It’s mile 20 and you’ve hit the wall. Lactic acid is turning your legs into stinging spaghetti strings. Your lungs feel like you’re trying to breath under water at the top of Mt. Everest. And nobody wants to see what your shirt is doing to your skin.

At this point in every marathon I remind people of one thing: trust your training.

I can’t count the number of miles I’ve run over the last 15 years. But each one is a step that got me to where I am. Each taught me something about how to run, how to navigate the inevitable obstacles and how to bring others along with me.

Whether on the race course or in the office, there will be times where the next step seems impossible. It’s in these times when focusing on your fundamentals will pay dividends. It’s also the time when mentors are most needed to remind those with less experience that, if they’ve put in the time and work, they belong and can make it to the finish line.

Setting the pace vs. leading the pack

I’m an official pace setter for the Chicago Marathon. This means, I’m responsible for a group of runners who want to hit a specific time. If I’m even a few seconds off each mile, we won’t reach our collective goal.

Man running Chicago marathon
Me, setting the pace for the 4:10 group at the 2019 Chicago Marathon

Before the race it’s my job to impart my knowledge and training to my group. What parts of the course will cause the most trouble? How should they dress for different temperatures? How much should they eat and when?

During the race, my job as mentor shifts to that of motivator and cheerleader. How can I keep this group of people with different experience levels together and moving as one? I can’t just lead the pack and hope they’ll follow. I have to set a pace from within and keep pushing people forward with me.

This carries over to my work as a technology business analyst. As someone who learned software engineering through on-the-job training, I know the importance of mentoring. A good mentor for a development team, like a marathon pace setter, will work to move the whole group forward together. There’s no outpacing your team.

One of the biggest misconceptions for software development and racing is that it’s an individual effort. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Take the recent sub-two hour marathon record. It was accomplished because it was a team effort.

They’re called agile teams for a reason. You need your fellow developers to meet commitments and timelines. To accomplish this you need to communicate, not just direct. How are others feeling? Where do they see roadblocks and what can you do to remove them? Listen and react rather than dictate the path forward. Going it alone may work once, but your team and the project will continue to flounder the moment you step away.

Trust your training, but don’t stop it

I have nearly 20 years of software engineering experience. What I’ve learned and accomplished matters. But it matters as a foundation to what I will learn and accomplish tomorrow.

This mindset of lifelong learning is critical to personal or professional growth. It’s easy to rely on your past training without preparing for the next challenge.

For running, this means staying current on nutrition and fitness studies, the latest gear and possible course changes. For software development, with new programming languages, processes and devices created and released monthly, it means that my training is never complete. There is always a new tool to master and a better way to use that tool to make peoples’ lives better.

The knowledge and tech savviness of my seven year old daughter keeps me humble. If she can constantly update her training and knowledge base, so can I, and so can you.

Pete Mandra is a principal business analyst at Catalyte