I wish someone had told me that running marathons will help me build better companies

“I wish someone had told me” is a series of posts that feed into our inquisitive nature at CN&CO. We hear from someone in our network about something interesting or surprising that’s recently happened or occurred to them – or lessons they learnt. These blogs are a way to pay it forward and form part of CN&CO’s belief that the world can be a better place – and we all have a responsibility to make it so. This week’s post is by our friend Christelle Colman who recently announced the launch of her latest venture, Ami Sure.

Let me start by stating categorically that I am not a runner. Still, I have run countless half-marathons and 3 full marathons. Yes, indeed, I ran 42,2km three times – crazy, right? As you can imagine running a marathon is no small feat. According to recent statistics, only half a percent of all people have run a marathon. Many people say running a marathon is life-changing, and I agree wholeheartedly! 

The thing is this, there are so many similarities between running a marathon and building a startup that I wanted to share my own personal experience on why I think you should either run the distance, build the startup, or even better, do both.

Preparation is the holy grail.

I remember the thrill of uttering those words the first time: “I am training for my first marathon in Paris”. Big, bold words that tumbled out of my mouth with a healthy dose of insecurity. It is the same feeling I got when I uttered the words: “I am resigning from my full-time, well-paid job to build my own startup”. At some point, for these impressive statements to become a reality, a lot of planning, hard work, and commitment is required. In other words, a training plan or a strategic plan in the case of a startup. Just remember no strategy works until it is executed. If you arrive at the starting line ill-prepared, you will pay a very dear price.It’s not crossing the finish line that changes you. It is getting to the start line that changes you.

I once heard someone say the most challenging part about training for a marathon is putting on your running shoes. This really resonates with me when it comes to the lead-up into the startup journey. In both instances, it takes a hell of a lot of guts to commit. I remember last year around July. Things really got to a head for me. It was the time of the uprising in KZN and Gauteng. We were still in the throes of a pandemic, and people were speculating that South Africa was on the brink of civil war. Incidentally, at the time I also decided to resign and put my plans in motion to start a new company. Beginning a process that I have been fantasizing about for decades. Changing my life completely. The same as running a marathon. While I clearly remember crossing the finish line, the journey leading up to the starting line was what really changed me deep in my soul. In the end, life really is about the journey. Make sure you cherish all of it.

The first 5 kms of any race are always the most uncomfortable.

This could just be me, but every run, whether a race or training run, I absolutely hate the first 5kms. Getting the feet to move with the rhythm of your breathing, waiting for the kilometers to start falling by the wayside without checking your distance obsessively. Nothing about running reminds me more of doing a startup than this. Later this year, I will be launching my 3rd startup in the insurance industry Ami Sure. This time I will have the controlling stake. Yes, I am devilishly excited to run my own shop. Yet, even while I am writing these words, I know those first few months will be all about getting my feet to work with the rhythm of my breathing, checking new business sales obsessively and yearning for that beautiful moment of critical mass. Having run so many races have taught me that you just have to get through the first 5kms, after that, things settle down and you can enjoy the journey.

Choosing the right running partner will make or break your race.

I have been very fortunate to have my husband, Simon Colman as my running partner. It is without a doubt the most critical reason why I managed to finish a marathon, let alone more than one. Being able to help plan, motivate and even drag each other along through the toughest of times has helped me achieve something I never thought possible. The same absolutely applies to starting a business. With Ami I am totally blessed to have Carel Nolte as my business partner. Let me say this, trying to secure a suitable risk carrier has been a challenging journey and we have navigated these stormy seas entirely focused and aligned on the things that matter to us, i.e., strategic and cultural fit. To quote Carel, we only do business with nice people. While our needs in the partnership might be unique to us, having complete alignment on what is essential in the outcomes of your race or business is vital. 

Reflecting on my career, I have almost always left an organization due to misalignment in the strategic outcome of actions, not to mention lack of cultural fit. When deciding on partners in business (or running), make sure you are aligned in your thinking.

Strangers in a crowd will carry you when your heart, mind, and feet want to make you stop.

Companies do not deal with companies but rather, people deal with people. You will achieve your business goals with the support of your network. As in running a race, complete strangers will sometimes motivate you to carry on and achieve what feels like the impossible just by shouting your bib name at the side of the road. It struck how much this is the same as a stranger on the internet complimenting you on something your business is doing right. Validating your efforts. Treat your network with absolute respect. In the end, this will carry you over the finish line.

The wall is real!

Ooof, the wall. What an unpleasant business that can be! The fact of the matter is this, you will hit the wall. In a marathon usually around 32 km’s. In business, it is a bit different. Still, the challenges will come, and sometimes it will feel impossible to carry on. Yet, if you have a strong foundation in your strategy, vision, partnership, and faith in your own abilities, all you must do is put one foot in front of the other. And keep on going. With every step, the finish line is a little closer. And remember, this too shall pass.

While it might sound like a bit of a gaggle of disconnected thoughts, I wish someone had told me earlier on in life that you can learn about building a business by running a marathon. The immense feeling of achievement you experience when pushing your body and mind beyond preconceived limits is what makes the journey of life worthwhile. Decide what you want in life and go for it!