5 things the NYC Marathon taught me about achieving excellence

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On Nov. 5, Phil Lang joined 50,000+ others in running the New York City Marathon and finished in 2:43, a two-minute personal best from seven years prior. Here he shares five things that he learned in getting to the top 0.5 percent of finishers.

As I crossed the finish line of the New York City Marathon, a wave of emotions washed over me — pride, elation and a sense of deep accomplishment. I had just completed one of the most challenging courses in the country, and I had done so in a time that I never thought possible.

But more than just a personal achievement, the marathon taught me valuable lessons about life, leadership and the pursuit of excellence. These lessons, honed over miles of training and tested on the unforgiving pavement of New York City streets, have transformed my understanding of what it takes to achieve extraordinary goals.

1. Mastery comes through repetition

The marathon is a grueling 26.2-mile race, and there’s no shortcut to success. It requires months of dedicated training, pushing your body to its limits and beyond.

I’ve run this race over 10 times, and with each repetition, I’ve learned to anticipate the course’s challenges and my body’s reactions. This familiarity has instilled in me a sense of mastery, allowing me to navigate the race with confidence and resilience.

In business, the pursuit of excellence demands a similar commitment to mastery. Just as a marathon runner must become intimately familiar with the course, a leader must gain a deep understanding of their industry, competitors and customers. This knowledge empowers them to make informed decisions, anticipate market shifts and navigate the complexities of the business world.

2. Consistency is the unsung hero

Success in any field, from running marathons to building businesses, requires unwavering consistency. It’s not about the occasional burst of effort or the sporadic moment of brilliance; it’s about showing up day in and day out, putting in the work and never giving up.

In marathon training, there are days when you feel like you can’t run another mile. Your body aches, your mind is foggy, and every fiber of your being screams for rest. But it’s on these days that consistency shines brightest. It’s on these days that you push through the discomfort, lace up your shoes and hit the road.

In business, consistency is the foundation upon which success is built. It’s about implementing strategies consistently, investing in your team relentlessly, and staying focused on long-term goals unwaveringly. It’s about showing up every day, not just when inspiration strikes, but when the work demands it.

3. There’s power in segmentation

A marathon is a daunting undertaking, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer distance. Breaking the race down into manageable segments makes it less intimidating and more achievable.

I use a strategy called “10-10-10,” where I divide the race into three distinct sections. The first 10 miles are about pacing and conservation, the next 10 miles are about maintaining a steady pace, and the last 10 kilometers are about emptying the tank and giving it everything you have.

In business, goal setting follows a similar principle. Breaking down large objectives into smaller more manageable chunks makes them less daunting and provides a clear roadmap for achieving them. By setting weekly or monthly goals that align with overall objectives, teams can stay focused, motivated and on track for success.

4. Teamwork is the secret sauce

Running a marathon can be a solitary endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be. Having a supportive teammate by your side can make a world of difference. During the race, my teammate and I were able to communicate on pacing, keep each other motivated and push each other to perform at our best.

In business, teamwork is the secret sauce that transforms individual efforts into collective achievements. By fostering a collaborative environment, empowering team members and harnessing diverse talents, leaders can create a synergy that drives innovation, productivity and success.

5. The infectious power of positivity

The New York City Marathon is a celebration of the human spirit and resilience. Over a million spectators line the streets, cheering on the runners and providing a surge of energy and motivation. The positive vibes are contagious, lifting spirits and propelling runners forward, especially when fatigue starts to set in.

In business, a positive and supportive environment is equally transformative. When team members feel valued, appreciated, and celebrated, they are more engaged, productive and willing to go the extra mile. Positive leadership fosters a culture of excellence, where individuals thrive and teams achieve remarkable results.

The lessons I’ve learned from running marathons have irrevocably shaped my approach to life, leadership and the pursuit of excellence. These principles are not just about running faster or building bigger businesses; they are about pushing beyond limitations, embracing challenges and discovering the extraordinary potential that lies within each of us.

Phil Lang is chief business officer at The Agency.

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