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How to Over Achieve - Lessons learnt on 260k run in the Sahara Desert - Marathon Des Sables

October 11, 2016

Like most of us, I have experienced the highs and lows of business life. The elation of securing that multi million deal and the great lows of losing the sale that you knew should have gone your way. Throughout my whole career though, I have always strived for the very best and would often think I had given 100%, working long hours, working smart, great delegation of tasks, hiring the best talent etc. Often thinking I could give no more for the cause.

 

In pursuit of excellence, I have chosen and been chosen to attend numerous seminars and career training over the years and often listened to great motivational speakers who talked about their endeavours and how they managed to survive through great adversity. I respected them greatly but had a niggling urge to want to push myself to the limit. To actually see what I could achieve and prove how strong my mental resolve was.

 

I had been aware of the Marathon des Sables (MDS), a 260k multi stage ultra marathon in the Sahara Desert in Morocco. Not only would you have to cope with searing heat (temperatures often reach 50 deg C) but also have to carry all your food & emergency equipment with you for the 6 day competition. Sand dunes aplenty, hills, mountains, salt pans and a bedouin tent at night with just the stony desert floor as your mattress. Seemed like just the job.

 

What I learnt running, trekking, almost crawling on occaision, in that desert was quite how strong your mental resolve really can be. The greatest day of discovery was on what was called the long day, 94k run across mountains, intense heat, through sand storms. This was day 3 (we had already run 100k) so was hungry, tired, at a low ebb but utterly determined to finish. Along the way I passed people on intravenous drips, people with feet lacerated with blisters and helicopter medics flying the injured out for medical treatment. Having set off at 7.30am I was still running at 11.30pm in the middle of a sandstorm when I came across an Italian competitor who was sat in the sand, back against a rock with his emergency blanket on. I stopped, leant down and asked if he was ok. "No more. I do no more" was all he replied. He was finished. Completely at his wits end. I asked if he had pressed the emergency button on his transponder (the emergency beacon we all get so that the medics can get to you) and he said he had. I stayed with him to make sure he was ok. There was little sign of anyone else around but fortunately I saw the reassuring flashing lights of the medic team coming over in a jeep.

 

When I crossed the line 2 days later on the final stage to complete the race and collect my medal, my mind returned to that Italian guy. My elation at having completed the toughest footrace on the planet tempered by how he may be feeling now having failed. I actually bumped into that Italian at the hotel in Ouarzazate at the weekend after. He had recovered and rather than feeling sorry for himself and resolved to come back the following year to complete what he had started. To my mind, he was just as much a winner as all of us who had a medal around our necks. He showed the real spirit of the desert.

 

The lessons learnt from this incredible experience are of course immeasurable. In business as well as life. We all think we are working to our maximum effort but in truth we are not. The potential that we all have within ourselves to over achieve are immense. The key is finding our own MDS's in our business life to untap our full potential. Having the ability to ignore adversity, pain, all the knocks you get in life and keep moving forward towards your goal. Never give up. No matter what, always focused on your goal.

 

Now I know that a lot of you reading this will no doubt say, well you are either born like that or youre not. I hear that loud and clear and I was certainly one of those people in the past who would have echoed similar sentiments. But then I decided to start running a few years ago. I had run 10k once in the previous 20 years. If you had said to me that I could run a marathon I would most likely would have told you I probably could but it would be highly unlikely. If you had said I could complete the Marathon des Sables I would completely have said that was simply not possible. Running has now become part of my life. MDS complete and am now training for the Ultra Marathon du Mont Blanc. 110 mile non stop around Western Europe's highest peak across 3 countries. 

 

Never again to say that client is out of reach, we cant get that business, that company is just too big for us to win the deal. Strive to be the very best. Plan the journey. Train hard - if you don't know your product/service, your market or your client then put in the hard yards and become expert. You cant compete in any of these races if you haven't put in the miles in training. Accept that there will be tough times ahead, failures, losses, but keep in mind the ultimate goal. Break down the most challenging of tasks into small targets. On the toughest parts of the day, wading through heavy sand with a violent sand storm smashing into my face I simply gave myself a target of the small plant 3 yards in front of me, then the rock 5 yards away, then the person 10 yards ahead of me and so on. My small targets kept changing, driving me to my ultimate goal.

Above all else, its important to celebrate your achievements. When I crossed the line the feeling that overtook my whole body is truly indescribable. I celebrated the following evening having been whisked out of the desert on a very slow moving coach after having completed a charity half marathon for UNICEF, by visiting the hotel buffet 6 times. It wasn't until the cold light of day back in the UK that I started planning the next challenge. The importance of moving forward is vital. No prizes for sitting still.