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Be the Buckle: Leadership Lessons from an Ultra Runner

How does a person prepare to run 100 miles climbing over 18,000 feet and descending close to 23,000 feet in elevation throughout a course that is on a wilderness trail and fluctuates from extreme cold to extreme heat? And did I mention the 100 miles is run in one day by many of the runners?! Every year elite runners from around the world apply for the Western States 100 lottery in the hopes of being chosen for the limited number of entries allowed to race. This year I had the privilege of crewing for a friend, Bruce Falzarano, who was one of only around 365 chosen in the lottery process and gained entrance to take part in this extreme running event.
While I reflect on the incredible experience witnessing these athletes accomplishing the seemingly impossible, I can’t help but parallel the leadership lessons I observed. These runners do not just decide one day, ‘I think I’ll run 100 miles tomorrow in extreme conditions’. They start by building their skills over time and setting goals along the way. Many of them run marathons and then begin to get the desire to go further testing out their skills on ultra runs. An ultra-run is defined by a run that is over the traditional 26.2 mile marathon distance. These ultra runners begin building their skills for the further distance to increase endurance and the mental capacity it takes to go the distance.
All of this preparation is necessary for any runner wanting to be successful on race day. But in addition, these runners must have something that every strong leader must have; that is, relentless determination completely focused on achieving the goal. The entire time we were preparing to crew for Bruce he made a very strong point that he did not want anyone to make any comments during the race that raised doubts about finishing. Even to the extent that he did not want us to ask any questions that would lead to a possible distraction from making the goal. He had only one option and that was to reach his goal of finishing the race before the 30 hour cutoff. We all embraced this relentless resolve and during the race only asked what he needed and told him he was on track to finish strong. Our crew chief, Rick Czaplewski, took on the mantra, ‘Be the Buckle’ not only to cheer on Bruce but all runners as they passed through the aid stations. The vision being the runner with the buckle award at the end of the race was the ultimate triumph. I was amazed at how Bruce came in to each aid station – mile 55, mile 66, and so on with a smile and upbeat attitude. He was setting such a high standard of how to attack this challenge with the right mental attitude and setting an example for all of his crew.
In summary, what are the leadership lessons from these elite runners?
Preparation is Imperative
• Train both physically and mentally to endure the race
• Ensure your crew is informed and prepared to support your throughout the race
Adjust along the way
• Unexpected obstacles will appear along the way, be prepared to adjust
• Listen to your instincts of what is happening around you and within you to be proactive
Complete concentration and focus on the goal
• Do not entertain any other thoughts except successfully reaching the goal
• Do not include anyone in your crew who is not completely focused on the success of reaching the goal
Enjoy the journey
• It takes a team to reach many goals, enjoying the whole experience is key
• Reaching the goal is only a moment in time; the preparation and performance to get there is an experience to relish and enjoy

The experience of crewing for Bruce and witnessing the performance of these extreme athletes was simply amazing and awe inspiring. At the end Bruce had his entire crew run in with him for the last mile and then watch him as he ran through the finish line at 29 hours, 28 minutes and 58 seconds. We all got to see Bruce ‘Be the Buckle’ and it was an experience that I am truly grateful to have been a part of.

2 Responses to Be the Buckle: Leadership Lessons from an Ultra Runner

  1. Graeme says:

    Nice comparisons to the business world. What I find interesting is how so few people understand how much preparation goes into great business leadership. In ultrarunning the preparation is obvious, but in business not so. I often hear naysayers attributing success to luck, but I believe in the saying the luck is the confluence of opportunity and preparation. When someone sells their start up for millions or closes a big deal there has most likely been a lot of work leading up to that event. What’s visible is the final 300 yards around the track when actually that person has been running for years, preparing, adjusting along the way and focusing on the goal.

  2. Thanks for the interesting information. Subscribe to rss

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