What an Ultra Marathon thought me about sustainability of life and business

Ultra Marathon
24 Feb 2020

The word “sustainable” is often tied to going green, initiatives to save the ocean, wildlife and forest activism but it is in fact a noun defined as “the ability to exist constantly”. An ideal that is by definition probably unattainable but by persistently and dynamically approaching it can result in success.

I recently completed my first Ultra Marathon which was a goal set this year. Ultra Marathons are long-distance events that are not so much about speed as they are about testing endurance on highly challenging routes of elevations, significant obstacles, and rugged terrains. 

Participating in an Ultra requires Grit which is defined as a passion and perseverance for long-term and meaningful goals. To complete in an ultra, one must have a plan to sustain energy levels throughout the run by pacing to reduce injuries and retain stamina. Preparing for the run is equally important. Proper stretching, rest and nutrition is a must for optimal performance. Ultra will not just drain one physically, but also mentally. During this long run, one begins to second guess the ability to finish, perhaps due to unpredictable weather, lethargy when the cramps and physical pain kick in. Therefore, a strong mental mindset is just as important. One must be confident the training put in, pace and strategy set out to complete the run, resisting the need to keep up with others because an ultra, one must remember is never about competing. It is about improving personal performance.  

Sustainability practices in life and business are so much like an ultra marathon. It is about preparing for the long-distance run. To be “sustainable” is defined as the ability to persist in an unpleasant, difficult situation without giving way. Endurance is the key. Uncomfortable questions need to be asked, unpopular decisions need to be made, some of which will require investments of time, money and hard work which will be perceived as unnecessary by the mediocre. But victory belongs to those who endure.  

Perhaps we can start by asking if our current lifestyle can sustain our health goals and can our financial goals sustain our lifestyle. And is the food we consume nourishes us or is it destroying us? How long can we sustain our lifestyle financially should we become ill with our current lifestyle financially.

As an organisation, is our business sustainable enough to withstand the technological disruptions taking place? The future belongs to organizations that have adopted Intelligent Operations because the enterprise becomes flexible, agile, responsive; generating value quickly to achieve sustainable competitive advantage. Perhaps its time we rethink the word “sustainability” and its implications in our daily life and the way we conduct ourselves at work and in business.