After a week that has seen a number of fresh starts – Jose Mourinho at Manchester United, a new Lord Mayor for Birmingham, and devastatingly for Burnley fans, Joey Barton moving to Rangers – I reflected on an opportunity I was given for a fresh start 6 months ago when I discovered that I had been accepted to run the London Marathon.
I was no stranger to distance running having previously run six marathons, but the last had come over three years before and in that time I had succumbed to lifestyle pressures that affect everyone at one point or another; I had begun to place my own physical and mental wellbeing fairly low on a growing list of personal and professional priorities competing for time. However, on opening the acceptance letter I felt a sigh of relief – not for being accepted to one of the greatest races in the world, but I knew the impact it was going to have – it was the jolt I both needed and wanted, but had not been forced into. There’s no getting away from a marathon: the date – 24th April – was set in stone. A marathon requires planning and dedication to avoid injury (or worse), so knew my traits as a project manager would naturally start to kick in.
Like a project, planning for a marathon needs some form of performance management to be a success, similar to Curium’s own ACED Model*. I began to visualise a dashboard that would provide a framework for healthy eating, the distances I would run, average speed, weight etc. Like on a project, these KPIs needed to be measurable, regularly reviewed and have clear targets to be effective and allow improvement strategies to be put in place should I veer off course. Added to this I signed up to run on behalf of Cancer Research UK, which provided both an intrinsic and extrinsic source of motivation that I had not fully anticipated. Intrinsically, just as millions of others, I had been affected by cancer through a close family member’s diagnosis, and felt a sense of duty to contribute somehow; extrinsically, dozens of friends and colleagues generously donated hundreds of pounds on my JustGiving page (www.justgiving.com/MichaelParkerUK) and I could not let them down. So I began to feel I was running for something more than just myself.
As part of the 4-month training plan, I committed to not drinking any alcohol, which had always worked against me in losing weight or getting fitter so I gave this high importance in my performance management plan. On the big day itself, I expected on crossing the finishing line on The Mall that would be it: goals realised, no more training, priorities rebalance to their previous positions and back on the beer. At the start line I was even picturing the cool Stella Artois I’d drink somewhere amongst the weary bodies in Covent Garden after the race. During the race however, seeing the people around me running for charity in elaborate outfits, some with physical impairments, it was hard not to be inspired; people at the end of their own personal journeys who had also been motivated by the need to run for something more than just themselves, it was both powerful and moving.
As mile 26 finally came around, Big Ben before me and crowds of supporters screaming and feeding the runners jelly babies, despite the short-term knee pain I realised I had never felt better. I thought, why stop here? Friends and family had told me my mood had improved, that I was a better person to be around – what had once seemed a low priority was inherently linked to some of my higher priorities around personal relationships… so why not kick on from here? This draws comparisons with many projects I have worked on. What happens when you have met or even exceeded the targets set? What GOOD looks like no longer applies – what does GREAT look like? Time to change the scoring criteria, redefine the benchmarks, raise the bar a notch. After thinking ‘never again’ at the start line, in the days that followed I’d already signed up for my next one. I rejected the post-race beer in Covent Garden and decided to lay off it a while longer. Here’s hoping the marathon in Dublin will prove just as inspiring!
(*If you would like to know more about the ACED Model, please get in touch. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)