It’s mile 135 of a 146.2 mile race and my upper left chest starts throbbing with a deep pain. My brain tells me: “You are having a heart attack. Look around. Appreciate the beautiful 80º weather in Louisville, Kentucky—because you are about to die.” Then, my next series of thoughts hit me: “Wake up Brandon! You can do this! In 11 miles you are an Ironman! Suck it up, and get your ass moving!” The realization of those first thoughts occurred for several people that day, but not me. 20% of the people in Ironman Louisville did not complete the race that day, or ended up in the medical tent. I was not one of them.

Because of long-term thinking.

As I look at what Ironman taught me over the course of 11 months of training, I realized it changed the way I approach every aspect of life. I used to revel in the fact that I was a great firefighter when it came to situations in life. You could hit me with all sorts of struggles and pains and my ability to make quick decisions and progress forward, positioned me as a leader for many organizations throughout life. I’ve always been that guy who could take in a lot of data, make quick decisions, and lead through chaos. While this trait has brought me a good amount of success in entrepreneurial endeavors, I realize it’s a trait I have to overcome in order to grow. Greatness is not achieved through firefighting and short-term thoughts, actions, and responses. Greatness is achieved through long-term thinking, planning, and a commitment to a bigger purpose. I’ve always believed that strategic planning was important, but when I would go implement the strategy, it consisted of a lot of firefighting and a constant almost achievement of the original plan.

Ironman Changed Everything.

When I decided to do Ironman, I suddenly had to plan my daily life out for the next 10 months. It took me three Saturdays to book every workout in my calendar from December through August. Every day had time booked with a specific workout for that day. Many of the days started with an early morning workout and then an evening workout that would start around 6pm. That meant leaving work at…5:30! Something I don’t think I’d ever done in my life! As I planned out the months ahead, I realized I was going to have to completely change the way I looked at the business development of my company. I was no longer going to be able to attend networking events several evenings each week. I was no longer going to be able to put in the 70-80 hour weeks I had grown accustomed to. I was going to have to plan a lot more out and rely on my team. Then I remembered: if I wanted to maintain a great marriage, I was going to have to figure out a way to spend time with my wife as well!

Thinking Months Ahead

This paradigm shift was going to require me to start thinking months ahead, not just days. I began scheduling everything I had to do, down to phone calls for prospecting and 15 minute email checks. This long-term planning changed the dialogue with everyone in my life. I stopped having conversations about what was happening this week, and began having conversations about what was happening 2 to 3 months out. Business lunches were getting booked out 4 weeks in advance and my calendar was filling up completely 3 and 4 weeks out. My wife and I started planning time together that included workouts and dinners. We scheduled everything through calendar invites and looked at the calendar each month to plan the following 2-3 months.

Then, a funny thing happened.

Business development improved, my stress level decreased, and my marriage got even better! I realized I was firefighting fewer issues and my conversations with clients and prospects took on a very different tone. My planned schedule was now changing relationships and thought processes in terms of how I interacted with others and how they interacted with me. I was becoming a long-range thinker and planner, and in doing so, fighting fewer fires. The fires I did have to fight were now motivational fires to stick to the workout plan, when I was tired or burned out. Fighting those small fires was made easier by only having to focus on the task at hand and knowing that they had a scheduled end. That scheduled ending was a reprieve that allowed me to not have to think during the act of working out; but simply complete the task. The achievement of those small tasks both personally and professionally took my productivity through the roof…allowing me to manage more projects with less time, spend more quality time with my wife, and dramatically decrease my overall stress level. Running toward that finish line on Aug 25, 2013, I started thinking back to all those workouts I had done. I thought how each one was its own mini fire to fight: one that was part of a larger goal that had been diligently planned and thought out.

A friend of mine once told me, “Your race is only a celebration of your training.”

In business, your success is only a celebration of the diligent planning and execution of that plan. You can’t build something great through firefighting and short-term planning. It takes long range thinking and a dedication to the execution of the individual facets of that plan to achieve something great.

Ironman taught me that.

Ironman changed the way I look at life, and it changed the way I run my business. While it was a tremendous personal accomplishment, the business lessons learned will stay with me much longer than the shape I’m in today. For that, the time spent training was worth its weight in gold.