By Stephanie Heinatz
You didn’t think this was going to be easy, did you?
It was mile 14 of the 2019 Richmond Marathon and those were the words of my father, an experienced endurance athlete, Boston Marathon veteran, and retired U.S. Army sergeant major, as he jogged alongside me for encouragement.
My answer, through labored breaths, was no.
No, I didn’t.
But I had always hoped it would be worth it.
Six months earlier, I had this crazy, wild idea to finally reach for and cross off a bucket list item that had long lingered on my heart.
Cross the finish line of a full marathon. All 26.2 miles of it.
It was a deeply personal mission, one tied to health challenges I’d overcome and to an internal drive to prove to myself that I could. That I was worthy. That I was enough.
What I hadn’t expected were the life lessons – more specifically, the major business lessons – that I’d think about along the way.
Every. Single. Step. Of the way.
Setting the Goal
It was June 2019. The humidity along the Outer Banks of North Carolina was low. The sun was high. The breeze was minimal.
It was in this setting – pretty much a perfect summer setting for the south – that I found myself jogging along the famous Highway 12 on Hatteras Island.
I felt good. Really good. The best I’d felt in years, since learning I was living with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, in fact.
I had set out to do three or so miles. I ended up doing five.
Why? Because it felt right.
It was in that moment – right about mile four – that the thought crossed my mind.
I could do a marathon. Right?
If I set my mind to it, I could do it. Right?
Less than 24-hours later I was registered for the Richmond Marathon, set to take place in November 2019.
Funny thing, looking back, is that starting Consociate Media happened in much the same way.
People need help telling stories. Right? Businesses can use help making positive impact on the world. Right? Those were the thoughts in 2012, just days before registering Consociate Media, LLC as an official business entity in Virginia.
You get inspired in life, and in business, and take the leap. That’s part of the magic.
Making the Plan
Registering for a marathon is one thing. Training to complete it is another.
I knew from friends and family it’s a dedication. It takes hours upon hours of time.
Good thing Google exists, eh?
Type in “marathon training” in any search engine and you’re likely to get a plethora of results ranging from experienced endurance athletes sharing their secrets to professional coaches hoping to sell you on their services.
I decided to use one of the free versions.
I downloaded the plan, set up a special event in my calendar to track my training schedule and set out to train.
It wasn’t long before life – mom-hood, wife-hood and business – got in the way of that marathon training plan I pieced together on my own.
When you run a business, your business comes first. When you’re a mother and a wife, your family comes even before that.
Before I knew it, I was days – even weeks – behind schedule. I questioned if I could do this. If I should do this. If I was capable of doing this.
Having already told the world about this crazy idea, I would be embarrassed to back out now, I thought then.
So what do you do when you need help? What do you do when you realize you can’t go at it alone.
I did the same thing I did in our business.
I reached out for professional support.
Get the Coaching
I wasn’t ready to give up. Although, admittedly, I thought I should.
But I had one more Hail Mary waiting for me inside.
What if I reached out to a coach? What if I got help?
Not only could you buy her marathon training plans – plans built to fold into your life, recognizing that marathon training has to happen alongside work, love and family – but you could also hire her to develop a personalized training plan built around your specific life.
You could get her to connect with you. To hold you accountable. To train you.
I bought in, first with a pre-made training plan she developed and then with a personalized coaching plan.
She called it up-leveling.
She was there to remind me to run. She was there to remind me that no matter how many miles you still had to go, you’ve already logged many on the road. And she was there to hold me accountable.
Most importantly, when things didn’t go as planned, she was there to alter course. Just because something doesn’t go the way you hope doesn’t mean it’s not worth going after again. Sometimes it just means you have to adjust the plan.
In many ways, I could relate to this. It’s what we do for a living, too, at Consociate Media. We set people on a path. We develop their stories. We help tell them. We adjust when the story moves in a new direction. And we show them the impact of the investment they made.
Had I trained enough? Can I really do this? Should I do this? What if I fail?
I’m pretty sure I’m going to fail.
What will that say about me? Does that mean something about me as a person?
Those, and so much more, were the thoughts running through my head in the 24-hours leading up to race day.
I had failed many times before. In nearly 10 years in business, we hadn’t gotten everything right. But that never stopped us before. In fact, we reflected on what went wrong, adjusted and kept moving forward.
This marathon…felt different.
I was a ball of nervous energy the day before. Ask any of my business partners. They’ll tell you.
I was already this far in. No turning back now. It was go time.
Somehow, the nervous energy faded away at the race starting line of the Richmond Marathon.
There was literally no turning back. I was in the wave, I was ready to run, I was ready to see if I could do this. I was committed. Not to mention, my 9-year-old son was watching. What would he think if I quit now, after forcing him out of bed on a weekend morning to drive over an hour to stand in the cold to watch his momma run?
The race started, and I started moving.
I can do this, I told myself.
Let me just catch my stride.
My goal was to finish in a certain time, but somehow I got caught up with a faster running group. I felt ok. The adrenaline of the race day was pumping through my veins, and for nearly 13 miles, I kept up, hanging with the big dogs.
Or at least I thought.
You see, being new to marathons, I wasn’t ready to hang with the big dogs. I fell off from the group. I needed more experience. I needed more time. I needed more of something.
I needed a partner.
My dad was that partner on the marathon. He elected to delay a family trip with my brother to be on the course with me. In those moments when I was falling off the pace line, he was there to remind me that…he was there. This was my race to finish. I needed to do it in my speed. To race myself. To do it for all the reasons I had set out to do it.
In other words, he was reminding me that I didn’t need to look to others to lead the way, I needed to look within to lead myself, and stay true to my passion. To follow my why.
Consociate Media started out as a one-woman firm. Today it’s made up of five partners. Five people running their own races in life, all after the same finish line (more on that later), and all committed to the same goal.
Hitting the Wall
The Google machine will tell you straight up, somewhere around mile 20 (for me it was mile 18) you hit a wall in a marathon. Your brain starts competing with your body. You wonder why in the world you chose to do this.
You’re on the course. You know rationally that you can do this, but you don’t think you can.
So what then?
For me, I cried. Little, tiny tears of fear that I couldn’t do what I set out to do.
There were other moments in my life I’d felt the same way.
Like those early days of the company when I was pulling 18-hour days. Working to recruit new clients, while also working for current clients.
Did I think it would be easy? No.
But you push through anyway. You dig deep. You bring out your inner hustler.
You suck down a packet of pure Vermont maple syrup for energy. You visualize your son waiting for you at the finish line. And you put one foot in front of the other as the miles melt away.
When You Know You Can
Just as there is a wall around the 20-mile mark, there is a similarly illustrative breakthrough at the 23 or so mile mark.
It’s the moment when you can see the finish line.
It’s the moment when you know you will cross it.
It’s the moment when your heart tells your head, which sends a message to your legs and feet, that nothing is left to stand in your way.
It’s a spiritual flow.
It’s a moment when you know – you just know – that you are in the right place at the right time doing the very right thing.
It’s still not easy. Nothing worth doing is.
The Finish Line
My father told me there are two kinds of first-time marathon finishers. The ones who are one and done, and those who immediately sign up for the second.
I fell somewhere in between.
I crossed that Richmond Marathon finish line at just over six hours.
Tears streamed down my face as the race crew put a finisher medal around my neck and gave me a baseball cap signifying my personal accomplishment.
And then my 9-year-old son said six little words to me.
“Mom, I’m so proud of you.”
That’s when I realized there was really no finish line.
Just like in business.
We set goals. We work toward them. We crush them – and learn lessons along the way.
Then we set new goals. Sign up for new races. Look to accomplish a new personal record.