The Risk-Monger

What marathons teach us

Running 42 km as fast as you can seems like a crazy idea (perhaps explaining why it is growing so much in popularity). Many of us know somebody who is preparing for one this year, have watched a run or participated in a full, half or marathon relay. Why do people do this to themselves … what’s the point?

Marathons teach us a lot about being human: the ability to meet a challenge, to set goals, the power of the mind to push the body, to endure pain and celebrate achievement. When more than 30,000 people from all ages and walks of life line up for a race, there is no police protection, very little cheating or conflict … just a shared expression of human spirit. Stay near the finish line and look at the expressions on people’s faces whether it is at the three hour mark or the six hour mark. Marathons express what is good about humanity (why last year’s Boston marathon bombings were so offensive).

This spring, the Risk-Monger will be teaching a course at a Brussels business school on running a marathon (the exam will be the Brussels marathon in October … hopefully every student will pass). Many would argue that it is typical for someone like the Risk-Monger to force his students to learn through such a painful lesson, but it has a clear business objective. Running a marathon is the ultimate project management lesson: how to plan out tasks, set targets, adjust to complications or setbacks, solve problems and manage time. To train tomorrow’s business elite, it makes perfect sense to make them run far and hard.

Marathons teach perseverance, discipline and sacrifice – indeed it takes a certain passion to push yourself when the body says: “No more!” These are qualities that members of the business community need, but quite often lack (or lose over years of organisational grind). Such stamina and grit fare well in business situations. On achieving a marathon, the individual gains a boost in self-confidence and determination – a basic for business leaders. Leadership training tells you what you need to be a leader; marathon training allows you to achieve that. (Note that this idea of a Marathon 101 business course was developed from a programme I discovered last year in a business college in Colorado, USA.)

But the problem is that business leaders today seem to lack these qualities: most seem to be going through the motions. The money is good, they manage their briefs like good project managers (delegating, going to meetings, having lunch …) and if they don’t mess up, attain adequate career status and a comfortable pension. Many have lost the passion they may have had in their youth, their determination to succeed or excel, and the will to make a difference. Perhaps the business structure has sapped many of our leaders of such ambitions (what I used to refer to as that great sucking sound I would hear when I entered my office building … pulverising my hopes for the day with the “mundanity” of the routine). Indeed, not students, but business leaders should be made to run a marathon before their promotion is considered.

Without passion, perseverance or an ability to push oneself, the business community sees itself handicapped across a wide range of activities, whether it concerns competition, environmental debates, government regulations, trade … Those with passion easily rule the day, are willing to push harder and find ways to win. To compensate for this void, businesses often use consultants (there is no passion, but consultants are usually hungry and have no qualms about being bought to solve other people’s problems). This is a sticky plaster on an open wound and evidence of a dying business whose main ambition seems to be: “a few more years”. People with passion don’t think like that. A runner does not look at the coming rain clouds on marathon Sunday and decide not to bother – quitting is out of the question (adjust, adapt and push harder!).

In industries from chemicals to biotech, from pharma to natural resources, NGO activists are eating the business community’s lunch not because they have facts and science behind them, but the passion and perseverance to do whatever it takes to win (something most marathoners find out they have around the 36 km point). Too often companies fold and give in to NGO activist verbal vandalism campaigns against their brands – not because they are in the wrong, but because it takes too much energy to continue to resist the rats. Business, like life, is an endurance race, needing strength, courage and strategy – the Risk-Monger sees more of that outside of offices than inside.

Running has other important benefits.

  • Need to lose weight? Put on your shoes!
  • Need to clear your head or deal with stress and tension? Put on your shoes!
  • Need to enjoy nature? Put on your shoes!
  • Need to strengthen your heart and other vital muscles? Put on your shoes!

Running can be a panacea for whatever ails us. I can’t think of a better opportunity where a parent is able to listen to his or her children than over a 10 km jog.

In today’s technologically manipulated world, there is nothing better than to detach and experience beautiful forest trails for three hours of physical and mental therapy! It is always amusing hearing environmentalist criticisms about how man only destroys nature – these people clearly don’t run. Every city I have been in offers amazing green spaces that only runners seem to fully profit from.

Yes, the Risk-Monger is one of those crazy people you see at the 36 km point, pushing himself to succeed. Having just completed his 14th marathon (in Rome under the worst possible weather conditions), he now has his sights set for the Brussels 20 km (with his three children). What are we without passion? Put on your shoes!


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