Finding the I in Team

Ragg Mopps – the whole team at the finish line.

Let’s just say I had my doubts going into my first RAGNAR relay.

The RAGNAR concept is this: Twelve people divided into two vans embark on a relay race. With one runner on the course all the time, they traverse 200 or so miles to the finish line. There are also ultra-runner teams who choose to run the same course with six people. In our case, the starting point was Saratoga Springs, NY and the finish line a mere 193.1 miles away at the Lake Placid Horse Show grounds.

Van 1 is Tracey, Rory, Jeff M, Jeff L, Josh, and me

Months ago, a co-worker, Allison, asked me if I had ever run a RAGNAR race, and would I ever consider one if the opportunity arose. No, I had not, and of course I’d consider any endurance event. A few days later an email arrived from Allison saying her RAGNAR team was a few runners short and would I like to join the team.

I’m in.

Then I read up on it.

Everything about the RAGNAR experience seemed awesome. Smiling people in team uniforms, costumes, and decorated vans running through communities around the clock, living out of a van and catching rest and food when they can. I’d never run in the wee hours of the morning, so the prospect of running under a clear, star-filled Adirondack sky at 3:45 am appealed to me.

But then it hit me. For the first time ever I would have to share something that, until now, had been a complete solo effort. Hmmm…

My support ‘team’ has always been with me over the long course of my endurance career – either on the sidelines cheering or somewhere else in the race heading for a finish line reunion. But, when I race, I race alone with my own thoughts at my own pace. I’d never had to rely, or be relied upon. Sharing something so personal felt odd. I wasn’t sure I’d like it.

In the weeks leading up to the race, several other runners were unable to toe the line, so I reached out to some gym mates and found myself surrounded by four friends in our van, with one runner we didn’t know. Rory, Tracey, Jeff L. and Jeff M., all members of CrossFit MidHudson, agreed to step into the unknown with me. Josh, who we would soon meet, was also a first-timer.

This would certainly be interesting.

From the very beginning we clicked, each of us making room for the others and finding room for themselves in our new vaniverse. We reveled in the weirdness of it all, and Josh fit right in.

Then, after a leg or two, Jeff L. realized we were ahead of schedule. Prior to the race, each team member submitted an estimated pace for the race, so each leg was theoretically timed in order for us to estimate when we would arrive at the checkpoints. Jeff L. pointed out we were beating our estimates.

That’s all it took. We were no longer running for ourselves, but for the team.

My first leg was 6.3 miles, which I dispatched faster than I had ever run that distance. Over the course of the ensuing 30 hours, we hung out with friends, laughed a whole lot, supported and encouraged each other, and, through our running, inspired each other to reach deeper, feel better, and run faster.

We celebrated every victory we could find – passing runners and other vans, never walking, shaving more and more time off our estimates, and remembering which band recorded that 90’s song. On occasion we’d stop at check points which, overnight, looked like Reebok-sponsored refugee camps. And, on occasion we’d meet up with our other teammates to commiserate and celebrate.

We were relying on each other, and it was okay.

It was at 3:45 am Saturday morning on my last leg when I realized I was running a long, straight stretch of paved darkness under a clear, star-filled Adirondack sky. It was beautiful. And I was alone…with friends.

In that moment I realized the brilliance of the RAGNAR concept; if you surround yourself with the right people, you just might find the I in ‘team.’

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To get there, be there

imageAn amazing outpouring of physical skill and mental toughness moved Camille Leblanc-Bazinet into the title of 2014’s fittest woman on earth, but it was her words that moved me.

When asked what was behind such a spectacular performance, Camille said for the past year every day at the box was her CrossFit Games day. Every workout was do or die; total, complete engagement.

I heard the seriousness and focus in her voice and like any athlete or team that rises to the top, she exuded a magical familiarity through her performance; as if she had been there before.

Because, she had.

Camille won the 2014 Games long before her coronation this past July, her victory rooted in hours of training at her box in Quebec where every lift counted, and every mistake analyzed. Camille cut through the morass of tips and advice and nailed it – to succeed, first be present in training.

How often do we read an advice article (Five things you’re doing wrong…) and fail at implementation? Perhaps our nosedive is less about the advice and more about distraction. At work or play, autopilot limits us every time.

Last night at the box I took Camille’s advice. I hardly consider myself a slacker, but every so often I’m prone like most to lose some focus during my workout.

Not last night.

From my warmup to the last ring dip in my WOD (Workout Of the Day,) I lasered in on form and focus, trying to smooth out the rough edges, slow to explosive, being present in each of my lifts. If I became distracted, I walked away to regain my center.

The result was fantastic. Complete engagement enabled me to feel my form failing, and in turn when it was spot on. It was clearer to me what was wrong and right about my lifts.

But, even more importantly, after the WOD I was spent. The intensity of the workout was off the charts; a welcome feeling because workout time is precious to me. It hurt like I had been in a competition, and I liked it.

This was such a successful experiment I thought I’d duplicate it at work. There’s this pile of paper on my desk representing unfinished business. I vowed to start at the top and focus uninterrupted time on the issue represented by each document. In an hour’s time, the top five documents were gone; five items off my stagnant, vertical to-do list.

We have to deal with distractions every minute of every day. Take away external disturbances and we’ll create our own, from the voice telling us we’re messing up to the one telling us we’re the next big thing. At work or play, distractions dilute our focus, slow us down, drain our energy.

The real work before the work is giving something (or, frankly, someone) we care about our absolute and complete attention. Only when we’re fully present can we put all our knowledge, tips, experience, and advice to work for us. Set your sites on an hour a day and work from there.

Thanks, Camille!

Common ground

story

One of the joys of being an athlete is telling stories.

From the everyday lessons and hilarious moments during training to epic fails and victories at races, as athletes we’re always ready to shoot the breeze about our experiences and listen to others recount their greatest hits.

These shared experiences render our differences irrelevant. Because of my athletic pursuits I’ve forged strong connections with people I would never have otherwise known. Had we met under different circumstances, we would never have connected on such a meaningful level.

Perhaps we would have been at odds on most issues and written each other off.

Endurance sports have taken me to so many venues where inevitably I meet people who share my passion. Facebook then enables us to look beyond the connection and realize the differences. Yet, our connection remains as long as there’s that passion and new stories to tell.

My recent dive into Crossfit has placed me among an amazing group of people who could be my sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, or even, dare I say, a grandkid or two.Yet, whether we’re in or out of the Box, our common love of CF breaks down generational walls, making room for everything truly important, like our distaste for burpees and thrusters.

The only time we ever diverge is when the rare 80’s tune is played to my obvious delight. \m/!

So, why doesn’t this work in the workplace? Too often factions form, controversy brews, and trouble breaks out.

This is the litmus test for shared passion and great team building.

When diverging personalities come together without a common ground, there’s potential for disaster. That’s when leaders need to act quickly to find a connection between people to build on. It can be done, but it takes hard work.

Some time ago I took over a team with a number of vacancies. Instead of merely filling these positions I created an overall strategy for building a stronger team that would connect on a deeper level than their jobs. When the team was assembled, I could tell it was successful from the outset. Lunch gatherings were as hilarious as they were instructive, conversations abounded, and the brainstorming fed a collective creativity that produced amazing ideas.

I built a team with the right people whose connection transcended the work we were doing.

Let’s face it, why would we spend our free time working out with or partying with people we didn’t connect with? Yet, so many people spend the better part of their week with strangers, and the less we have in common with them the harder it is.

As leaders it’s our responsibility to build teams, which means we must bring passion and connection into the picture before we do anything else. People will ignore a whole lot of differences between them when they are connected meaningfully. If all they have are their differences, then nature will take its course.

Step one is getting to know your people and writing down their traits, hobbies, and activities. Perhaps you could begin something extracurricular under the umbrella of your wellness program or as a conscious team building exercise. This doesn’t have to happen in secret. Your colleagues may even appreciate the effort and help out.

You must be a catalyst for change at work by drilling into what makes your people happy and resetting your team’s course, reminding them about their common passions. Along with this being great for business, it makes of one heck of a fun place to work.