Op-Ed: What Ultrarunning taught me about running a marketing agency

04 Mar 2021

By: Sport Industry Group

At the end of 2019, Iris' Global CMO its only female Founder, Claire Humphris, completed The Dragon’s Back - officially the world’s 'toughest mountain race', which sees competitors spend six days running the equivalent of over 1.5 marathons a day and climbing over 17,400 meters – twice the height of Everest.

For Sport Industry Group, Humphris looks at what ultrarunning has taught her about doing her job....


It wasn’t until I started ultra-running, that I realized what 25 years of leading a marketing agency had taught me. 

People always ask me how running really long distances has made me better at my job. What secrets from sports performance can you transfer over to everyday life? 

But it’s actually the other way round…

All of the skills I need to get me through a long event, even multiple days of extreme endurance, have been learnt at work. Being physically fit only gets you to the start line but it’s all the other stuff that will get you to the finish. 

Preparation Pays

You can’t lead new biz and not be on top of the detail. If a pitch team turns up at a client’s office and can’t run the presentation, it’s your failure. Likewise, if you haven’t done your homework for an ultra, you’re out of the running. Literally and metaphorically. Carrying the wrong kit? Disqualified. Don’t know the route. Lost and everyone’s gone home by the time you finish. It’s amazing how many runners seem to be incapable of reading the emails and getting themselves organized. 

Time creation 

When you’re up against a deadline for a pitch, the impossible happens. Time slows down. 3 week’s worth of work gets done in one. The same happens when you’re trying to fit in training with a full-time job and 2 children. You prioritise it. You get creative with when and where it happens. Run your commute, run whilst kids are at a party, run whilst you’re in a zoom meeting (only when not presenting!). Time can be found but it takes a mindset shift…think ahead, be opportunistic, be cheeky and let go of perfect.  

Focus

Iris’s office (back when we worked from an office) buzzes with energy. You feel the vibe the moment you walk through the door. Great for spontaneity, collaboration and creativity. Poor for deep thinking, writing a presentation and focus. Working amongst the chaos for 20 years has prepared me well for the distractions of racing: when you can’t afford to lose concentration on self-management, pace or plan. I have honed an ability to block out other people’s voices, music…or annoying habits like noisy chewing. It’s also served me well for home schooling and working but that’s another story! 

Performance is Emotional 

Here’s where your background in the rollercoaster of agency life really comes into its own. One minute you’re up, winning pitches and awards, feeling unbeatable. Next minute, you’ve crashed. A client complains, your favourite creative team walk out, your team are at rock bottom.

The same thing happens in a long race. One minute you’re flying high, wind in your hair, heading for a PB. Next minute, on your arse, mind in a dark place and the little voice is telling you to quit.

How you choose to react in this moment will make all the difference to finishing or not. Your physical performance is linked to your mood. You can nurse your mood back to a positive state by tricking it with things it loves. A little bit of food, some music, phone a friend…importantly you reset expectations for how the rest of the race is going to go.

Without realizing it, I’d been practicing this last one for years. Every lost pitch, every drop in revenue, every difficult client conversation.  All disappointments. At the time, I cursed agency life for being too volatile and too fragile. But overcoming these hurdles builds resilience. Remember its how you choose to react that will get you and your agency through it.  If you can reset your inernal narrative, you will not only pick yourself up, but you’ll raise your team to meet the new day and go again.   

I love my job

Next time someone challenges you to take on a crazy challenge, especially one that scares you, it’s worth remembering that you might be better equipped to take it on than you think. Your skills are transferrable.  

Don’t think about what your job stops you doing. Think about how much it might enable you to do…or even be good at. I love my job because it enables me to be better at what makes me happy. Running.