The Top 10 Disruptive Lessons I Learned Running My First Marathon

I did it.

Many doubted I would ever do it. Up until last year, I didn’t even think I could do it. But I did. I ran my first marathon.

Oh, I almost forgot, I am 62 years old.

As a strategic advisor, I help clients think bigger and reach higher to create radical change and disruptive innovation. Running that marathon helped me learn 10 disruptive lessons that are critical to business in a rapidly changing world.

1. See the Disruptive Opportunity in the Challenge. 

I’ve heard many people say, “I could never run a marathon/start a business/think of applying for that type of job, etc.” I have heard many say, “Why would you want to do that at your age?” Actually, you will be surprised what you can do when you see the opportunity. Most think of running 26.2 miles as a challenge they gladly avoid, even when they are retiring. But there is something much better. Life and business aren’t about being comfortable or playing it safe. They are about seizing incredible opportunities.

The most important opportunities in our businesses come when we are bold enough to accept a seemingly impossible challenge. 

2. Know Your Purpose in Disrupting

You might be surprised to learn that I really don’t like running. It is not easy for me and I don’t get that runner’s high. So why do it? Because running challenges me to do more than I’ve done before. That’s why I ran the marathon. I wanted to see how far I could run.

If our purpose is simply to play it safe, we will never realize the power of disrupting ordinary results. 

3. Leverage the Critics

“Why would you want to do that?” “What is your goal, bad knees or heart?” Whenever we start something new, especially something radical or disruptive, there will be those self-proclaimed critics professing their negativity. Ignore them. Actually, don’t just dismiss them – use their words as inspiration.

Those who are comfortable criticize those of us who are willing to make ourselves uncomfortable for the sake of doing something significant. 

4. Let Your Disruptive Plan Evolve

I started running 7 years ago. For the first three or four years, it was just 5Ks. But then I found my stride and I remember thinking, “I want to see how far and how fast I could run.” That fall I trained for and ran a 10K. The next spring I tackled a 15K before a Half the next spring and the marathon a year later. I didn’t have a clear plan set in stone when I started but it evolved as I progressed. As I completed one step, I saw the next.

In business, we often think that radical change is designed from the start but many times it evolves as we make incremental steps.  Allow your vision to evolve, constantly expanding the possibilities. 

5. Work the Plan

No one accidentally runs 26.2 miles, especially at age 62. In fact, it is extremely dangerous for anyone to attempt to run that far without sufficient training. So I searched for experts who had a proven plan and followed it. The key is doing the training in a way that you get better, stronger and faster.

Disruptive innovation doesn’t happen without doing the work. 

6. Build A Disruptive Team

My wife and I started running together. Actually, she got me into running and then I convinced her to run the marathon. I also have a medical massage therapist that keeps me stretched and a great shoe store owner that fits me with the appropriate equipment. In doing something that we had never done before, having the supporting team is critical to our success. We also have a group of people who like and comment on our social media posts. They give us the emotional support to keep working.

Doing the impossible is often possible with the right collaborators. 

7. Eliminate Expectations 

At first, I had a finish time I wanted to achieve. But as we trained and hit some obstacles, we realized that time was just frustrating us. So we eliminated it and focused solely on finishing. In the end, that was a critical step. We are not elite runners and for this first marathon, the only goal we needed was to finish.

To disrupt, clarify your goal and eliminate anything that frustrates that success.

8. Persevere the Pain

The race had 20,000 runners so we had to be in our corrals at 4:00 for a 5:30 start. That means a 2:00 a.m. wakeup call and being asleep by 9:00. Worse of all, it was 37 degrees and we were in the last corral. Standing for 2.5 hours before crossing the start line left my legs and feet tight. By mile 18 I was in pain but I knew there was no way I would quit. By mile 24, I felt like I was walking on razor blades. Had I just been training and not in a race, I would have quit. But there was no way I would quit in this race. I had to persevere. In the end, it was that last two miles that slowed my time but taught me a critical lesson. That was where I learned what it takes to push myself farther at the time many would quit. If it was easier, I wouldn’t appreciate it so much. Now I look back and remember the pain but also know it was worth it all.

See the pain of disruption as the price to enter a new plateau.


“I did it!”

Those three words celebrate the amazing accomplishment. But it goes deeper. I took on a challenge, did the work and finished. My wife and I decided to celebrate every mile marker, especially mile 14 as that was further than we have ever run in a race before. We celebrated mile 15, 16, 17 and every one to the finish. In celebrating each mile we boosted our spirits and ensured the finish.

To celebrate is to ceremonially accept the accolades from ourselves and others.  Don’t be humble and dismiss it. Celebrate with them. It also goes further – celebrating all those others who have done what they thought impossible. By having done it, you know what it takes to disrupt. A colleague just started running and recently finished her first 5K. I celebrated her because that is probably as significant to her as my running a marathon is to me. Both of us disrupted our worlds and deserve to be celebrated.

Spread the spirit of disruption by celebrating.

10. Embrace the Identity

My wife posted following the race, “Today we are not just runners, but marathoners.” Notice the difference in identity. In crossing that finish line, we became part of the .5% of the American population that have run a marathon. That changed the way she thought of herself. It elevated her self-image and that makes accepting new opportunities easier.

Own your identity of being a disruptive innovator. Use it. Leverage it to do great things.

Loren Murfield, Ph.D.

I am a strategic advisor to clients seeking disruptive change. Some start new businesses, others pursue new careers and still others write their book. Email me today to discuss the radical changes you can make in 2018.

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