DIARY: Relay season

After the Wicklow Road Championships, my focus shifted to preparing for a relay double: naturally the Wicklow Way Relay (long an annual favourite) and then – three weeks later – Dessie Shorten’s new ‘The Relay’ over similar territory. I'm in particular looking forward to the latter as I look to be running one of the two first legs - the first time I'll be running on anger on the new Avonmore Way.

My training had started very strong for the year with the expected consistent week by week improvements. Since the birth of baby Ada things have been a bit more erratic. Still much better than recent years but the slightly increase in inconsistency has whittled away some of the basic endurance. Again this is normal. I ran the Rathnew 5 km, 7 days after the Wicklow 5 km Championship, thinking I could recoup another step back towards my best of 17:29. Unfortunately, I didn’t factor in that it was a very rough course. We made a comfortably fast start and things were looking well until the big hill back into Rathnew during the 4th kilometre. The small banks and many bends of the trail around the hurling pitch, meant I was spent by the time we entered the last 400 m around the GAA pitch and could do nothing to hold off club mate Angus Tyner. In the end I had to chuck it down as a hard workout.

The Danes arrive - twice

Since then I’ve been just trying to maintain what I got in the tank and will focus on building more once ‘The Relay’ is done. I had a very welcome family visit last week – with the namegiving ceremonies and party for Ada and Cillian in our home as the highlight – and decided to ditch running for six days as time with my Danish family is so precious now that I only see them about twice a year. This is obviously something you don’t give much thought when you’re younger but with the untimely death of my mother in 2015, you become more aware.

I felt the break when cranking out a tough hill run on Friday as the body struggled to shake that off. All in all, I’ll welcome a break from racing and a return to training come June. Part of this training will be the upcoming holiday I’m organising together with Torben Dahl through our joint venture ‘Trailløbsferie’ (Training Running Holidays). We have 14 Danes coming over to run on the trails of Wicklow for 4 days as part of holiday package. I expect a great 4 days of running and look forward to showing off my adopted home to my countrymen and to bring some more business to my adopted county.

Living the lifestyle business?

On the topic of entrepreneurship, I often get asked how the new ‘lifestyle business’ is working out. What I tell people is this: there’s no such thing if you’re a parent. When you think of being an entrepreneur I have a feeling that many imagine spending a few days of interesting work every day and then having lots of time for personal projects. Work is done at a leisurely pace preferably in a chic cafĂ© with artisan coffee served by hipsters. Reality is a bit different – at least if you have family: first, in my experience you work harder as an entrepreneur as an employee because you have too. When you have a bad day, you don’t make any money and when you’re on holidays or sick you make no money. If you take your foot 10% off the throttle, you don’t need to wait long to see a decrease in regular revenue. Because coaching is now a digitalised business -as well as in person - I still spend significant amount of time in my office, working on Excel sheets, analysing data and answering emails or taking Skype or WhatsApp phone calls. This is our reality today but at least it's my home office which I setup to be more 'human friendly' than the average office - it has grounding equipment, natural light bulbs, UV light, blue-light blocking screens and fresh air from the open window. I try to follow the general guideline of getting into the sun 5 minutes for every hour spend in the office and I estimate I have reduced my time sitting at a desk from 8-10 hours to 3-4 hours per day which is still a massive benefit to my long-term health and well-being.

That’s all right, as money was never a driving force in my change of career (I’d have stayed in IT if it was, the going rate for a Business Architect is well above that of even the best running coach in the world). If you’re young and not tied down, you can probably do the ‘lifestyle business thing’. As a parent, you are in a set routine. Children wake at certain times and need to be put to bed at certain times. They need to be fed at certain times and they need to be looked after by either Aoife or I. So, everything is planned and every day follows largely the same schema: we wake, I feed Cillian, Aoife feeds Ada. Aoife goes running while I watch the two of them and then I try to be in the office working at 10 am. Around midday I do my run and then have lunch. Then I try to work until 6 pm to get in enough hours to get things done. I try my best not to let it go beyond that so I can cook the dinner, do any garden work necessary and be ready to put Cillian to bed. This routine has put an end to the regular evening work I would have done over the past 5 years.

Of course, this phase is temporary. Children get easier as they get older – at least in respect of dependency. But if you’re out there thinking of a ‘lifestyle business’, then just be warned that you won’t be getting that if you have young children. Your life is not going to be fundamentally different from when you were employed and you may well work harder for less pay.

The benefits

But it’s not all doom and gloom: it’s a great feeling to be the master of your own destiny and who doesn’t enjoy not having a boss who tells you what to do. Ironically, you do become your own boss - for better and worse and your clients are also in a certain sense 'your boss' because we all live to serve and the better we are at serving others, the more successful we become (at least that would be the case if we lived in a society that didn't reward profiteering at the expense of others). 

A runner I coach asked me last year ‘why did you get out of your old job’ and I told him ‘I had actually forgotten but you remind me – it was because things change so slowly in large organisations that often you deal with the same problems a decade on from when you first encountered them. So, you feel like you never make a real change on the world. Whatever you want to do you have to convince ten stakeholders and inertia does the rest.” As an entrepreneur, at least things are simple: if I want to try something or change something in the way we work, I just do it. A lot of big organisations could benefit from this – and so could runners – stop over-analysing and debating what to do and just try it out. The results will speak for themselves. Even if it fails, you learn something much more valuable than allowing the status quo to maintain itself. 

Secondly, I no longer commute which is a huge benefit especially with family. There's few greater wastes of precious human resources than the commuting that goes on at the moment and it's something we need to address urgently as a society. 

So life is not so different and the Wicklow Way will roll in again in May as usual. Two weeks later my brainchild - the Lap of the Gap Marathon - rolls into Laragh/Glendalough - a massive undertaking for our small club but one I hope will be very rewarding over time. It's a unique route - the highest road marathon in Ireland - and I'd like to see it grow very old. If it grows older than me, more the better.