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20 July 2009

Running a Marathon is like Running a Business

Azran

By Azran

1. The biggest challenge is believing in your own self that you can DO IT

Many congratulated me after recently completing the full 42.2 km marathon in Gold Coast and regard it as a major feat. My friends would say that they can barely run 5km. I was like that too a year ago. I would feel burnt out after the occasional 3km run on the treadmill in the gym. But I plunged into this marathon, committing myself to the race and dreading it as the date approached. One month before the run, I completed a 21km run which left my legs in a complete jello state. The thought of having to run twice that distance was horrifying.

The race day itself was very eye-opening. I saw MANY senior citizens, from Aussie grandmothers to Japanese grandfathers, overtaking me to complete the full marathon. I saw overweight runners who still completed the race, while several seemingly lean and muscular runners quit the run midway. Running a full marathon is not limited to those of a certain age or physical size and strength. Anyone can do it with adequate preparation and training. A 74 year old man and a 60 year old woman completed the race in 3.5 hours!

Similarly in business, many believe they do not have sufficient experience or education to run their own business or to take on a senior leadership position. Yet, there are countless examples of college drop-outs who became successful entrepreneurs and CEOs. The biggest hurdle to overcome is building up the willpower and self-confidence to “just do it”. As they say: ‘If you think you can, then you can. If you think you can’t, then you definitely cannot’.

2. Begin with a clear end in sight

Another common factor is the importance of setting clear goals and targets. With a marathon – commit yourself by registering for a race and booking your flight tickets and hotels to the venue. This makes it more difficult to back out. Then, plan and commit to some intermediate targets. For example, start by signing up for a 10km race, followed by a 21km half-marathon. There are many ‘marathon training’ guides available on the web. Once you’ve plotted your milestones and have a definite target in mind, it becomes easier to sustain your momentum and interest. Achieving intermediate milestones also help to boost your self-confidence.

In business, there are many ups-and-downs, challenges and distractions that can side-track you from achieving your goals. A clear vision is imperative to ensure that you ‘stay the course’ and dedicate your time and resources on the initiatives that will best help you take your business towards your destination. When we launched AirAsia X, we set very specific goals and celebrated each milestone that marked progress towards the big goals. We set ourselves to achieve US$1 billion in revenue within 5 years because economies of scale is very important in the airline business. We celebrated intermediate milestones when we hit our first $1 million of revenue, our first $10 million, and our first $100 million.

3. Teamwork works!

Trying to prepare for, and run a marathon by yourself would be an incredibly lonely and pointless exercise. Its the same running a business. Doing it as a team adds incredible richness to the experience, makes it more fun, and you feed off one another. There were about 20 of us in the AirAsia Running Club that went down to the Gold Coast. We trained together and motivated each other. Even during the race, Qabie, Kate and Juswil helped to push me along, especially in the final, painful 10km stretch when your body wants to rebel!

I’ve had the opportunity to work in businesses across many different industries. The single biggest determinant of success and job satisfaction was always from having a solid, reliable team to work with – to share a common vision, solve problems together, and create and develop new ideas together. Its very lonely at the top otherwise and its easy to develop narrow perspective when you’re the only decision-maker and you don’t benefit from rich, diverse inputs from good teammates who are reliable, trustworthy and share the same passion. We would not have made it this far at AirAsia X had I not had incredible support from an amazing group in my management team. Very diverse in industry experience, age and backgrounds, but united in our common vision and commitment to each other.

4. Its a marathon, not a sprint!

A race strategy or plan is vital for a successful marathon run – unless you’re physically gifted that you can just run fast for the full 42km! For most normal folks, it is a real test of endurance, and mistakes can easily lead to failure to complete the race. The first part of the plan is to be aware of what one’s physical capability. Can you comfortably run long distances at a 6 min/km pace, a 7 min/km pace or an 8 min/km pace? How do you prepare yourself at the start of the race (how much to eat and drink, how much to stretch and warm up)?

Many people fail to complete a marathon, or fail to achieve their target times because they’re not prepared. A common mistake is to run fast at the start, especially because one gets caught up in the excitement of the race and wants to ‘keep up’ with the race leaders.

During the race, two important elements are “pace” and “mental tenacity”. Its very important to be aware of your running pace and think about whether you’re running too fast or too slow. A good timing watch and kilometre markings are key. Mental tenacity makes or breaks your run. After 30km, most runners start to “hit a wall”. That’s when the body wants to rebel after a lot of lactic acid build-up. It comes down to ‘mind over matter’.

These are critical in running in business too. The biggest problems in business arise when a company is operating at a sub-optimal pace – either too fast (without sufficient resources deployed) or too slow (allowing competitors to move ahead). One of the biggest roles for a CEO is to determine the right strategic pace, mobilize resources accordingly, and then drive the organisational tenacity to overcome the inevitable difficult periods of implementation.

Remember Rule #1: Believe that you can, and ‘just do it’!

Sign up for some of these marathon races throughout the year:

Virgin London Marathon – April
Kuala Lumpur Marathon – June
Phuket Marathon – June
Gold Coast Airport Marathon – July
Borneo International Marathon – October
Melbourne Marathon – October
Hangzhou Marathon – November
Taipei Marathon – December
Singapore Marathon – December


With Rob “Dec” Decastella, Australian Marathon Champion and Ben Southall, Best Job In The World.

  • Katherine

    A great read!

  • Abinesh

    Superb posting! Well done Azran :)

  • Angeline

    A Very Inspiring Story!

    I’m inspired! Please post more of such similar stories!

  • Supreeda

    Is he the CEO of AirAsia X ??? or Dato Tony ?

  • Pueh Tian

    Great inspiring story. Love it! As a runner too I can relate well to the story. :)

    Please check out my blog here – http://www.runwitme.blogspot.com/

  • Azran

    Thanks Pueh Tian. Good blog!

    See you at Cyberjaya Night Marathon on 27 March.

    I’ve also signed up for GreatOceanRoad on 16 May and Gold Coast 4 July.