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Ten career lessons I learnt from long-distance running

Tara Kapur, Films & Series Marketing Manager, Netflix, shares the important lessons, which can be used for career and personal growth, from her running sessions

Tara Kapur

Running long distance races has been a passion for me for quite a while, and over the course of time, I have run countless 10 kms, over 30 half-marathons, three marathons and three ultra-marathons. But besides the ‘race day’ adrenaline rush, I also fell in love with the process of training, setting goals and of course, taking on competition. Not only that, I have also been able to apply a lot of learnings from running to my career and life in general. I have tried to sum these up into the following ‘10 Career Lessons I Have Learnt From Long Distance Running’

You have to love it (even though there will be many days when you won’t)

Training for a marathon, like any job you’ll ever do, is not easy. It requires time, persistence, dedication, months of training, many mornings where you question yourself and tons of sacrifices. If you don’t love the core idea of running, it’s going to be very difficult to achieve your goal, and at some point, you’ll give up. In our careers, we often go after jobs that have fancy sounding titles, glossy brand names or a big pay package, and don’t prioritise the actual work the role entails. You have to enjoy the process of the work you do and the rewards it brings, and not just the pay check to be able to be successful. 

Sometimes starting is the hardest part

In India the best time to run, especially if you are training for a long-distance race, is early in the morning. And there are many, many mornings where I want to switch-off my alarm clock and crawl back into bed. The struggle to start is real, but once I am done with my stretches and have completed the first couple of kms, the rest of the run happens pretty seamlessly, and I am happier for it. Similarly, I tend to procrastinate the most when I need to start a new project or assignment at work or build out a presentation. Once I finally get myself to start, a lot of the hard work is done, my brain gets cracking and I end up in a great flow, often completing what I set out to achieve for the day. 

The struggles (almost always) are temporary

Not all runs are great, you get aches and pains, feel breathless, are unable to catch a good pace and in some cases, end up injuring yourself. Even with work, the struggle to catch deadlines, meet people’s expectations or just deal with office politics is hard. But it’s important to keep reminding yourself that this too will pass, and there is light at the end of the tunnel. And if you aren’t able to get out of the rut, please go back to point one, and question whether you really enjoy what you do.  

Growth comes from creating new challenges for yourself

If you run regularly, you will eventually become good at it. If I run 5 km every day at the same pace, I will become very comfortable at that pace and distance. But if I want to grow as a runner, if I want to become great - I need to push myself and create new challenges for myself, to run faster, or to run further. Those runs aren’t comfortable, and they are tougher, but those are the ones that make you perform better in the future. Even in your job, don’t become complacent in your current role- make yourself uncomfortable, challenge yourself to do things outside of your comfort zone, because that’s how you grow. 

Data definitely adds value, but sometimes you have to trust your gut

Runners track everything - how much mileage they have accumulated over time, what their average pace is per kilometre, what their running splits are like, what speed they need to maintain to finish a race at a certain time, how many calories they have lost or steps they’ve taken, how many water and bathroom breaks they can take in a race, and many other data pointers. And while data really helps you stay on course, right size your expectations and puts you on track for your desired results, it’s important to know that data has its limitations. It doesn’t understand the environment around you, you could be extremely sluggish or hungover from the previous night, and there’s no way you can run at your average pace. There are also some races where intuitively you know you can push the boundaries and break away from the shackles of data. Those races are magic moments, where your body’s feeling amazing, and you can really push your boundaries - if all goes well, these tend to be the races where you break your own records and clock your PBs (personal bests). This holds true for work as well, especially if you work in a job that is slightly creative. Have the ability to trust your gut, take some chances, and think out of the box and experiment once in a while. 

There are no shortcuts, your hard work will reap benefits

You can’t go from running 5 km to 50 km overnight, it takes time. It takes a lot of discipline, hard work and dedication. In the same way, you can’t become a star at work overnight, you need to build your expertise, learn from those who have been there before you, and then once you have enough experience, take charge and deliver.  

Even though it’s an individual journey, the right team helps you grow

Running is an individual sport, but there’s an entire support system that helps you succeed. There’s your coach or mentor who guides you, your running buddies or peers who join you on all those training runs, your physiotherapist who gets out all the aches and pains, and of course, your friends and family rooting you on and willing you to succeed. At the end of the day, you will run the race on your own merit, but it would be impossible to get there without the army around you. At work, it’s your boss or leader who gives you the North star to go after, your teammates burn the midnight oil with you to meet those tough deadlines, your competitors motivate you to push yourself further and you’ll always have your friends and family to keep you grounded and provide positive reinforcement. 

Sometimes you’ll fail, and that’s ok

I’ve had races where I've trained and done all the groundwork, but on race day, something just wasn’t right. I’ve dropped out of a 53 km ultra-race at 49 kms because I injured my knee, and there’s nothing more disappointing to have put in all the effort and come away with zero. But that experience taught me much more than all the other races I have run. Sometimes the work you do is not going to create the impact you desired and you have to realise that that’s ok. We are all human, and we will make mistakes, the trick is to be able to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and be ready for the next challenge that’s going to come your way. It is not the end of the world. 

You are only in competition with yourself

When you run a race, there are thousands of others running a race with you, and everyone’s at a different stage of their running journey. It’s really tempting to keep looking over your shoulder and seeing how many people you are beating, or to get disappointed by how many people are out running you. But it’s important to remember that you are only competing with yourself, you are trying to get to the finish line faster than you have before, and if you manage that it’s a massive success. At work, you’ll have people making more money than you, getting promoted faster than you, or working on bigger projects - do not let that bring you down or interfere with your own progress. Your career trajectory is your own, don’t get distracted by other people’s success and focus on growing yourself, no matter what the pace is.   

Rest days are super important

When you run it’s really easy to understand why you need rest days. It is impossible to run at full speed, every single day and not injure yourself or tire your body out. When you come back after a rest day, your energy is higher, you are refreshed and feel happy to continue your training. When you work, make sure you get your days off - use your weekends to relax and have some fun, also remember to utilise your personal leave whenever you can. Burnout is real, and you’re not going to be able to bring your best self to office if you aren’t giving yourself the time to unwind.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of and we do not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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