5 Success Lessons I Learned From Running Ultramarathons

UPDATED: May 22, 2023
PUBLISHED: January 28, 2017

When I first started running, I had no idea that I would eventually find so much joy in running ultramarathons and pushing my body beyond limits I had never experienced before. I also had no idea how much of an influence my training would have on my business skills, as well as on my role as a CEO, and relatedly how running improved my overall productivity.

Related: 5 Things Jogging Taught Me About Success

Here are some of the success lessons that I learned along the way:

1. Be consistent.

Although I’m putting this at the very top of my list, it is something I actually discovered rather late in my training (actually after having run my first ultra): Whatever you do, you need to do it consistently. This is the foundation, and it has become a crucial basic ingredient in terms of everything else that I’ve learned in this regard.

Running a few intervals or doing long runs every once in a while won’t really improve your fitness (for all non-runners, these are the parts of your training that really make you sweat), and likewise stretching once won’t improve your flexibility. You need to do these things as a consistent part of your training, again and again.

I’ve found that it is very similar in the business world: To achieve extraordinary results and be successful, you need to put in the work on a very consistent basis, almost to the point that improvement itself becomes a habit for you. Stop wasting your time with one-off efforts to change things all at once, and instead focus on weekly or maybe even daily accomplishments that will deliver consistent improvement.

2. Do the right work at the right time.

The simple act of doing work is actually pretty easy—the same is true for running. When I first started training, I basically just put on my running shoes and ran. Speed, distance and elevation gain were more or less a product of my mood and motivation on that day. While I did improve at the beginning of my training, I soon hit a wall where improvement became almost nonexistent. I only started to improve again when I started to follow a training plan and developed a better understanding of what I was actually trying to achieve.

It’s the same in your professional life: Just doing work won’t get you very far. It is doing the right work at the right time that will propel you toward success and the achievement of your goals. Create a daily list of the things you need to do that day and arrange it according to importance and overall benefit in terms of moving you forward. Moreover, get started with tasks on that list first thing in the morning. Once you have checked off the top five items, you can start to combine the other tasks on your list with whatever comes up as part of your workday.

3. Rest days boost your workday efficiency.

Rest days are a must if you want to improve your running form, and also if you want to improve consistently. In the world of sports and fitness, the need for rest and time off is well-known. Every article on improving your race time warns about the dangers of overtraining or going into a race tired.

Yet for some reason in the business world, working late, working on weekends and being online 24/7 seems like the right thing to do. Working without sufficient rest might work for a while, but it won’t take you very far in the long run. You will become tired, you will lose your creativity and your productivity will certainly fall. This is true in the business world just as it is in the world of fitness. Stop trying to be superhuman all the time and enjoy some well-deserved rest; you’ll end up being more productive and creative—more successful—than before.

4. Challenges are an integral part of getting better.

During my first ultramarathon, I reached a point where I thought I just could not take another step. I sat down on the side of the dusty trail and was ready to throw in the towel. The only problem was that I was in the middle of nowhere, there was no mobile phone reception and there were no roads even remotely nearby. Anxiety almost got the better of me when another racer came by who stopped and asked me how I was doing. When I told him that I was ready to drop out of the race, he replied that this was his 19th time doing the race and he came to the exact same conclusion almost every time. But he learned to get through the rough times and was able to finish. He offered me his hand, pulled me up and told me to keep going. I was so bewildered and inspired that I just did what he told me to do: I kept running and I finished the race.

This moment is one of my top inspirations whenever I encounter difficulties in my role as a CEO. I learned to not only deal with challenges in a much more productive way, but now I actually find inspiration in them. It might sound strange, but for me challenges offer reinsurance that I am doing something new, something big, something out of the ordinary. So next time you find yourself facing an obstacle, keep going and then give yourself a pat on the back. Why? Because chances are that you are on the way to achieving something great.

5. Surround yourself with people who inspire you and keep you moving forward.

Training for an ultramarathon can be a pretty lonely experience. You spend most of your time running through the woods or scrambling up mountains, accompanied only by your own thoughts and inner dialogue. While I did really enjoy this time on the trails, I also learned that you can become trapped within your own limits without realizing it. This dawned on me when I started doing some of my workouts at the local running track. All of a sudden I was able to compare my speed and endurance with other runners, and I was baffled by how fast some people can actually run. It’s not that I didn’t read about fast runners or see their video clips online, but that’s a very different thing from going full out and being passed by other runners who seemed to not be struggling at all. Now I love doing my workout on the track because it helps me to surpass my own limits, and also to gain inspiration to train harder and at the same time improve my pace.

Relatedly, whenever you have the chance to meet someone successful or learn something from your competition, make it count. Stop being intimidated and instead be inspired. Use their stories as encouragement in terms of questioning your own limits. Chances are good that you will be able to think bigger, be bolder and go further than ever before.

Related: You Can Do Anything

Michael Winterheller

Michael Winterheller earned his master’s degrees in business and management in Austria and Sweden. After several years of working in the software industry, he founded his own company, ONEBYTEZERO, to develop the habit and goal tracking app Goalify. He created Goalify because he noticed how often people fail in reaching their goals simply because they do not follow up with their goals in a consistent and successful effort. Michael believes that success is not one giant leap but rather the continued realization of many small, consistently taken steps. Besides business he has a love for running and everything outdoors.