« Back to Blog

Ultrarunning Parallels to Building a Business, Vol. II - Act on the Lead Measures

By Huw Edwards
Mar 3, 2017

This is the second post in a series written by our CFO, Huw Edwards. Huw is a “runner”, self-confessed running addict and finisher of numerous ultramarathons including the Leadville 100 mile footrace. In this series, he will explore the similarities between running an ultramarathon and building a business. You can review the first post “Focus on the Wildly Important Goal” here.

Quick Recap

This series lays out my approach to achieving my running goals and how they parallel our formula for executing on our most important strategic priorities at Jungle Disk in the midst of doing everything and anything that represents “keeping the lights on” in our business. In the last post, I discussed the process of focusing on a single wildly important goal - in my running case, to ‘Finish the 2017 Leadville 100 Mile Trail Run on August 19th in under 24 Hours.’ Today, I will cover the next step in the process - acting on lead measures.

To refresh your memory, I am referring to the formula laid out in “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” which I was unknowingly following in my running endeavors and have now adopted at Jungle Disk to achieve our wildly important company goal for 2017.”

Lag vs Lead Measures - Predictive & Influenceable

My wildly important goal is itself a ‘lag measure’ i.e. I will only know if I have achieved my goal after 24 hours into my race attempt on August 19th (and hopefully I will have completed the race by then and thus achieved my goal!). So, what do I do over the next 5 months of training to know if I’m on track to achieve my goal?

I need a measure that is indicative that I’m on track. It needs to be to be predictive i.e. if the measure improves then in all likelihood the lag measure will improve (the time it takes to run my race will decrease) and the probability of achieving my wildly important goal (to run the race in under 24 hours) will increase! And it needs to be influenceable i.e. within my control and I can do something about it between now and the race.

Potential Pitfalls

This is where it gets tricky. Here are some common pitfalls when choosing lead measures:

  1. A lead measure that is actually lagging - Often times the measure chosen might seem leading but is actually a lagging indicator in disguise. For example, I know if I’m at my “fighting weight” on race day - about 5-10 pounds lighter than I am right now - I will run a faster time (though not too light as that might make me weak and unable to support 100 miles of hard running). But my weight itself is not a lead measure - it too is lagging. I cannot will myself to lose weight. If I over eat relative to my training workload, or eat a lot of junk food it’s unlikely that I’ll lose weight no matter how much I will it (I will probably gain weight). So I would need to find a leading measure for getting to my target weight - and not have weight itself be the lead measure.

  2. A lead measure that is NOT predictive - It is common to find a lead measure that’s easy to track and can give false confidence of progress towards a goal but doesn’t actually predict improvement. For example, while eating spinach might work for Popeye, and eating a daily allocation of vegetables is trackable and will likely result in a healthier person, an increase in vegetable consumption doesn’t directly translate into faster running over 100 mile distance.

  3. A lead measure that is NOT influenceable - There is no point tracking something which I can’t change. For example, cold weather conditions are predictive of a faster running time, however, the weather is not something I can control!

My Lead Measure #1: Weekly Running Miles

Predictive? Yes, if I put in the miles, then my aerobic and muscular fitness will improve and my ability to sustain the pace required to run sub-24hr at Leadville for the time it takes to complete the race will also improve (caveat: see footnote 1 below). The lag measures are (a) the pace I can run at a given heart rate (level of effort) which is trackable and I expect to improve over time with increased training. And (b) the length of distance that I can sustain at that combined pace/effort level indicated by completing increasingly longer runs at that pace/effort. Note, these lag measures are good predictors of the ultimate lag measure of my wildly important goal of sub-24hrs. But, the lead measure is the training I put in measured by the miles I run each week.

Influenceable? Yes, I can either get up when my alarm goes off and either run the miles I need to run that day or I can be lazy, hit snooze and miss a day’s training. It’s within my control. And the number of miles run at the end of the week tells the story - numbers don’t lie!

Achievable? Yes, my coach lays out my training plan over the coming weeks, adjusting a week at a time based on how my body is responding to the training, etc. The lead measure itself is simple: run miles completed, which I can track every day, and evaluate weekly and over time.

My Lead Measure #2: Track Food Intake via MyFitnessPal and Measure Calories Out > Calories In (6 days per week)

Predictive? Yes, by and large if I consume less calories than I expend I will lose weight (or at least maintain current weight). I generally eat healthy whole foods and limit carbohydrates to 100 grams per day. In my circumstance, the process of tracking my food in an app also leads to me eating less junk/processed food reinforcing this predictive relationship.

Influenceable? Yes, I can control what I eat during the day!

Achievable? Yes. This is where I inject a dose of realism into my lead measure and action. I give myself one ‘cheat day’ a week. This (a) helps me stay on track during the week - when I have the urge to eat a cheeseburger on a Friday lunchtime I can delay the gratification until my Saturday cheat day; and (b) one day of bad eating won’t ruin a week of good behavior and serves as a release valve to maintain this behavior over weeks and months.

Next Time: How Do I Know if I’m on Track? Keep a Compelling Scoreboard

It’s no use having lead measures which are predictive and influenceable if I don’t know as the weeks of training go on whether I’m actually making progress. That’s where I need a compelling scoreboard! I will discuss the four questions to ask to help determine if a scoreboard is compelling. Sneak preview: Is it simple? Can I easily see it? Does it show lead and lag measures? Can I tell at a glance if I am winning? Stay tuned!

[1] This is based on theory (physiological research) and practice (the workings of Lydiard, Maffetone and both my coach’s and my personal experiences) and is beyond the scope of this post. But suffice to say that my coach and I believe that a sensible periodized training plan that has me running a substantial number of miles over the next several months - over 2000 miles between January 1 and August 19 - will result in an improvement in my aerobic running pace and ability to sustain it for an extended time. As my coach Andy Wooten likes to say, “Of course, not all of those miles look the same. You can hit that number by running ten miles a day for the year but you would not be in ultra shape. You would just be good at running ten miles a day.”