At 5.00am on Sunday 1st November I was standing in drizzle on the corner of 5th Avenue and 42nd Street watching hundreds of runners boarding buses to Staten Island to get to the start of the NYC marathon.
A little later I was on the East Side waiting in the agreed spot to see my friends Sally and Jo, who were running their first marathon. I got to the agreed first spot five minutes before the ‘this is the absolute earliest that Jo will run past’ time. About 30 minutes after the ‘this is the latest time Jo will run through’ time I still hadn’t seen Jo. Knowing how disappointing it is not seeing people when you are expecting to, coupled with how much I wanted to see them, I hung on for a bit and finally spotted Jo. About 10 minutes later Sal ran by, beginning to feel a bit tired but loving the experience. I saw Sal again at mile 23 beaming; she paused to stretch, cursed the fact that that was three more miles to go, said she didn’t think she could run anymore, smiled and then ran off.
I have run seven London marathons; each one has been challenging yet a remarkable experience. I cry at the start of each one (if that sounds pathetic wait until you’ve run one), I feel like an Olympic athlete when running over Tower Bridge, I wish it was all over about mile 22, by mile 24 I’ve found reserve energy from my little toe and running through the finish is an unexplainable feeling. A marathon is physically and mentally challenging; demanding massive amounts of effort and without you even realising it taking over your life.
If you have even a niggle that you might want to run one, just do it. One may be all you do, you might not enjoy every bit of the experience but if you want to run one you should. Sign up, then worry about how you are going to do it, if you wait until you feel physically and mentally ready you might be waiting some time.
Helen Bevan, in her blog a few weeks ago, talked about getting that little bit more from yourself and how important it is to be ready to turn on a sixpence when needed. Running a marathon teaches you that when you think you have nothing left you can still find a little bit of energy from somewhere, you realise that there is much more in you than perhaps even you know.
You have to want to do a marathon. You need focus; a strategy for overcoming obstacles, training requires patience and you will not achieve alone. For some the training is a total lifestyle change which can be difficult; creating new habits takes consistent effort needing preparation, commitment, and more energy than normal if you want to get the most from it. Sounds like any change.
I had never heard of The Marathon Model before but one of the other supporters at the NYC marathon told me about it. The concept was developed by William Bridges, author of Managing Transitions, Making the Most of Change. The model draws a parallel to what happens in a race like the marathon. The elite line up at the starting line and the mass runners spread out behind. As the starting gun goes off the elite start running and those behind move slowly up to the starting line to begin the race. As the next group runs through the starting line, another group approaches the starting line to begin, and so on.
We can compare this to organisations going through significant change. Senior leaders in organisations have had a chance to think through the change, to talk it through, and to get used to it. There is much discussion and deliberation before a change is launched. By the time they have announced the change they are ready for it. The next level of manager is probably just entering the transition stage and there will be others who don’t even know what the change is yet or how it affects them.
Senior leaders tend to move through the change process quicker because they see the goal before others even know the race has started or that they even have to run a race. I think we often forget that people haven’t had as much time to understand the change in the first place.
The NHS is going to see significant change over the next few years. It might feel like a very long up hill marathon; undoubtedly it will be challenging, at times painful and frustrating and yes we might not be able to imagine just how much it’s going to hurt but perhaps, just perhaps, it might not be as painful as everyone thinks. It is also an opportunity.
Everyone faces challenges. Every person, every career, every organisation, every family and every team have to overcome difficult periods; there are of course different levels of challenge but no one goes through life untested. Generally speaking positive people work and perform at a higher level. Positive people build and lead successful teams; often overcome adversity in life and at work; have an energy which is contagious; bring out the best in others and themselves; and overcome difficult and challenging situations.
We can’t always control events but we can control how we respond to them.