I am willing to bet that chances are, you do not know this man. He is a professional. He belongs to an elite group of runners. Since November of 2014 – as far back as the stats I was able to pull go – he has been consistent, with results that he can replicate. He is tenacious and relentless. He is someone that can see a vision and is brave enough to act on the vision. Someone who can effect change, make something happen. He is courageous and I would guess optimistic and a bit nuts. He is like many entrepreneurs I know.
How can I claim to know so much about Hillary Too, the Kenyan who won the Miami Marathon this Sunday? The answer is simple: because I have seen the data, I have done some analysis, and because I can make safe projections that lead to valid conclusions based on the traits I know entrepreneurs have. I can even make the case that him and I have something in common, as I will explain. I am also confident that perhaps you can also safely project and extrapolate, and find that you may have, or may be keen to the idea of attempting to achieve some commonality with him as well.
On Thursday night, at exactly 9:09 PM, I got a call from a very good friend, who happens to be the current leader of our – let me call it – band of brothers. In his typical get-to-the-point, rapid-fire style, he calls me loudly by my last name at the other end of the line as he says: “Hold on, let me put Gene on the line, we have to talk to you!” After listening to Gene’s voice, I jumped into one of those: “Whoa, you don’t sound well! What is wrong?” To which he replied in a very uncharacteristic gloomy tone: “Man, I’ve got the flu.”
Given all the horrible news out this flu season, right at that moment, a fast moving train of images, like the ones they say go through your mind when you are going through a near death experience, streamed in a barrage in my head. Images of me washing my hands before touching my face after handshakes, or reaching out for the hand sanitizer in my car’s door pocket if there was no sink around. Suddenly the reel got interrupted: “Triay!, You are in charge! You have to man our table this Sunday! Be there at 6:30 am, 333 South Miami Avenue! Go pick up the box with the stuff at Gene’s house, can you come tonight?” The deluge of images came back, now with me wearing a gas mask and a hazmat suit as Gene hands me the box in his living room…”I’ll come get it on Friday or Saturday, I don’t want to see you tonight.”
For 11 years of its 16 year history, the group I belong to handles the last water & Gatorade station in the marathon route, on mile 25.2 approximately. For the past five or six years I had become the trusted “second in command”. Gene would get there between 6:00 and 6:30 am, set up tables, signage, unpack and begin the process of transforming boxes of energy drink concentrate into hundreds of half-filled Gatorade cups stacked three stories high next to a similar plain water setup. I would arrive second, once the infrastructure was set up, usually to take over the production side with all the high school volunteers that we recruited. I had always been second. This year, I was asked to be first. Downtown Miami, with 21,000 marathon runners this year, plus thousands of onlookers, and thousands of people trying to get there and park, and you in charge of making this station happen – not just arriving second while others are in charge – sounded a bit intimidating.
Without going into the details of my going to bed early, making sure I got up early enough, dragging my son out of bed and picking up additional help on the way, I can estimate that by the time I drove some 6 miles from the breakfast drive-through to the parking spot I was lucky to find downtown, Hillary Too had overcome the first four miles of the marathon from the gun start time at 6:03 am. Well into the race, he was averaging 5 minutes and 20 seconds per mile by the time he came back to regain the 2nd spot he had conquered from the start, having gone down to as low as 4th at one point, and finally getting to the head of the pack at around mile 22. At that time, around 7:30am, I was rallying my troops trying to get them to speed up on building our inventory, which would need to be ready in about an hour. Something happened at around mile 24.8, where Too dropped to 3rd in the pack. Within the half mile before he reached us, he must have been hit at that seminal moment with that feeling that entrepreneurs are faced with sometimes, in which they need to quickly act on their vision, pull on all the resources available, maintain discipline, confidence, and exercise good judgement to give it another shot and try to make it to the front of the pack, with little time or runway left. You see, last year, Hillary Too arrived second in the Miami Marathon, with a time of 2:19:42. That was 87 seconds behind the winner, with the third place winner 19 seconds behind his tail. I saw him pass our mile 25 oasis water station last year, and took the picture with my phone, as I did again this year. It shows back then a pack of three guys vying for dominance.
This year, Too arrived first, clearing 37 seconds from his next elite competitor. For the 17th time in his professional career that includes marathons, half-marathons, 10Ks, 5Ks and course lengths in between, he managed to arrive first. In only his second Miami version, and I believe probably encouraged by his results from last year, driven by optimism, relentlessness, and the ability to project his vision and make it a reality, he arrived first this time around. I also arrived first this year, because Gene got the flu. After years of playing second fiddle, the circumstances changed and I had to become goal oriented and resourceful to be the guy in charge to deliver to the needs of the thousands of runners that came through starting at 8:23 am with Hillary Too, up until 1:45 pm when the straggler pickup bus showed up behind the last brave, courageous soul that limped past our station.
The spirit that drives humans to reach for what appears to most of us to be unsurmountable goals was very much alive and well, in the thousands of runners that came by in the 7 hours we were out there on Sunday. Young and old, full body abled and disabled. Some barefoot, some bleeding, many on wheelchairs. Sometimes I wonder how many people I know would not become better entrepreneurs or doers of any kind if forced to witness the finish line at an event like this.
For me, just finding the commonality of being forced to arrive first when I was always content with being second, while Hillary Too voluntarily forced himself to do the same – humbly saving, of course, the HUGE differences in human ability and character – pushes me once again, in the beginning of the year, like every year for the past many, to self-analysis. We should all do the same. As an entrepreneur, are you being tenacious and relentless enough? Are you courageous and nurturing the qualities that make you unafraid to fail? Are you being goal oriented, and perhaps a bit nuts and creative? Are you cultivating self-discipline and exercising good judgement? Will you pledge to be resourceful this year, and confident within an uncertain environment? If you do all of these enough, I can assure you, you will become testament to the spirit of human achievement I mentioned before, and as a by-product, you might reach the top of your game and collect the prize.