A few weeks ago I crossed the finish line of the Royal Parks Half Marathon with a Personal Best time of 1hr46. This is a time I honestly thought would always be out of reach, a step too far. But powered by human connection, I performed at a level – mentally and physically - that exceeded all my expectations.
The race started the same as any race, (although the weather wasn’t being too kind and I resembled a drowned rat!). A big cheer on from my support crew set me off with a spring in my step and a faster pace than usual. It appeared to be going well for the first few miles, then suddenly at 8 miles it all changed. I realised I’d stepped too hard on the gas and things started to get tough – my energy dipped, and each footstep began to feel heavier than the last.
It was then that I realised that no matter how much training I had put in, this was not enough. I needed to dig deeper, but not physically, in my mindset. To do this, I needed to get out of my own head and connect to something more meaningful, I needed to find strength from the very reason I signed up in the first place (not to achieve a best time). This ‘purpose’ was even more personal. In fact, it was this strong emotional connection that kept me going. One of my best friendshad recently battled cancer and just come out the other side. Even though she wasn't there, I could literally hear her voice in my head telling me I could do it. It was so strong that it felt as if she was there with me – just willing me to keep going and stay strong.
This was unlike anything I had ever felt before. Surreal and unplanned - I was visualising every emotion she had been through and using that to channel my pace and energy.
At 9 miles it got even tougher, thanks to a sudden stitch. I felt exhausted and was desperate to slow down. I could see a few people around me starting to walk and my mind started wandering back to my own thoughts again in a desperate attempt to keep going. Then, unexpectedly from behind me, a man appeared and murmured really quietly “We’re running the same speed, I’m going to run with you”. That was that. For the next 4.5 miles we silently ran next to one another.
Now I guess you’re probably thinking ‘How on earth did this small gesture of kindness help?’. Well the effect was dramatic. My focus changed from how awful I was feeling to one of determination. As our steps synchronised, there was an invisible bond that grew. We said nothing apart from the odd “you’ve got this” and a nod, yet there was an unspoken human connection that meant a thousand words of encouragement.
When we crossed the finish line a few meters apart the crowds descended, and we lost each other, yet a few weeks later I still reflect on how without even a word said, the power of mindset and a connection through a common goal can have such a profound effect.
Human connections are vital in all parts of life and ever more so in the workplace. The rise of the virtual world, where people are more electronically connected, means we are often less ‘present’ than ever. It can be so easy to get swept away in our own thoughts or to do list, especially on a busy or tough day in the office (or pounding the pavements!) that we forget to acknowledge those around us.
Purpose can only get us so far, but a connection with others is where the magic happens.
So, for the next week I’m going to promise myself to look up from computer or phone a little more often and notice who around me might be in need of a little helping hand to achieve their goal at their metaphorical 9 miles…