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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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A Great CEO Is Always Building Muscles

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I get to work with a lot of great CEOs. When I reflect on what makes them great, one thing sticks out – they are always building their muscles. All of them.

As a marathon runner, I’ve got massive legs. Marathoner legs. They’ll look familiar to anyone who runs a lot. In contrast, I have a wimpy upper body. I’ve never enjoyed lifting weights. So I don’t spend any time on it.

Dumb.

I’d be a much better marathon runner if I worked on a bunch of other muscles as well. I’m starting to get into a swimming regimen, I’m riding my new bike around town and this summer I’ve got pilates three days a week as a goal of making it a habit. By the end of summer I hope to have a bunch of other muscles developing and a set of habits that enables me to finally maintain them.

The key phrase above is “I’ve never enjoyed lifting weights.” When asked, I say I’m bad at it. Or that I simply don’t like it. Or, when I’m feeling punchy, that jews don’t lift weights.

Of course, these are just excuses for not working on another set of muscles. If I don’t like lifting weights, surely there are things I like doing instead. I’ve always been a good swimmer – why don’t I have the discipline to go to the pool three days a week and swim? Most hotels I stay in have a swimming pool or have a health club nearby. Swimming is as easy as running – you just get in the pool and go.

“I’m bad at it and I don’t like it.” That’s what runs through my head when I lift weights. For a while, I used this narrative with swimming. But when I really think about swimming, the narrative should be “I’m ok at it and I like it.”

So why don’t I do it? I don’t really know, but I think it’s because the particular muscles I use when I swim are intellectually linked to the weight lifting muscles, which gets me into a loop of “I’m bad at it and I don’t like it.” So rather than break the cycle, I let my muscles atrophy.

Yoga is the same way. I struggle with Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. It’s too fast for me, I struggle to remember the poses, and my glasses constantly fall off, and I can’t follow what’s going on. So I say “I’m bad at it and I don’t like it” and then don’t do it. But I do like Bikram Yoga. It’s slower, there are the same 26 poses, and I like the heat. So why don’t I do it? Once again, the narrative gets confused in my mind and it turns into “I don’t like yoga.”

All of this is incredibly self-limiting. Rather than fight with “I’m bad at it and I don’t like it” how about changing it to “I’m not good at it but I’m going to try new approaches and find something I like.” There are many different approaches to building a particular muscle so rather than use a one-size fits all approach (e.g. I must go lift weights, which I hate), search for a different approach that you like.

If you want to be a great CEO, you need to be constantly building all of your muscles. There are going to be a lot of areas you think you aren’t good at. Rather than avoid them, or decide you don’t like them, figure out another way to work on these muscles. You’ll be a better, and much more effective CEO as a result.

St. Louis Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon

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Marathon #20 is in the books. Yesterday I did the St. Louis Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon with Matt Shobe. The amazing Amy Batchelor once again sherpa’d for us. The weather was perfect, the course was pretty but hilly, the support was outstanding (as it typical of Rock ‘n’ Roll marathons), and I came in at a solid 4:51:26.

This race was an experiment – I wanted to see if I could do a marathon two weeks in a row while living my normal life. Last weekend I did the Amica Newport Rhode Island Marathon, ran out of gas around mile 16, and struggled home in 5:13:36. Prior to that marathon I had been on the road all week and crisscrossed the country (Denver to SF to Rhode Island). Last week was another heavy travel week – Boston to NY to SF to St. Louis. I did all the normal stuff I did with two exceptions – I didn’t drink any alcohol and I was obsessive about rubbing Purell on my hands throughout the day.

When I got to St. Louis Friday night I was tired and my left shoulder hurt. I always have pre-marathon hypochondria so I figured that since I don’t run on my left shoulder, that was as good a place as any to have some pain. Amy and I had room service, I went to sleep early, slept in, went to the marathon expo, took another nap, went out to Italian dinner with Matt and Amy, and went to bed early.

At 7:30 Sunday morning Matt and I were off and running. Well – not really – it was a 20,000+ person race so it took us 15 minutes to cross the start line. I felt tight and uncomfortable the first three miles but just let the crowd carry me along. We went past the St. Louis Ballpark which is a beautiful stadium, cruised through downtown, and by mile four I was starting to settle down.

My coach – Gary Ditsch – has regularly encouraged me to eat gels during a marathon. Up until now I’ve ignored him since I don’t want to carry anything while I run. This time I bought an iFitness pouch and filled it with six gels. There were two spots on the course where they were handing out gels so I decided to have one on every prime number mile. Rather than drinking Ctyomax (which I hate) I just did gels and water this time. As is typical, the coach is right as it made an incredible difference.

Our pace was incredibly steady for the first ten miles. At mile ten, I had to take a dump so we lost about three minutes along with a few pounds. Matt patiently waited for me and then had to listen to me rant about how relieved I was. He’s such a patient person.

We cruised through the half marathon in 2:24. This was faster than we expected as we figured we were on a 5 hour pace. Neither of us was watching out split times – I had RunKeeper going on my iPhone but no audio with the idea that we’d just run.

The course was a really nice tour through St. Louis. There were tons of hills – only one particularly long, but the endless undulation of the course started to get annoying around mile 20. Or maybe it was just that we were at mile 20.

Matt was the perfect running partner. He could have easily done the race 30 or 45 minutes faster but just hung with me. We talked a little on and off, but mostly told jokes and just chilled out running together. My dark miles on this race were 14 to 20. I was a little anxious about running out of gas like I did last week, but 17 passed, then 18, then 19, and I felt fine.

At 20, we decided to run solid for the next four miles and then push the last two. This was the strategy we used when we ran the Huntsville marathon together and it was an incredibly satisfying way to finish. We cranked on the last two miles, passing hundreds of runners, and feeling great as we crossed the finish line together.

I’m incomprehensibly tired this morning. As I wrap up this point, I’m heading to the airport to head home to Boulder for a week. Yay.

Instrumenting My Marathon

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I’m running the Kroll’s Diner Bismarck Marathon on Saturday. This will be Marathon #18 in my quest to run one in every state. I’ll be there for a couple of days so I’m open to any restaurant recommendations y’all might have.

I’ve decided to try something different on this marathon. While I always wear a watch, I’ve never tried to instrument myself “real-time” for the race. Until recently, I’ve been using a Garmin 305, but it broke this summer when I was in Europe and I switched to RunKeeper on my iPhone.

I’ve really enjoyed RunKeeper and even started listening to music on some of my runs again since I had my iPhone with me. I signed up for RunKeeper Live and have been broadcasting my runs publicly to anyone who cared, which is primarily Amy.

The marathon starts at 7:30am Central Time on Saturday. I’ll be broadcasting my progress on this link – you should be able to pick it up after I start the race. Since I’ve always been running, I’m not 100% sure how the UI works on the “watching someone” end of things, but would love to hear feedback from anyone who takes a look. Oh – and cheer me on!

I’ll be wearing my Fitbit also (which I love – and am an investor in). It’s fascinating to me the step variance on the different marathons I’ve done – my stride length clearly varies with the shape I’m in and the shape (or hilliness) of the course. I’ll also check and see which is more accurate over 26.2 miles – the Fitbit or RunKeeper.

I might wear my new Nike+ SportWatch GPS, but so far the Nike+ website has been basically unusable due to performance issues so I don’t want to count on it.

Bismarck – see you tomorrow.

Marathon #17: Madison Marathon

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Confidence restored. After a shitty marathon #16 in Cincinnati a month ago (5:24) I cranked out marathon #17 in Madison in 4:47:27. I dedicate this particular effort to my co-runner TA McCann and my sherpas Amy Batchelor and Jessica Schallock.

madisonmarathon

For the first 20 miles the weather was perfect. Cloudy and 60-ish. TA lived in Madison for several summers in college when he was a mega-swimming stud so he kept me entertained with tails of training for five hours a day, every day, in a pool, over and over again – which made running a marathon seem relatively straightforward.

The first five miles were beautiful as we ran through the Arboretum. It’s a great way to start a city race – quiet, mellow, and loads of oxygen everywhere. There were only 1600 marathoners to they spread out quickly and TA and I felt like we were on a nice long run with water stops every mile or two. We went through the half at 2:20 and it occurred to me that we were halfway done and I was feeling better than most other marathons. I didn’t really notice our time again until when I looked at my watch at 3:12. By 20 miles it was pretty clear that we had 5 hours beaten and 4:45 was in striking distance.

The rain started at mile 20. So did the bicycles – there was a long stretch along Lake Monona on a running / bike path which was the only frustrating part of the race. Usually during a marathon the running / bike paths are closed to cyclists; this time they weren’t. And the rain just made it a total mess. So for about three miles we just hammered on, cold, wet, and mildly annoyed by the bikes.

At about mile 23 the 4:45 pace guy passed us once and for all. Now we were on the hunt for 4:50 which ended up being no problem. As we ran the last mile up a nasty hill to the Capitol we were both out of gas, but the end was in sight so like every good marathoner we just ground it out.

I’m now confident that I can do a marathon every four weeks. I wonder if I can do one every other week.

Deep Breath

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This morning, as I cranked through my 5am – 7am routine (which ends at 6am today because I have to leave the house at 630am to get to CU Boulder to give a keynote at the 2011 Boulder Economic Summit) I kept thinking to myself “deep breath.” If you do yoga you know exactly what I’m talking about – it’s part of Amy’s mantra for each of us to relax, slow down, and concentrate.

I’m in a particularly intense work phase that I expect will run through the end of June based on a few things that are going on that will happen between now and then. On top of it, I’m trying to run two marathons in May (Cincinnati, which I did already – and it sucked, and Madison, which is coming up at the end of the month.) Between all the work and travel, I’d probably already be pretty tired, but layer the running and the marathons on top of it and I’m physically exhausted.

While I contemplated punting on the second marathon, there are a few things driving me to do it, including really understanding my own recovery dynamics. I have a hypothesis about how I recover from a marathon (quickly) but I haven’t tested it. By adding a second marathon on top of everything else within 30 days, I’m suddenly learning some new stuff about rest, sleep, and weight. I’m also experiencing an interesting emotional spectrum that I haven’t experienced in a while (some good, some not good) that is clearly a function of the intersection of my physical activity and my work activity.

What popped out this morning is the need for more “deep breaths.” With my normal work / life rhythm, I get these on the weekend and then once a quarter when I go off the grid for a week. But given the daily work intensity combined with the physical fatigue, it’s become very obvious that I need something different during the week to sustain things at this level. Last night I blew off a dinner with a friend to just go home and lie on the couch with Amy all evening. That helped, although I spent almost all of it with an iPad in my lap sort of watching The Hangover, sort of catching up on email, and working on a few things that I knew I couldn’t jam into today.

Tonight, Amy and I have dinner alone. I’m going to shut off completely for a few hours and reflect on what I’m going through and learning about recovery. Fortunately I have a partner who puts up with this and lets me use myself as my own laboratory for these experiments.

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