What does preparing for success require?
I love this.
Here’s a short behind-the-scenes video that shines a light on the sorts of things good leaders and organizations do to help maximize their chances of success when the chips are down.
What are those things? How do they apply to us? Read on.
Going the Distance
Eliud Kipchoge was already a world champion marathon runner. He won gold in the 2016 Olympic marathon, and in 2018 in Berlin he shattered the marathon world record, whittling it down to two hours, one minute, and 39 seconds.
Like the four-minute mile, the two-hour marathon is one of the last great “barriers” to human athletic achievement, and it’s tantalizingly close to falling.
Kipchoge came very close to surmounting it as part of the Breaking2 project sponsored by Nike in 2017 when he ran two hours and twenty five seconds. Having come so close, in 2019 he decided to give it another shot.
Preparing the Team
Dubbed the INEOS 1:59 Challenge, Kipchoge was scheduled to make his next attempt on the 12th of October, 2019. The team that INEOS formed around him was doing its best to leverage everything from technology and aerodynamics, to nutrition and physiology to help him succeed.
And a big part of their preparation was rehearsing and practicing what each team member would do on the day of the challenge. That’s where this video comes in.
It’s 5:00 AM in Vienna, Austria in the last weekend of August. Race day is six weeks away.. The street lights are still on, but 150 members of the support team are already assembled at the start line. They are there to practice all the little pieces that go into helping Kipchoge succeed.
Here are the things that jump out at me, and what’s good about their approach to this challenge.
Preparing for Success
Setting a clear goal. What they are after is unambiguous: Run a marathon in 1 hour, 59 minutes or faster on the 12th of October, 2019 in Vienna, Austria, to inspire others to believe they can overcome their own personal barriers. Not an easy goal, but a clear one.
Practicing with the team. To help Kipchoge maintain his pace and to function as a kind of wind break for him, teams of elite runners will run in front of him in carefully designed formations. From how they will start, to how pacers will swap out with each other, to when they will break off, they worked through the nuts and bolts of who does what and when.
Forging the team. Some of these elite runners have not met before, so the leaders used this occasion to build bonds between them that will help them perform their best during the challenge. How the support team interacts will have everything to do with how well they can run together. Smart leaders pay attention to the dynamics of human relationships on their teams.
Training on the course. In fact, they set the course up the same as it will be in October, complete with timing arches, cameras, and cleared roadway. There are lots of ways to rehearse for an event, but these leaders understand that the more they practice and prepare under conditions as near to what they will actually be as possible, the better their chances of getting it right on the day of the challenge.
Building in redundancy. They have not one specially equipped pace car, but two. Not one group of run pacers, but three. I’m sure they had back-up timing systems, and other “Plan Bs” rehearsed and ready to go. They will have only one shot to get this right. Planning for possible failure is what will help ensure their success.
Crawling/Walking/Running. Just as we did in the Army all those years I was in uniform, they didn’t try to go full speed on the first try. First, they talked about what they wanted to achieve and why, then moved people into position and walked through the steps. Only when everyone was ready did they accelerate to full speed. And then they did it again, and again, to make sure they got it right.
Getting feedback. After each iteration they discussed how it went, what to keep doing well, and where to make improvements. Use of video helped coaches clarify what they were seeing and compare it to what they were trying to achieve. Regular, positive feedback helps the team function to its potential. I especially liked the inventive guy on the bicycle with the iPad attached to his handlebars.
Making mistakes. One of the leaders actually says that his intention is that they make all their mistakes at this training event. His idea is that it is far better to have them happen now so that they can learn from them, and reduce the chance of making “silly mistakes” on the day of the run.
Here’s the video:
Preparing for Success – The Takeaway
Kipchoge ultimately succeeded in breaking that historic barrier in October, beating the two hour mark by 20 seconds, and running an average speed of 13.2 miles per hour. It was the greatest accomplishment of human long-distance running of all time, and there was no shortage of attention and congratulations for his amazing feat.
But what is missing from most of those headlines, articles, and videos are the things that made it possible: the preparation.
Preparing for success requires things like gathering one hundred and fifty people at 5:00 AM on the race course in Austria. It requires testing systems, clarifying roles, building teams, and even making mistakes. Most of it is done out of the limelight.
We may not be trying to break a major human milestone, but there are always barriers and challenges ahead of us. This video is a glimpse of what it takes to overcome them.
It also embodies the idea behind one of my favorite quotes:
Kipchoge and his teammates have shown us how.
Let us be inspired to do the same.