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Ironman Lessons for Business Success

Triathlons have been a big part of my life for several years. On November 20, 2011, I completed my 9th Ironman in Tempe, Arizona with a my fastest time (a 43 minute improvement over my prior best) and earned a spot in the 2012 Ironman World Championships to be held in Kona, Hawaii this October.  When I reflect on that day, I realize that my preparation for the event and execution on race day paralleled several of the “Key Traits of Top Performers” that I share with audiences and coaching clients around the world.

#1 – Have a Vision:  In the months leading up to the event, I really wanted to break the 11-hour barrier for the first time.  This was such an obsession for me that when I closed my eyes, I could literally see myself crossing that finish line in 10:59:59 (10 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds).  I also knew that by realizing this vision, I had a good chance of winning my division and returning to Kona.

#2 – Build a Plan:  Vision without action is basically just dreaming.  Working with my coach and my training partners, we worked backwards from the goal and came up with the keys to achieving the vision.  Just like with your company, there are usually only 3 or 4 drivers that will really make a difference.  In this case, I knew I had to significantly improve my bike time as it has always been my weakest event of the three.  Improving strength on the bike would also enable me to run to my potential. I am absolutely capable of running a 4 hour marathon in the Ironman, but have not been able to do this in the past. So we set up key activities that were necessary to ensure that I could achieve my goal.

#3 The Power of the Checklist:  My friends always tease me about my pre-race plan, my checklist and how anal retentive I am about it.  I break it all down into sections and include everything I need for each aspect of the event.  It includes which items need to go into my transition bags, the food I plan to eat the morning of the race, everything I need to do when I arrive at the race site in the morning, etc.  I even take this list down to the transition area with me and review everything one more time.  You may be thinking this is overkill, but at every race I’ve ever done, there has been an announcement like, “If anyone has an extra helmet, goggles or wetsuit, we have a racer who forgot theirs at home this morning.”

How many of you know someone who arrived at an important meeting only to find that they forgot the power cord for their laptop? How about a Master Calendar of all the events that you will do in a year? For example, annual “State of the Company” event, quarterly executive team planning retreats, monthly company update, weekly executive team meeting, company picnic, theme days, # of client/prospect visits or calls per quarter, per month, per week, per day, etc….

#4 – Execute with Relentless Focus & Discipline:  I recently finished “Great by Choice” by Jim Collins who refers to this as “fanatical discipline”.  This basically describes my race day.  Poor nutrition on race day has torpedoed some of the world’s fittest athletes. You may have seen one or two of those Gatorade commercials with Chris Legh collapsing 50 yards from the finish line. I knew that on the bike, I needed to consume 300 calories every hour, drink an additional bottle of water and take 4 salt tablets per hour. On the run, I need to consume 150 calories per hour and also take in approximately 20 ounces of water.  This meant that at times, I needed to drink when I wasn’t thirsty, eat when I really didn’t want to, and take salt tablets even though the cool morning air wasn’t causing me to sweat that much.  My plan called for me to keep my heart rate under 150 and spin at 1-2 gears easier than I was capable of pushing.  I could have gone faster. I wanted to go faster.  In fact, because it was a 3 lap out and back course, I could see some of my competitors quite a bit ahead of me. I was concerned that even though I was having a great ride, I might not be able to make up the deficit I was creating.  I knew however that I would suffer later on if I deviated from the plan and that the day could be a total disaster.

#5 – Measure Everything I’m a big believer that things that get measured, get done! I apply this to my athletic performance and workouts with the same discipline that I apply to my business.  Every workout I do gets entered into my Training Log.  I track the number of yards that I swim, the miles I bike and run, my interval splits, heart rate, cadence, power, calorie intake, fluid intake, salt tabs consumed, etc….Every week I review the data with my coach, compare it to prior weeks’ activities and use it to determine my workout needs for the upcoming weeks.  The data from my races is also really valuable to compare to other races as it gives me a great indicator of what I am capable of. I have similar indicators that I track for my business. What are the most important data points that you track religiously?  Are there others that will make a difference?

#6 – Information is Power:  When I got off my bike and started the marathon, I was 19 minutes behind the leader and 13 minutes behind 2nd Place.  That’s a lot of wood to chop but I knew it was possible to achieve my sub 11 hour goal. I knew that if I could achieve that, I had a good chance of winning, despite my deficit.  There were several points along the course where friends could provide me with the latest data of where I was compared to my competitors (“Pat’s still in first, 11 minutes ahead”). Knowing that I was gaining on the leaders while sticking with my planned pace really helped.  At mile 18, the gap had come down to four minutes from first place and two minutes to second.  At that point, my body really wanted me to take a break and it would have been very easy to just walk for a bit. Here’s where I needed to dig deep, turn off the pain and remind myself that the pain would go away, but the memory would last a lifetime. I stayed focused and passed Stefano, who was fading, at mile 20. At mile 23, my buddy CJ told me that I was two minutes back from the leader with only 3.2 miles to go, but I was gaining. If I could hold my current pace, I would achieve my goal of sub 11 hours and could win this thing. In the end, this information was exactly what I needed to achieve my goal.  I made the pass at mile 24.5 and never looked back, finishing in 10:56 with the win!

#7 – Have a Great Team:  I cover this subject often and I’ve used coaches for many aspects of my life before becoming an executive coach myself.  Here’s my team, who is yours?

Roch – Triathlon coach
Lisa – Personal trainer who helps me build my core strength
Chris – Physical Therapist who regularly deals with my aches and pains
Adam – Swim coach
Nathan – Masseuse
Dr. Tony – Chiropractor

My Family:

  • Ivette, my very supportive & encouraging wife
  • Darien, my daughter, who’s voice always rings in my head to “quit  talking about it Dad, just do it”
  • Mason, my son and biggest fan, who was there to share the experience with me

#8 – Experience counts: Being that this was Ironman #9 and I have also done about a dozen Half Ironmans, there was no doubt in my mind I would finish.  I have experienced almost drowning on the swim, multiple kicks to the head, not feeling well at different parts of the bike and run, getting bloated, dehydrated, not being able to get food in, bathroom issues, etc… This experience gave me the confidence to know what to do to avoid these issues from happening and how to deal with them when some of them started rearing their heads.  Your past experiences and what you have learned from them can and will help you, too.

I can’t overestimate how important all of these factors were to me in achieving my top performance.  Can any of these be applied to your business?  Best of success in 2012!

About CEO Coaching International

CEO Coaching International works with CEOs and their leadership teams to achieve extraordinary results quarter after quarter, year after year. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 1,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries and 45 industries. The coaches at CEO Coaching International are former CEOs, presidents, or executives who have made BIG happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $10 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight, nine, and ten-figure exits. Companies working with CEO Coaching International for two years or more have experienced an average revenue CAGR of 31% (2.6X the U.S. average) and an average EBITDA CAGR of 52.3% (more than 5X the U.S. average).

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