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The marathonist spirit, part 1/2

Published: 2020-11-27 08:32

Marathon. 8 letters that have a particular signification in the running world. For some people, it’s a great occasion to take a nap in front of the TV when it’s time for New York’s, Berlin’s or Paris’ races. For some others, it’s a holy grail to conquer after several weeks, months or even years of training. There is even a group for which it means ”a usual sunday morning”. As far as I’m concerned, it seems that I get closer and closer to the last ones, as I just ran  my 11th marathon of the year last week-end. Something that I wouldn’t have imagined when I was 20, laid in a hospital bed after a pneumothorax.

What’s a marathon ?

Let’s back to the basics, the marathon is a long distance race of 42,195km, or 26 miles and 385 yards. According to the legend, the origin comes from the battle of Marathon to Athens in 490 BC. Philippidès, Greek messenger, ran from the battlefield to Athens in order to announce the victory against Persians. Out of breath, he would have died right after delivering his glorious message.

The story of the Marathon is more than 2500 years old, but different versions of the truth exist…

Some other versions of the story exist, as the one transmitted by the historian Herodot: Philippidès would have been sent to Sparta in order to get help in the war. Sparta, which is located more than 220km from the battlefield…this is one of the many alternatives still in discussion.

The modern marathon

The initial story has been chosen to create the mythic distance we all know today, for the first Olympic Games of the modern era, in 1896. And even if the distance was approximately 40km, it has been officialized for the London Olympic Games, in 1908. On request of the royal family, the race started from the Windsor Castle and ended right in the White City Stadium. The distance is since fixed on this standard: 26 miles and 385 yards  42,195m.

Okay, cool story bro. So what’s the marathonian spirit?

So back to the title, what’s the marathonist spirit? For me at least… I don’t think we come to the world with this spirit, it’s a state of mind we build on the way. The human behavior is quite naturally oriented into fast results and, as a sort of consequence, to laziness. That reminds me a sentence from a Belgian comic book I’ve read as a kid: ”the smart athlete avoids the useless effort”. 5 years ago, I didn’t imagine the distances I’m running in 2020. And even today, I can’t imagine what some of my friends are doing: running, 5 to 10 races per year that are at least 100 miles…   The marathonist spirit has different components: building strong bases, knowing yourself, anticipating the problems that can (and will most likely) happen, being able to adapt, set intermediate targets, celebrating the success. Immediately, you can see that those characteristics can be applied in long term projects management.

”the smart athlete avoid the useless effort”

Building strong bases

Big projects as those I’m involved in Essity clearly look like marathons.   A lot of preparation, anticipation, checking, training, and an execution that take time. Weeks, months, sometimes even years as the Essity Way of Winning project , aka EWOW, on which a lot of people around the world are spending time at the second you’re reading this.

As an analyst involved in project management, you will need to:

  • gather the data. It’s not only excel sheets extracted from an ERP, but it can be local needs and questions from your colleagues on site.
  • clean the data, make it relevant, consistent, and useful for your purpose.
  • build an execution frame. Mainly speaking, we’re talking about finding the resources, the skills, the time that will support your project.
  • do the required trainings. It can be yours, if you don’t have the sufficient knowledge to succeed, and humility is a great quality in this case; and training of the people that will be impacted by your project. Even if this part comes usually later in the execution of the project itself.
With every project comes the time frame.

As a runner, you have quite the same steps:

  • gather the data: what’s your physical condition? Your equipment? (never run a long race with new shoes, NEVER!). Why not doing a quick checkup with your physiotherapist before starting this?
  • clean the data: and the data is what you will put in your engine. Not saying that you should follow a strict diet, but maybe be a bit more careful, as you need to store properly energy until your 42km.
  • build an execution frame. When do you want to run the big one? Where? Will it be alone or as a ”real race”?
  • do the required trainings. Well, I suppose you know what I’m talking about here. you don’t go for no running at all to a full marathon. You’ll most probably go out 2-3 times a week, with a long run on week-ends. You can also find complete programs to meet your actual target in specialized magazines and websites…   In this preparation phase, I would also add the actual ”body tuning”, such as preparing your feet by applying citrus acid in order to thicken the skin and avoid blisters.

Do you think you’re clear with the bases? Great, so on the next post, we’ll dive in the problems that you need to anticipate.

To be continued…

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Giulia Salvestroni
07 december 2020

While waiting to read part 2, hats off to you, Mikaël!

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