Last one, best one What leaders can learn from interval training

Yesterday I ran intervals. Sometimes they’re called repeats, but most runners just call them evil.

They’re short. There’s usually a lot of them (in my case, 10 sets). And they almost always get harder the more of them you do.

What this means is simply that interval training is something that sounds a lot better than it actually feels, and if we’re honest, it doesn’t even really sound that great. At least not to runners.

“I’m not a runner and now, I never will be!” I hear you. But you don’t have to be a runner to learn some important lessons that can help you be a better leader.

(In all honesty, you don’t even have to be a leader to learn them, but if you are, knowing these principles will help you understand the people you are leading.)

You can’t run fast forever, but you’ll run faster when you know you can rest.

Most leaders struggle with pace. Either we’re always on or we’re on the mend from trying to be always on. But what I love about interval training is that I can run at a much faster pace because I know that a recovery interval is coming and that recovery interval is just as important as the running one. In fact, the recovery actually enables me for the next sprint.

It’s no different in leading people, whether it’s your family, your church or your business. You can’t give 100% effort 100% of the time. You’ve got to have periods of rest and recovery, and when you make that a normal part of your rhythm, so will the people following you. Stop pushing yourself – and others – to do what we were never made to do.

Learn the secret of the Sabbath. Even God rested on the 7th day, and because He’s God, we know that He didn’t actually require rest. Instead, He was modeling the rhythm of rest.

What makes us better usually doesn’t feel like it’s making us better.

I don’t know a lot of runners who actually wake up on interval days and scream, “Yay! Today I get to almost throw up!!” That would be crazy. We don’t like the training, but all of us love the benefit of the training: better cardio, lower resting heart rate, quicker turnover, faster pace, passing more people at the end of races. You know, the important stuff.

But in the middle of an interval, it doesn’t feel like you’re getting better. It actually feels like you’re going to meet Jesus. Interval training teaches me that I can’t lead based on my emotion because so much of what I need to do to improve as a leader won’t feel good when I’m doing it.

Like Jesus, I’ve got to see past the pain in order to push through the pain. The writer of Hebrews tells us that “for the joy set before Him (He) endured the cross.” One of the weaknesses of the current church culture is an inability to handle pain and if we want to change that culture, we’ll need to change ourselves.

Trust me, what makes us better usually doesn’t feel like it’s making us better. But it is.

Last one, best one

One of the highlights of my children’s middle school years was coaching their cross-country teams, and if you asked the runners on those teams what I said during every interval workout, they would say 4 words: last one, best one.

We tend to slow down the more tired we get, but in a race, the goal is actually to run what are commonly called “negative splits.” A negative split means that you ran the second half of a race faster than you ran the first half, and in order to pull that off, you’ve got to learn how to run fast on tired legs.

How do you do that? You guessed it. You run each interval in the workout faster than the previous one and then, just when you feel like you can’t do it any faster, you do. You dig deep and find more in you then you thought you had and you make the last one the best one.

Most of us are pretty good at starting well – we join the gym, read the forward to a new book, determine to journal or blog – but the reality is that starting isn’t all that hard. Finishing is. And finishing better than we started is even harder. But if we’ll learn to trust the passion in us more than the pain in us, we’ll find ourselves surging at the end instead of finishing on fumes.

Are you in the middle of a tough stretch as a leader? Do you feel like I did yesterday in the 8th, 9th and 10th interval of my workout? Let me leave you with these encouraging words from another leader who also found himself in that place from time to time. I pray that these would become your words, too.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

You will reap. It’s a promise, and the only thing required of you is that you simply keep going.

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Paul Jenkins

Paul Jenkins is lead pastor of The Gathering, a community church located in beautiful downtown Albemarle, North Carolina. He's the author of God is My Air Traffic Controller and My Name's Not Lou. Paul is passionate about his wife, his 3 children, running, reading, coaching, leading people who are following Jesus, Swedish Fish and the Carolina Panthers.


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