What I Learned from Running my First Ultramarathon

What I Learned from Running my First Ultramarathon

Medialab Executive Director, Steve Parker, discusses the importance of the right behaviours, being flexible and having great people around you.

Two years after completing (surviving) my first ever Ultramarathon Challenge at the age of 45, I have been reflecting on that journey in light of the very personal journey’s we will have all had to take during an extraordinary 2021. It’s been a year where plans, personal and professional, were made and disrupted, adapted and accelerated.

So many of the important everyday behaviours from my ultramarathon have been critical in thriving and not just surviving last year. They are important for success in whatever you are investing your time in, at home or at work as we enter 2021.

I am crystal clear on where I merely survived and where I thrived. Importantly, the commitment it takes to prepare properly for such an event impacts significantly on your home and work environments, and those environments directly affect your progress in training, and ultimately the race. To some extent “home” and “work” have always been interwoven into my daily life, as it is for so many. That’s why “work life balance” is so broadly debated and so fundamentally personal.

What is interesting is what happens when you add something so new and disruptive into the relationship that immediately requires you to transform established routines. And how true that was for 2020 and today! For so many, the line between work and home has been rubbed out or faded significantly, as we fight not to “live from work”.

There now exists a reduced physical and mental break from work to home – no commute, same space, familiar faces, new routines quickly established and the daily battle to support good habits and not lapse into bad, with the nagging doubt over health or career, can all take a toll on our wellbeing.

We have all been fighting in our own ways to shape that new balance that helps keep us mentally and physically healthy, and hopefully operationally effective. It’s been tough, and as we enter a New Year packed full of more uncertainty, the fight continues.

For me, this Covid year has reinforced the importance of the five key behaviours at work that, years ago, supported and challenged me through a 12 month preparation for a 230km ultramarathon, when I had not run more than 10km for 20 years!


Be part of a team or business that has a clear goal or ambition. If that goal can have a purpose, a “why”, then the journey will be more rewarding and you are more likely to be successful and deliver. Be honest but ambitious about your role in delivering that goal, but ensure that you try and plan for what needs to happen each day to reach it.

Work hard

Remote working, like an ultramarathon, is not a public performance; it is always personal and often lonely. So to gain the greatest reward, ensure that it is always about how you behave when no one is looking. Only you will know. Only you should care.

Listen and learn

On any personal journey always listen, learn and apply. Everyday there are many sources of insight available from people who want to help and give advice from people who have experienced similar things. The last year has reinforced the importance of this and has opened our eyes to the breadth and depth of insight and online learning available.

Advice and insight should be welcomed, filtered and then applied. It will make you better. Because work is a journey, things will go wrong, and there will be bad days amongst the good.  How you respond to the setbacks is critical. It’s why you plan, why you work hard to get better, and why you listen to those around you. These behaviours can prepare you better and give you confidence to adapt and respond.

You are a product of your environment

This is arguably the behaviour that has been challenged most and brought into the sharpest focus during lockdown. Surround yourself with the right team, physically or remotely. People who add value. People who share your values. People who you trust and that trust you.  In sport and business, trust is the foundation of sustainable success and personal wellbeing.

The importance of family

Always a blessing no matter the ups and downs. Always remember that family and friends are the platform on which any success will be built. They provide balance, give you space and provide honest council. They are also critical in allowing you to completely disconnect when needed, which is so important in this Lockdown environment.

They are a constant motivator as so much of what you do is for them. The Christmas break is meant to be a time for connecting and spending time with our loved ones, however that wouldn’t have been the case for many. The hole that leaves only serves to reinforce their importance to us and should be all the motivation we need to be the best we can be and smash both work and life in 2021.

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