Project242 (P242) is my journey to bike 242 miles in 24 hours, across the state of Minnesota on gravel roads, in August, 2021 (the Day Across MN, or the DAMN). I’ve found many lessons experienced riding a bike can be applied to our careers. In these posts, I will share the correlations.
I looked at my watch. 11:59 PM. One more minute and the fireworks will go off, signaling the start of the race. Starting at midnight, I’ll have 24 hours to finish 242 miles. I’ve been training for this since April. Now it’s time to finish it up. Let’s go!
I was surrounded by a sea of headlights and taillights. 560 other crazy riders ready to attempt the same thing I was. It was eerily quiet given all the people. Then, in the distance, I saw the flick of a lighter, which then lit the fireworks fuse. Taking a deep breath and hitting GO on my GPS, I knew it was time to depart.
With the fireworks going off, everyone cheered. I saw the lead vehicle take the riders across the bridge from Gary, SD, into Minnesota. We rode on the asphalt for half a mile. As I looked ahead, I saw the lead riders turn onto the gravel road and their lights suddenly pulling away from the rest of the group. Wow, I hope they can keep that up for the long haul (they did by the way).
At the top of the hill, we encountered the lead vehicle, who signaled us to turn right. As we did, everyone was instantly hit with gravel dust from the mass of riders kicking it up in the dry conditions. I quickly snuck a glimpse behind me to see hundreds more headlights still coming. Turning back, I latched on to the bike tire ahead of me, taking advantage of the draft and slight tailwind. One mile down…241 to go.
21 hours and 11 minutes later, a guy wrapped in what looked like Christmas lights holding two beers excitedly yelled, telling me to turn left. As I did, there it was, the FINISH LINE. As I crossed, the race director shook my hand and told me good job. A woman came over with a glass and a can of pale ale beer. I looked up to see my amazing support crew, my wife and our good friend, taking pics and smiling ear to ear. Without them I would have never made it. This success is as much about them as it is me. We’re a team.
We just finished Project242!
Now it’s time for a little retrospective. I knew signing up months ago this would be hard. Anything worth doing is. But what made it a success? Here are four key points, and how they apply to business.
Have A Plan. The race organizers put out YouTube videos talking about the race and giving riders tips and tricks for success. One piece of advice was “Don’t go from the couch to the DAMN. Train.” Don’t have to tell me twice. I put a plan together that started April 12th. During that time, I rode 2,378 miles, did hours of circuit training, and more stretching that a rubber band. This also included a handful of 100+ mile days. I didn’t follow the plan to the letter, but as close as possible. I also had a detailed day-of “Go Live” plan, with planned stops and what was needed at each (more on that below).
When’s the last time you ran a project without a plan? I’m hoping never, or at least many years ago when you probably didn’t know what project management was. Without a plan, how do you know which direction you’re going? When you have an objective in mind, a plan is needed on how to get there. Take time up front to develop a plan, knowing you may need to make adjustments along the way.
You Can’t Do It Alone. My support network started before race day. My wife, kids, family and friends all supported me and tolerated those long training days when I was gone or on the stationary bike for hours. On race day, my wife and our friend met me at key points to refill my liquids, resupply food, give me food, and ensure I was physically and (more important) mentally ready to take on the next segment. I couldn’t have done it without them.
I don’t know of too many projects that are successful without the support of a team. Every project I’ve lead has had them. It’s my job to ensure they have the processes and tools for success. When we do accomplish a milestone or complete the initiative, I give credit to the team.
Make Decisions Binary When You Can. This goes along with planning. On the day of the race, especially in the latter stages, I knew things would start to get a little tough. So, I wanted all decisions to be binary. Yes or No. Sandwich or Bagel. Coke or Gatorade. Pickle Juice or just the Pickle (hey, don’t judge; pickle juice has a lot of benefits, just Google it). I didn’t want to think too hard and I didn’t want my crew to have to listen to me bitch or waffle about a decision. It worked very, very well.
Admittedly this is something I’m exploring more and more after hearing about it on a podcast. When decisions need to be made, especially quickly, they tend to get delayed. Requiring a decision by committee, failure to understand the problem, not enough or too many options, and general indecisiveness are just a few of the delays we experience. Yes or No. A or B. Left or Right. Binary decisions that can be made quickly so there are no delays, and people understand what they need to do. I’m assuming I’ll have more on this in the future.
Write Shit Down! In the quiet of the start line, there was on voice that stuck out. “OH MY GOD!! Mom, I need you to run back to the car and get my glasses!!” She forgot her glasses. With this many riders and the amount of dust that will be in the air, glasses are a must-have. Otherwise, you’re going to have a tough time seeing. I followed the girl’s stare to see a woman draped in a blanket who calmly said “I think it’s too late for that.” BOOM. Fireworks. Thankfully, someone turned around and handed her glasses before we took off. Crisis averted.
Because I knew nerves would be high, I had a “pre-flight checklist” to ensure all items were on me and accounted for before going. This is a similar approach I have to managing a project. Before I take on any effort, I have a checklist of items to ensure the project is ready to go. Items like strategic alignment, business case, charter, sponsor, and funding are on there. This helps me ensure I didn’t miss anything and ask the right questions.
“How are you feeling dad?” My 11 year old son gave me a concerned look as I slowly made coffee this morning. Outside of some numbness in one hand and a sore Achilles, I’m not bad. We talked for a minute and he asked the question my wife dreads…”So, what’s next?” I’m not sure about that, but I do know Project 242 has been a long, but worthwhile road. I’m proud of what was accomplished and appreciative of those who supported me.
Project 242, complete