Like many entrepreneurs during the recession, Temeko Richardson felt pressures on all fronts. A slowdown in client payments wreaked havoc on her New York City-based software solutions company, Total Solutions Group (also known as TSG One). Financial challenges had her contemplating ways to cut back. And the sudden end to a personal relationship left her reeling. “Everything hit at the same time,” the 33-year-old recalls. “One thing went wrong after another.”
Not sure what to do about her personal life or whether she should even continue with entrepreneurship, Richardson decided to run—not away from her problems but in a marathon, without extensive physical training. The healthy distraction equipped her with the mental tools to beat back her challenges.
“I remember getting to mile 22 when I hit a wall and thought, ‘Why did I do this?’” she says. Her body wanted to give up, but then she encountered a woman also ready to quit. “We ended up encouraging each other and running across the finish line together,” Richardson says. After that athletic accomplishment, Richardson knew she had the stamina to see her other struggles through.
Richardson’s newfound resilience after the marathon is no surprise, says Rhadi Ferguson, a 2004 Olympian in judo who now works as a corporate, sports, and life coach. “From a marathon, you learn mental toughness,” he says. “As an athlete you have to sacrifice your body and how you feel [physically] in order to achieve a goal.”
Richardson took the lessons and developed Run Life’s Course (www.runlifescourse.com), a program that uses marathon training as a guide to deal with life’s challenges. Among the messages she shares:
Focus on the end goal.
When running her first marathon, Richardson experienced minor obstacles, such as numbness in her feet. She also experienced discomfort in subsequent marathons. But by concentrating on the finish line rather than her discomfort, she was able to push through to the finish.
Mental preparation and training are key.
Richardson knew she had to develop the physical endurance needed to complete a marathon. By becoming more physically fit over time through strength training and conditioning with different forms of cardiovascular exercises, Richardson was reminded that a strong work ethic would ultimately pay off even when it didn’t seem rewarding initially.
Life happens one step at a time.
Running a marathon is literally a matter of making it step by step to the finish line. “The finish line is a destination, but life requires a steady pace and perseverance,” she says.
Seek out people who enhance your journey.
“If I wanted to be a better runner and be better fit, I needed to be around like-minded people who are not just going to the gym for a casual workout,” she says. She applied that lesson to networking and making personal connections. “I put myself in situations where I could attract the types of individuals I was looking for whether it was for friendship or a professional relationship.”
Quitting is not an option.
Some marathons took Richardson longer to complete, particularly if she was running through injuries or illness. But as long as she didn’t give up, she eventually achieved her task. Success is experienced through persistence, she says.
When Richardson applied these lessons to her professional life, she decided to drop clients with straggling payments. In the past, she would have hung on, spending her energy chasing after their business. But in realizing her goal was to have a profitable business, she used the energy to find new clients instead. She also dropped personal relationships that were liabilities to her well-being.
Having run more than 25 marathons (in 24 months) and counting, Richardson says she’s happier and healthier physically and mentally than ever before. “My life is not about being a professional marathon runner,” she insists. But each time she finishes a marathon and prepares for the next, Richardson says it gives her more confidence to take on nonathletic challenges. “When you reach the finish line, you’ve accomplished that goal, but it’s also the start of a new journey to run life’s course.”
—Tamara E. Holmes
Mind Games: How to Find a Sport for Mental Toughness
Taking up a sport or athletic activity can help people work on their coping skills, improve their work ethic, and learn to persevere and overcome adversity, says Jamie E. Robbins, a sports psychologist and co-author of It’s a Mental Thing! 5 Keys to Enhancing Performance & Enjoying Sport (Excellence in Performance; $14.95).
If you’re thinking of using athletics to gain a mental edge, consider the following tips:
Look past the sports you know. It might seem counterintuitive, but “you have to find something that is uncomfortable and get comfortable doing it,” says Rhadi Ferguson, a corporate coach and former Olympian. By doing something that’s out of your comfort zone, you’ll gain confidence that you can excel at other challenges in life.
See a specific goal through. Whether it’s mastering an advanced yoga class or achieving a black belt in karate, commit to the sport until you’ve achieved a specific task, Ferguson says. “Athletes’ stopping points are further back than the normal individual so it looks like the stuff that they’re doing is absolutely amazing but what they’re doing is achievable because they don’t stop.”
Enjoy the process as much as the win. In sports, you spend more time practicing and training than you do winning or achieving a goal, says Chris Janzen, who coaches triathletes on the mental side of the sport through his site, Triathletemind.com. Learning to enjoy the journey helps develop patience and an appreciation for daily life.
—T. E. H.