The Business of Running

I run 5 miles every night. It’s where I go to digest my day, hash out the multitude of information that’s been poured into me in the last wild six months or so, and to try and condense it down to some sort of cohesive strategy to live my life by.

Tonight, as I ran my laps, a familiar thing happened: someone tried to race me. A mile in, I came up on a runner as they entered the track, and made a move to pass him on the right. And like an asshole, he sped up.

It’s never your real competition that does this; it’s the mark of desperation. He was half my size, with a tiny, stuttered stride, and a form that burns stitches into your flesh. A real runner is out there for himself, and no one else. If it was about conflict, about proving superiority, you wouldn’t see them alone on the track at 4am, or on the streets in the pouring rain. I lace up my shoes each night because it’s precisely the opposite of what my body tells me it wants–that’s my motivation. So my pace is linear, rising steadily to the climax, not sporadic like a Richter scale. Running is like golf in the sense that it’s a continuous battle for control of your emotions. When you let them get away from you, your performance suffers. The instinct, when you’re challenged, is to chase after them. But if you do, you’ve already lost.

Emerson said that “there is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide.” It’s accepting the imposition of another’s will on the racetrack that is suicide. You run to define yourself, and when you allow a short term challenge to alter your pace and long term strategy, you’ve just been defined by someone else.

What I’ve learned–and it’s probably one of the few life lessons I picked up on my own–is that if you continue at the pace you set for yourself, 9 times out of 10 you walk away the winner. I’ve picked up on the fact that success in life begins itself internally and manifests itself externally. And the only way you can reach your destiny is to define and then commit everything to achieving it.

And as I kept a constant stride, his fluctuations induced heavy breathing and staggered steps. And as I stayed fluid and loose, he grew rigid and paranoid. He swerved erratically, refusing to concede the inside or outside of the track. His breathing was frantic–it’s not good for you to sprint in the middle of a long distance run. He’d glance over his shoulder constantly, checking my status, which was maddeningly consistent. There is nothing more discouraging for the runner ahead to find that each time he speeds up, seconds later you’re still on his heels.


This is the pitfall that big business makes when they see the rising tide of revolution. They quicken their stride, increase their pace with frantic, misguided energy, and entirely lose their focus. There is a reason that almost every war strategist warns against emulating the tactics of the opposition–you become an inferior copy of your enemy. Robert Greene talks about this too: When you’re being pursued, or knocked off balance, he says, the key is to stop and mentally re-center yourself–and whatever you do don’t continue to do the very thing that got you in trouble. That’s what they call the definition of insanity. Instead, you try a new approach, or fix what wasn’t working.

Again, with internet video, as YouTube breathes down the neck of the networks, we find them attempting to build competitors–to in a sense, become a cut-rate copy of their enemy. Instead, they ought to be focusing on their strengths, the nearly limitless resources, the superior content, priceless franchises and intellectual property. With the music industry, they think that DRM is the solution to the downloading problem. They devote countless hours and capital to staying one-step ahead of the pirates, only to see them catch up just a few weeks later. Newspapers see the success of Digg and want to make their own, when they ought to be using the rankings as a Nielson-like barometer to guide their coverage. Ultimately, media needs to stick with what they do best, set their own pace, and devote everything to keeping.

It’s not just the old media either. How many rip-offs do we see of TheSuperficial or WWTDD? How many of those sites work on growing organic traffic with original, unique content? None, they all steal from the big guys and spam like crazy. That was the saving grace of Calacanis’ Netscape. Sure, it was similar to Digg, but it wasn’t a short term sprint at the lead. It was, and is an attempt to develop a real community for a separate niche audience.

***‘stay above the fray.’

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.