Change is not a single event, it’s a marathon, and takes effort over time. One of my favorite stories from the world of marathon running is the story of Paul Pilkington winning the 1994 Los Angeles Marathon. Paul’s story highlights all five areas of the change process well. Also, it allows me to geek out on running AND change, two things I think are cool to think about.
In 1994, Paul was not considered an elite marathoner, but he was fast enough to get paid for being the marathon’s “rabbit” – a person who sets the pace for the lead pack, to ensure a time that’s competitive with other major marathons around the world. It keeps the elite runners from playing a slow cat-and-mouse game waiting to see who will go take the lead, and make the first risky move. The rabbit is paid contingent on getting to the the 15.5 mile (25 km) marker at a certain pace. Paul’s paycheck for doing this was $3000. Not bad for a little over an hour’s work.
Phase one of the change process: Not thinking about change. When Paul approached the starting line, he was assuming he’d go out and run that 15.5 miles and then let the lead pack take over for the most difficult part of the race (the end), while Paul could step off the course and collect his $3000. It was a small goal, but a good goal, realistic, and attainable given his training. For a guy who is a part-time professional athlete, it’s not a bad payday. He wasn’t thinking about winning the race, although there was nothing in the rules to say he wasn’t allowed to win. But winning the race wasn’t on his mind. He wasn’t thinking about changing his goal.
Phase two of the change process: Thinking about change. We think about change before we make a decision (unless it is an external change, something that happens TO us, such as getting rear-ended in a car accident. In such a case, the Action and the Thinking about Change phases are inverted). As Paul ran along the course that day, he noticed that the lead pack did not keep up with his pace. In fact, they fell 2 minutes behind, over a kilometer. They couldn’t even see him anymore! For his part, Paul recognized that he was feeling particularly energetic, and began to think about running the race to its completion. If nobody caught up with him, he would win prize money of $27,000 USD, plus a new car. And, he’d keep the Rabbit fee, too. He began to think about changing his goal.
Phase three: Decision and planning. Paul knew that if he gave it a go, he would have to plan carefully to pace himself over the final 10.7 miles of the course. A two-minute lead can evaporate if you don’t have enough gas in the tank. At some point in his thinking process, he decided to go for it, and no doubt began planning for what his average speed per mile would be. (As it turned out, the second place finisher would gain about 13 seconds per mile on Paul over that last 10 miles, really speeding up at the same time as Paul’s pace slowed, but Paul’s 2 minute lead would prove to be enough, as you’ve probably guessed.)
Phase four of the change process: Action. You might say Paul was already acting … but after deciding and planning to change his goal that day, going for a paycheck 10x greater, so at mile 15.5 he took Action and kept running.
Phase five: Maintain. Marathon winners and losers are not decided in the first mile, or five miles. To be successful, you have to be able to keep it going. Two important factors from Paul’s 1994 LA Marathon win: first, I am sure that the crowds along the way began to cheer him more and more. As your energy fades, you need someone to encourage you. But at the same time, you do have to battle your mind every step of the way. When things aren’t easy, your brain is wired to tell you to quit. Phase 5 is the hardest phase if your change is going to be successful. Paul Pilkington was already in his 30s when he ran this race. He hadn’t won a marathon at all in 4 years, not even a minor, regional race, let alone a major, USA Track and Field Marathon Championship! Paul inspires me and reminds me that no matter what the odds, no matter who the competition may be, there’s always an opening for us to make 10x more if we’ve got the guts. Paul won the race over the second place finisher by 39 seconds… which is only an average of 1.5 seconds per mile over the entire course, but it was far enough that the second place finisher was surprised to find out he wasn’t the winner, when he crossed the finish line! The nice thing about being an underdog is that nobody’s gunning for you. See it as an opportunity. You can make 10x more, if you have the guts and stamina.
Oh, and if you’re thinking to yourself, “If this guy won it, he must actually be an elite runner, not an underdog,” just take note of that white glove on Paul’s left hand in the photo below. No, it’s not a Michael Jackson-esque fashion statement: Paul wore that glove to hold his inhaler in it, because he suffers from asthma, a rather difficult thing to manage when you’re running 42 km in only 2 hours and 12 minutes.
Watch for my next blog, on how a coach can help you be successful in each of the five stages of the change process.