s not gonna be easy. You need to get across the darkest moments: if it was easy, somebody else would have done it way before you.

Optimism: optimism carries you forward. It’s a bit like those running poles which gives you wings on uphills & keeps you upright on tricky bits. And don’t mix healthy optimism with foolishness.

And if you fail, there is always another race to participate. Start all over again. Only this time a bit wiser, more experienced & stronger. And never give up!!

Now, onwards to the next ultra-race & the next start up. More updates on both at a later stage.

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Harry Järn

Harry Järn

Transformer. Just do it! All things digital, motorcycling, hiking & ultra running.