What I Learned From Running As A Product Manager

I am a runner for more than 15 years! I started running as part of weekly workouts on my soccer team. Back then I hated pure running. I had the feeling that it’s boring to just run around a track or the fields. But I stuck to it to some extent. However, my perspective on running changed completely 5 years ago. In this blog post, I want to write about what running taught me and what I can transfer to my professional career as a product manager.

A New Start

5 years ago I felt not fit, I did go regularly to the gym but I hate going to the gym and to do my workouts on some machines. I wanted to do sports outside, enjoy nature and the fresh air. Furthermore, I wanted to do a sport that I can perform everywhere with the least amount of equipment. So I thought why not give running another try, but this time with a higher focus. I went to a local running shop a bought some running shoes and started to run. I used my phone to track my activities, but I did not make any progress. I tried to run even more during the weeks, but then the first injuries came around the corner. I was disappointed, I thought maybe running is nothing for me and my body. But this time I said no, I will not give up. I read several books about running and running injuries and found out what my problem was.

I did just too much running for my fitness level. It sounds simple, but it was obvious to me. Instead of running 3-5 times per week between 5km and 10km I slowed down. I did only 2 runs per week but invested lots of time in stretching and core workouts to strengthen my muscles.

It’s Getting Better

After a year of doing this, my body got used to running and my injuries/ problems were gone. I was happy and excited to do more running. The first thing I did was, I bought a running watch. I hated to go for a run with my phone attached to my arm. I love to go running with less technical equipment as possible. I only have the phone with me in case I hurt myself on the way. I am not listening to music or anything else.

The watch helped me again to focus on my body and the heartbeat. I learned from my injury that the amount of workouts is not important but to stay healthy and to do sports until I am getting really old.

The next thing I did was to set a goal. My goal was to run 1000km in one year. That means 83,3km per month. Doesn’t sound too hard right? However, working in a full-time job, writing blog posts and books and spending as much time as possible with my family doesn’t make this easier.

Of course, I failed in the first and second year! I did not fail because of injuries but rather of bad time management. I did only go for runs in the evening after work or on weekends but this was hard to handle because my family has always the highest priority. So I skipped my running workouts more than once.

Getting Inspired

I can’t remember when it happened, but at some point, I got inspired by another runner from Germany. His name is Florian Neuschwander aka RunWithTheFlow. I read an article about him in a newspaper. For those who don’t know him, he is a crazy and funny ultra runner e.g. running 100mile races. I followed him on Instagram and started to read more about him and the ultrarunning scene. I was amazed by the fact what the human body is capable of and what the mind can handle in order to reach a goal, e.g. a long-distance run.

While browsing the internet for more information about those long-distance races I found the following video on YouTube. The video is called “Life in a Day” by Billy Yang. The video is a documentary about one of the most prestigious ultra runs in the world – The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. I was again impressed by the runners in this movie and what they achieved. I highly recommend watching this video:

Changing Habits

After I have seen many more videos like that, I thought ok if I want to reach my goal of running 1000km in one year I need to change my running habits. Running in the evenings is not enough. I checked my daily routines outside of my work life and found actually two slots that are free to use for myself.
The first one is my lunch break and the second one is early in the morning. If my work schedule allows me, I go for a run around the Alster lake in Hamburg.

From the office, around the Alster and back is 9km. I try to run the Alster lake two times a week. The second running slot I mentioned are early runs at around 5am.

It looks beautiful, right? At least during the summertime when the sun rises and the day starts. During wintertime, running in the morning is much harder. As you can see, it’s dark and cold. But I learned from my early bird runs that it’s only a mindset change and to be dedicated to your goals in order to reach them. At the moment I really love my early runs. The world around me is mostly silent and I am alone on the streets.

Staying Motivated

With everything we do it becomes a routine at some point and it might get boring too. The same happened to me after some time going for a run. Reaching my goal of 1000km was now possible with the change of my running habits. But how to stay motivated? Sure the main motivation is to stay healthy and fit but there is more. Another motivator for me is Strava. Strava is a social fitness network, where you can track and analyze your runs and connect with real runners from around the world. You can see the activities from other runners, what they have achieved and this motivates me to keep on going. Another motivation for me are running races. At the moment I focus on running half-marathons. I signed up to many half-marathons already and this gives me another push of motivation to continue my running workouts to achieve a good result on the 21,1km course.

What I learned from running half-marathons is that you sometimes need to “fight” to reach the goal. The Instagram post from the Hamburg half-marathon still keeps me really motivated, because this was not an easy run. The run started in the morning around 10 am, but at this time the temperature was already 30C and it went up to 35C during the race. It was a tough race and I was really close to not finish it. But I took some time during the race and said to myself, you can do it! Just focus on one step after each other. And after 10km there was more shadow and wind. This helped my mind to push away the bad feelings and my legs were rolling again. In the end, I finished really exhausted but I was proud that I made it.

Leaving the Comfort Zone

Now that I am a dedicated runner for five years, it’s time to leave my running comfort zone at least a bit. Doing the same sports all the time is also not good for the body including the muscles and the tendons. Therefore, I decided to leave my comfort zone in 2020 and to do more bike rides. I got the opportunity to lease a gravel bike via my employer. Now my plan is as soon as we are heading into spring and some more daylight in the morning to use the bike to commute to work. It’s one way 18km, so its already a nice workout to get there and to get home. Let’s see how it goes, but the running I will not let go.

What I Learned From Running as Product Manager

Maybe you ask yourself and what did he learn from running? Finally, we are getting there!

  • Focus: What I learned from running is that if you really want to excel in a specific field like product management you need to completely focus on your work. Staying focus as a product manager is essential to not lose focus on the important things like your customers and their needs. I also learned that setting goals like running 1000km in one year or to finish a half-marathon helps again to focus and to concentrate all your efforts on this goal in order to reach it.
  • Dedication: A product manager must be dedicated to her/ his product and the customers. The dedication means to change its own habits (early runs) or the way a product team is working in order to achieve your goals.
  • Connect: Product managers should never work alone! Product managers must pair with their developers, designers, and testers in order to develop great products. The product team should always be the number one priority. If possible, the product manager should find a mentor or someone she/ he can exchange with on certain topics (like on Strava).
  • Strength: There not always happy and good times when working as a product manager. In these situations, it’s important to not freak out and to show strength. Strength against bad news or any other circumstances (running a half marathon with a temperature at 35C).
  • Reflect: I did not mention this in my text but reflecting on the achievements and runs is important to improve. The same applies to product managers to compare the actual product results with the expected ones. Only those who reflect are getting better.
  • Comfort Zone: Every product manager should leave its own comfort zone. This can mean to change the product or the working industry. Leaving the comfort zone can also be much smaller. For example, a product manager can take over tasks from developers or testers to learn something new on a daily basis.

If you have a similar story, feel free to get in contact with me via twitter.