I am a runner. I began running in 2008 with the simple goal of improving my cardiovascular health, and I unexpectedly fell in love with it. 15 years, 15,693 miles and 12 marathons later I am comfortable declaring myself a runner.
Any serious marathoner will tell you the ultimate goal is to run Boston. You must qualify for Boston and it’s so competitive that every few years they lower the qualifying times (meaning you must get faster). I have spent more than a decade pursuing this goal. One silver lining of the pandemic is it gave me the first opportunity in many years to seriously train.
In April 2021 I ran 3:26:35 – one and a half minutes shy of qualifying and 2 seconds short of my personal record (PR) at Marine Corps in 2011. I was excited to have made so much progress and frustrated to come so close and still fall short. Following the race, my miracle chiropractor and unofficial running coach Dr. Aleck Wong met me for coffee to debrief and share some ideas.
After talking through some training techniques and smaller tips, he finally went for the feedback he knew I didn’t want to hear. “Have you considered going back to normal shoes?”
This bears some explanation. For a decade I’ve been running in “barefoot” shoes – those crazy-looking toe shoes made by Vibram. They are not for everyone, but I love them, and I’m convinced they have played a major part in my ability to stay injury-free. They are a part of my running identity. I’m not just “Josh the Runner.” I’m “Josh the Crazy Toe-Shoe Runner.”
So, when Dr. Wong suggested abandoning my toe shoes, all my defenses went up. I tried to keep an open mind. He started explaining the carbon plate technology they are using in elite racing shoes these days, pioneered by Nike, and how much faster runners wearing those shoes are. He mentioned they have an 85% energy return. At this point, my ears shut off. I know he said some more things, but my brain was processing this data point. My shoes have literally no cushioning. Does that mean they have 0% energy return? 85% energy return sounds like an awful lot. Nearly every elite athlete on the planet used these shoes. Maybe it was time to pull my head out of the sand. I was convinced. I bought a pair of Nike Alphafly’s the following week (hereinafter known as the Super Shoes).
Anyone who knows me knows how much I love data. I did time trials with my toe shoes, a “normal” pair of Nikes and with the Super Shoes. Running 400-meter repeats on a track, my mile pace was 15 seconds faster in the Super Shoes than the other shoes.
Oh, it’s on.
It wasn’t as simple as just changing my shoes. After 10 years in barefoot shoes, my feet could only handle a mile in a traditional running shoe before they hurt. I spent over a month gradually acclimating my feet to normal shoes. The first time I did a long run in the Super Shoes, I got a half-dollar-sized blister on the bottom of my foot. I had to relearn mechanics and step out of my comfort zone. To make a long story short, it paid off. In October 2021, I shattered my PR by more than 6 minutes and secured my spot at Boston. This April I will finally fulfill that dream.
A good friend of mine pointed out the parallel between my Super Shoes and Leadership Coaching. After years of training, I had plateaued. I was making incremental improvements, but I needed a breakthrough. It wasn’t until I opened my mind up to new possibilities and took advantage of the best technology available that I finally reached the level of performance I was striving for. What stage are you at on your leadership journey? When was the last time you surveyed everything available to see how you could stretch and grow? Switching to the Super Shoes pushed me out of my comfort zone and gave me breakthrough results. Coaching can do the same for you as a leader. If you’re ready for some Leadership Super Shoes, schedule some time to connect.
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