Weird Things That Runners Do

This one isn’t mine but thought it was worth a post! 

How many (and which) of these are you guilty of?

1. Hold your Garmin up to the sky because you swear you get better reception.

2. Have full conversations with yourself while running, often times out loud.

3. You look at your clock at home and get all giddy when you realize it’s your PR time.

4. You see the word “marathon” in the TV guide and get excited before you realize it has nothing at all to do with running.

5. Swore you would never wear a bumbag but a fuel belt? No problem!

6. Run tons of miles per week but yet you still search for the closest parking spot at the grocery store.

7. Carry extra running gear in your car just in case you see a great looking place to run on accident.

8. Wear your running clothes to bed so you spend less time changing and have more time to run in the morning.

9. On long runs you get so deep in thought that you suddenly realize that you don’t remember what happened the last couple miles.

10. Talking in acronyms: My last MP earned me PR and 1st in my AG. I didn’t BQ but at least I wasn’t a DNF.

11. You blow your nose in your shirt because you suck at blowing snot rockets while running. You just end up looking like a dog slobbering out the car window.

12. Get extremely excited when you see a porta potty or bathroom out of no where on your run.

13. Show off your bruised and black toe nails to non runners while trying to convince them it was so much fun and completely worth it!

14. Constantly checking behind you to see if anyone is catching up that could be the boogey man.

15. Change into your running clothes in your car not caring if anyone sees.

16. Fart while running on accident but still look around to see if anyone heard it. And if so, you speed up to lose them!

17. Assume that the old lady that passed you like you were standing still is only going to be running a couple miles.

18. Question what you got yourself into at the beginning of the race only to immediately wonder what races you can enter next.

19. Realize that the majority of the songs on your phone are ones that you run to.
20. Panicking the day before a race making sure that you have 
 lined up that you will need.

21. Look at runners with envy while driving.

22. When the local news starts talking about race weekend you start panicking because you didn’t sign up, then you realize they are talking about NASCAR and not running.

23. While driving down the road you see the amount of miles until your destination on the road sign and you immediately think “I can run that!”

24. Avoid going past a running store because you know you can’t come out of it empty handed.

25. Getting people to reschedule their weddings because it interferes with your race schedule.

26. Seeing people with 13.1 and 26.2 stickers on their car and speeding up to get a good look at them. Even if you have to do 80+. It’s still a competition!

27. Running around in circles so you hit an even amount of mileage on your Garmin.

28. Knowing that it is impossible to run past windows without looking at the reflection so you can check out your running form.

29. Solve the worlds problems while running and wonder why there is no law that world leaders have to do this.

30. Plan vacations based on where you can run and what races you can enter.

The Loneliness of The Programme Manager

I have a great deal in common with David Moyes. There are some areas where we differ of course. I don’t have to manage Shrek, I don’t have access to free track suits or dodgy coats and I don’t get my name splashed across every newspaper every time it doesn’t go well for me at work.

Make The Inherited Team Work For You

(Image © VegasEddie)

Moyes, for those who live on Mars (or perhaps the US) is a football manager, the manager of possibly the biggest club in the world, Manchester United. Sounds great. Except he’s a football manager in his first season at the club. I am a programme manager. Specifically a programme manager who specialises in recovery. I land in troubled programmes and turn them around – or even sometimes terminate them.

The similarity lies in the loneliness, the isolation especially in the initial stages of the role. There are ways to alleviate this though as I will walk through later no in this post.

Moyes was presumably recruited by the chairman. A friendly, smiling face full of promises and smiles. Initial talk of ambition and plans, of positives and partnership. Bring in the programme sponsor. The guy wedded to the ambition and delivery of the programme but not necessarily wedded to the deliverer. He knows what he wants, will go to any length to get it but when it comes to it he isn’t that worried who delivers it. In both roles this guy treats you as expendable, merely a means to an end. Ultimately this person is not your friend…

Indirectly Moyes has another client that he must impress. The supporters. A recent survey puts the number of worldwide supporters that Moyes has to impress at 659 million. To be fair, I’ve never worked on a programme with 600 million users so I’m a bit behind there. But the similarities are there. The relationship with the supporters or the business into which you are delivering is always on a knife edge. They are reliant on you doing a good job and will back you vehemently when they see evidence of a good job being done. However, as soon as anything goes wrong they will be quick to criticise, to escalate and demand changes. A group of dissenters can gather momentum very quickly and whilst they do not generally have direct hire and fire power they certainly can influence.

Moyes inherited a team of players. In some ways he is better off than me in that Moyes inherited a team of world class players. Read into that what you will! The problem for Moyes is that they are not his choice of world class players, they do not necessarily play to his system and unfortunately the competition also has world class players. The last point means that in comparison they are average. I inherit teams. Generally pretty average team. One or two potential stars perhaps but in the main teams that don’t play to my system. Teams that don’t suit my style of management. Both Moyes and I are recruited primarily as people managers. Our abilities to produce results from a team are the primary reasons we get the job. Sure, we are experts in our trades, we know the fundamentals but then so do many other people. It’s the ability to get the people around you to deliver that marks us out from the crowd. 

More importantly then, what do both Moyes and I need to do to deliver in such an environment?

The first piece of the jigsaw is perhaps a surprising one as it’s initially at least a non ‘work’ one. In order to succeed in this environment you need a friend. I’ve outlined above how whilst at any given time each of the groups might be supporting you, none are your friends. On arrival, you can trust no one and must not get too close to anyone. Three months down the line, you don’t know which employees you might be having conversations with about poor performance, you don’t know when you might have to deliver a hard to live with ultimatum to the chairman or your client and you don’t know when you might have that tough meeting with the business to let them know you won’t be delivering that much desired functionality or with the supporters to let them know your targets are not in line with their wishes. So until you have your right hand man in place, you need a clear idea of who externally you have to bounce ideas off, to motivate and inspire you and generally to get support from. To start a role without this is tough indeed.

Next comes team motivation. Moyes has an added constraint here. The transfer window. That means that player recruitment wise he is not only constrained by budget and the availability of his preferred team but is also constrained by the time windows in which he can recruit. The problem is similar though on both sides. You have to work with what you have and you need time to understand whether the players you inherit are capable of working in the way that you want them to. First impressions may be wrong. The way a team performed for a previous manager may be very different from the way that they perform for you. Getting the team onside early on and fighting for your cause is about setting out clearly your core beliefs, being very clear about what you want to achieve and how you aim to set about doing it. It’s about being tough when necessary but listening too. The bully boy tactics might create short term wins but never create a long term delivery structure. Mostly though it’s about taking the time to find out about the individuals. What inspires them, what are their concerns, dislikes and ambitions. Having these conversations not only establishes relationships but also starts to set out your long term goals. No point creating a style of play around the midfielder that is desperate to play for Real Madrid next year or the project manager who is looking to take a back seat. The key here though is to focus on motivation in the short term. These people may or not be in your long term plan. They are definitely part of your short term plan though and you will need each to perform as well as they can.

As soon as possible, it is vital to address the loneliness problem. To deliver in the long term, you need a trusted core team around you. People who absolutely buy into your vision and who have the ability to motivate and bring others along. Football managers and programme managers from consultancies often have the ability to create an instant Team structure. Increasingly when a manager joins a new club he will take his back room staff with him. He will walk into the new role an instant team around him. Consultancies will sell in the leadership layer as a way to kicking off a project quickly and early. I’m not a great fan of this approach though. If football or programmes were a repeatable process then this would be fine. However there are so many variables involved -the players, the budget, the ambition of the chairman – that each scenario Is different. To arrive with a management team means that you have one approach. To put your own repeatable model into play. To force the variables around you to act in the way that fits your model. It’s tough to get results this way but also it means you never get better. It’s a plateau model. You build your way of doing it and at best you repeat it. At worst you can’t force the resources into your shape and you end up failing. What you don’t do is create a better model each time. 

The approach of arriving with an external sounding board, the inspirational friend, whilst tougher in the short term means that you have time to assess the situation before selecting the right team from your trusted contacts. It takes longer but you build a team that is accurately selected to address the challenges facing you and therefore a stronger long term team. One shouldn’t underestimate how quickly this needs to be done though.   There is only a short period until the ‘trusted friend’ is too far removed and until the real storming within the team commences. By that point you need at least one person in that you trust and that shares your vision. Finally, your team around you should be people who are loyal to you. They should not be people who always agree with you. I have seen programmes fail due to leadership teams of yes men. If everyone is always going to agree, you may as well have one person.

The holy grail of all of this is time. Time to judge what you have in terms of resources available, time to build that loyal management team and time to start delivering and create an atmosphere of success. You can buy time though through an early deliverable. The absolute first thing to look for on any new project is how to deliver something high profile fast. Divert resource to that deliverable and stay with it until it’s complete. Once you have an early win in the bag, time to build will be made available. 

Anyone for half time oranges?

Running For A Purpose

In June last year I walked into a consultants room. My life focus was about to change. Three weeks before, I had woken with excruciating pain in my shoulder. By the next day I had zero use of my left arm. A seriously painful MRI scan later and several wrong diagnoses and I was en route to a meeting with a neuro surgeon. He ordered another MRI from a different angle and I walked into his room. First thing he said as he looked me in the eye was, “It’s quite possible you might not walk again”.  I’d somehow managed not just to slip a disc but in his words:  to “explode it”. 

Aim For A Target

(Image © Nicholas Raymond)
I didn’t tell anyone that line for a long time. I made light to other people about the way he had said he would fly out on holiday a day late so as to do the operation. “Do anything for money”. He told me to take it extremely careful. No public transport. Nothing where I might accidentally move some part of my neck. My mum wasn’t fooled though. (Not sure I can remember the last time I fooled my mum!). She got it it day one and left me in doubt that I was going to have the operation. And yes, I still thought there was a decision to make. On the day of the operation, the surgeon was more upbeat. His focus at that point was on my arm telling me I would probably get no movement back but after two years It was possible I might achieve some. 


Came round. Wiggled my toes. Grinned. Went back to sleep. And decided to fight. 


Seems really silly now. Like it was never a reality. I remember a few key things in the weeks that followed. I remember the physio looking at the MRIs and my zero neck and arm movement and commenting that I’d done it “properly” and then bringing a colleague in to show him the extent of the damage.

Several people, including some very close to me, told me I needed a different, more sedate approach to life. It isn’t clear how I “exploded” the disk. I surely didn’t want to run that risk again. And no, I don’t. Bit I want to live too. And this has made me think about what I can do rather than what I can’t. I wasn’t interested in taking it easy though. I’d been told I wouldn’t move my arm and so to start with I was focused on changing that. 

I realised how easy I had had it in life. Sport Billy, a friend used to call me. I could do any sport. But I never really pushed it. Never excelled in anything. Just did it to a decent level.  Waking up, I had decided not to do that. I would find something I wanted to do and then try properly.  Didn’t matter how good I was, I just wanted to compete. With myself.

I had a few short term goals I needed to prove to myself. First, playing football again (that’s how I think I originally did it) and second, getting that arm moving. No way was I going to wait two years,  I played football way too soon, but came back to play harder, better than I ever did in my youth. A proper desire replacing the take it easy approach. I tried various sports, to the varying horror, and to be fair, increasing interest, of the physio who quietly quite liked my ‘do or die approach’ as he named it. I’d managed to start to get movement in my arm, but try as I might I couldn’t get rid of a certain degree of pain and stiffness in my neck .  My back was just a mass of tight muscles where I had been compensating for an injury about to happen for maybe as much as eighteen months, 

And then, although I had been subconsciously staving it off for months, depression hit. I was nothing for two months, at rock bottom. No steps, no focus, only weekly football giving me any escape. And in January, mainly to combat my depression, I started to run. I was on holiday in Devon. In a seriously hilly bit of Devon. I went out every morning in that first week of January, walking a bit, and running a bit. By the end of the week I was running the whole loop. Just four miles, but four miles of tough hills in tough winds. When I got home, I could run. I could run for miles. Eight, nine miles. For the first time in my life. 

And so now I run. I try and run every day. I probably shouldn’t, but I can move my arm completely now and I feel fitter than ever.  And I have never felt fitter. And I love it. I love that feeling of dropping into that zone where you feel you can go forever. I’ve done 100 miles in January, 100 miles in February and want to do that every month this year. I’ve signed up for my first half marathon in 25 years. Am so focused in completing it. 

There are loads of people way worse off than me but it’s all personal right? Running a half might not be a great deal to many people but to me, the MK Half on Sunday is about achieving something that at one point I thought was beyond me. 

Because once. Just once. Someone told me they weren’t sure I would walk again. That kind of upset me . I’m not sure I like people telling me what I can’t do.