It’s the Training, Not the Destination: The Endurance Sport of Online Marketing

I’m currently training for an Ironman. It’s not my first time tackling the distance–I completed my first Ironman in 2010, and have been involved in endurance sports since 2006. Whenever a non-triathlete or someone who isn’t familiar with the sport hears that I’m planning to race in an Ironman this August, the response is generally the same: “Wow, I can’t imagine doing all of that in one day!” And every time I hear that, I respond the same: “The Ironman is the easy part; it’s the training that’s tough.”

It may be weird to think that swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running 26.2 miles in the same day is “easy,” but it actually is when you factor in the months of grueling training that one must endure in order to get to the start line and have a good shot at finishing. There are times when I don’t want to wake up early and meet my teammates for a cold, soggy run in the Seattle rain. I don’t want to hop on my bike and bust out a four hour workout, then hop right off, slip on my running shoes, and do an hour-long run immediately afterwards. I never want to swim, as it’s my least favorite and weakest discipline of the three. Instead of watching what I eat and trying to lose those last few pounds so I can hit my race weight goal, I want to destroy a plate of greasy nachos and suck down a salted caramel milkshake. I often tire of feeling sore and exhausted. I look at all of the lovely video games I’ve bought and intended to play that are collecting dust on my shelf. I think about how instead of meeting my boyfriend’s family for Easter brunch yesterday, I did a 4 1/2 hour workout at home. And I wonder, with all of these sacrifices I make to my body, my social life, and my free time, if it’s even worth it.

And then I remember that feeling of determination, excitement, and pure bliss I experienced as I spent one long day in August 2010 conquering a distance that not many people are willing to attempt. How my heart actually felt as if it would burst out of my chest from an overload of joy and satisfaction when I crossed the finish line and held up my arms, a dopey grin on my face and the last semblance of moisture my dehydrated body could muster forming in my eyes. Was it all worth it? The months of grueling training, the horrible workouts in rain, freezing mountain snow, scorching desert heat, gusting windstorms, and churning lake water, the moments where I doubted myself and fought off thoughts that involved the words “can’t”? You bet it was.

I had a call with my boss last week about some projects I’m heading. I don’t have a team of bad-asses who work alongside me or a gigantic budget that gives me the freedom to explore different marketing options and see what works best. I work for a small startup that’s still trying to find its footing. My team is me. My budget is paltry. The projects’ success rest largely on my shoulders. It’s a burden I’ve struggled with, and that feeling of doubt swirling around the word “can’t” has crept into my mind more than a few times. As with the Ironman, I think, “What have I gotten myself into? Can I do this all on my own? How do I get through this?”

My boss, himself a strong runner and a fit guy who understands and admires the physical challenges I subject myself to each year, pointed out that endurance sport training is very similar to the work you put in when you’re starting a challenging new project or trying to get an idea off its feet and bring it to fruition. I see the end result of these projects, the success they can bring, but I have to put in the work to get there. With few exceptions, you can’t do an Ironman without putting in the training, just like you can’t have an idea and have it turn to an instant success without the hard work that goes along with it.

Sometimes my job feels mundane. Sometimes it feels exciting. Sometimes I encounter a setback that results in hours of lost work. Sometimes I’ll catch a break and will have something great come from a good opportunity. It’s a mixed bag, and it’s all part of the journey. The road to success is full of potholes and hazards and detours, but if you stay the course and tough it out, you’ll get there. My journey across the finish line in 2010 wasn’t easy–throughout the year, I was tested physically but moreso mentally, and it really challenged me to fight through it and endure every hardship and setback thrown at me. I had to earn that final step across the finish line; otherwise it wouldn’t have felt so damns satisfying. My work journey feels the same way–I’m in the “training” stage, and although it feels incredibly difficult and taxing at times, I know that the effort needs to be put forth if I’m to get to that finish line and reap the rewards.

You’re working on a project and you’re getting frustrated and want to give up. Or maybe you’re thinking of signing up for a marathon but find the distance daunting. Or hell, you want to do a local 5k but doubt you can even run 3.1 miles. Whether it’s a lofty work goal or a personal physical challenge, my advice is the same: you’re stronger than you think. The human body can endure a lot of pain and suffering. It’s quite a powerful machine. The real challenge is your mind, and it can be as weak or as tough as you make it. Online marketing requires a tenacity and a toughness and a stubbornness that some people lack. It’s a competitive industry. To be able to endure and emerge with a successful website or idea that you saw to fruition means long hours, a lot of trial and error, overcoming setbacks and hardships, and moving steadily towards that end goal. A 5k, half marathon, marathon, half Ironman, and Ironman are no different–they’re attainable goals, but you have to be honest and do the work. That finish line is within reach, but only if you do the work to get your ass there.