Finishing an Ironman!

What can doing an Ironman teach you about Networking?

An Ironman isn’t something that most people are ever going to do.

There aren’t firm stats on the actual number, but about 100,000 people per year compete in one of the 51 events globally. That number is growing – only 15 competitors started the first ever Ironman in 1978 – so as an approximate, 1 million people worldwide have completed an Ironman. That’s 0.0125% of the global population.

Why? The most obvious explanation is that an Ironman is very tough to complete. To do so involves doing a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run (yes, a marathon) – and you have to do it within 17 hours or it’s counted as a DNF. Did not finish.

I believe that the human body is an amazing thing – it is capable of far more than you might imagine. But it’s our minds that are the limiting factor. Put your mind to it – and you’ll achieve everything you want. Like the old saying goes – if you believe you can do it, or believe you can’t – you’re absolutely right.

Now don’t worry – I’m not suggesting that you need to immediately enroll in the next available Ironman event. But having become part of the 0.0125%, there are a number of things that I learned during my experience that can be applied elsewhere. And, as I love to help people network more effectively, I’m going to apply them to networking.

1. Know Why you want to do it

There are plenty of people far more intelligent than me that have talked about starting with why. When any task becomes hard, remembering why you wanted to achieve it in the first place is very powerful.

As mentioned above, a big part of completing an Ironman is in the mind. There were plenty of times on the day where I had to say to myself – ‘just keep moving forward, one step after another’. It was at these times that thinking back to why I wanted to achieve the Ironman made a big difference.

I wanted to do an Ironman because it was the ultimate triathlon. I wanted to be able to say that I’d done something that only 0.0125% of the population had done. I wanted to hear ‘Charlie Lawson, you are an IRONMAN!’ boomed out as I crossed the line.

When it comes to networking – why do you do it? Presumably, it’s because you want to grow your business to support your family. So when thinking ‘do I bother going to that networking event?’, or ‘is it worth my time to have a coffee with so and so?’ – remember why you’re doing it. It won’t always be obvious in the moment, so think back to the bigger picture of why.

2. Put the time in

The end goal in an Ironman is to get that medal round your neck. The end goal of networking is to bring in referrals to your business.

In an Ironman, you are effectively training to run a marathon. But not just any marathon. This marathon needs to be done after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles. Unfortunately, there is just no substitute for putting the time in to train – be that in the water, on the bike, or on your feet.

In networking, the referrals aren’t just going to come without any effort. Referrals come from great relationships, and they take time to develop. Time spent meeting people, getting to know them, helping them out. There’s no short cut!

3. Seek expert help

While I knew the basics of how to swim, bike and run before I started training, I absolutely needed help to put them all together to do an Ironman.

For example, I could only really swim a couple of lengths of a swimming pool without having to stop to take a breather. How on earth would I be able to swim 2.4 miles in the sea if I could only do that? So, swimming lessons it was – and just by changing small parts of my technique, I became able to swim for longer and longer. Not particularly fast… but hey, there’s always another Ironman event to try to go faster…

When it came to the run, I actually had to re-learn how to run so that I didn’t damage my knees.

How many people have you met networking that are clearly not very sure how do to it? People hard-selling to you? People giving you their business card when you don’t want it? People boring you senseless when talking to you? People clearly not getting any referrals?

Or maybe those questions apply to you… If so, seek expert help to get better results.

4. Go with the flow when things don’t go to plan

Let’s face it, in life – things will go wrong. They certainly do on an Ironman, and they also do in networking.

Did I start the swim thinking I was going to get stung by jellyfish? No. Had I planned for it to be quite as hot as it was during the bike ride (30°+)? No. Had I realised that by the middle of the run I wouldn’t be able to keep my nutrition down and so was running even lower on energy than expected? No.

With all these issues, I had to amend and adapt my plans as I went along. And that’s what you’ll need to think about when networking. Will you always be 100% prepared when an opportunity to meet someone comes along? Will you make a mess of a presentation to a networking group?

These things will happen – you’ve just got to go with the flow in the moment, and learn from them so that the outcome is different next time round.

5. Enjoy it

I trained for nearly 3 years to do my Ironman. That wasn’t how it was supposed to be – Covid and all that – but by the time the race came round, I’d been thinking about it a lot.

The pressure was on to get through it and get it done well – but the day before the event, I realised something. I had applied to do the Ironman in the first place because I wanted to.

So why put all the pressure on? – all I really needed to do was enjoy it.

At times on the course (particularly on the run miles 14-24) it was really tough. But as I reached the end, with the famous red carpet, I was on a such a high. You have to enjoy what you’re doing.

Networking is the same. I know we do it mainly for a professional purpose – but if we don’t have some fun with the people that we meet and build relationships with – honestly, what’s the point?

Have some fun, and you know what – the friendships that inevitably form will probably lead to even more opportunities down the line.