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Maximum speed vs maximum sustainable pace

Maximum speed vs maximum sustainable pace

Issue No. 6

📰
This is a project by Jeremy Brown. I write about topics that I care about, such as building high performing teams that make great products, culture, leadership and technology.
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It's been nine months since I've been out on my bike. Today I did a 57 km (35 miles) ride to the inlaws for Sunday lunch and back. I haven't been exercising much recently, so this ride pushed my limits. On a steep climb in the woods, I had to get off and push my bike up the incline. Despite drinking a lot and it being a cool morning, I almost bonked at another point.

It got me thinking about the difference between our maximum speed and our maximum sustainable pace. Given how exhausted I am, this week's post will be pretty short, but I hope it gets you thinking.

💬 In this issue, I cover:

  • The difference between maximum speed and maximum sustainable pace
  • and why leaders need to pace themselves.

🏎 Maximum speed and maximum sustainable pace 🐢

The concept is straightforward. We can all get up and sprint to the best of our ability; unfortunately, we can't sustain that pace for very long. If you push your body close to your maximum heart rate, you will likely only be able to hold that for a very short time.

Our maximum sustainable pace, on the other hand, is the pace we can sustain over the whole of the race.

When I used to row, we used to do 5k tests on the rowing machine. The trick was to go off at a pace where you felt like you were rowing inside yourself. Often you had to fight the urge to go faster over the first two thousand meters. Then lactic acid levels started to build up, and the pace that felt easy at the start became harder and hard to sustain. I often felt like I was just hanging on before hitting the last three to four hundred meters when you had to dig deep and throw everything at the last minute.

If you went off too hard too early, you would blow up. If you went off too easy, you would have plenty at the tank at the end. Getting your pacing right was an art. I got my best scores when I went off rowing inside myself and managed to squeeze out better splits over the second half of the test. It was the best feeling when you pulled the last stroke and fell off the machine with exhaustion, achieving a personal best because I knew I had given it my all.

Every race or activity we do has both a maximum speed and a maximum sustainable pace.

I think life and work, in particular, should be done at a pace where you never fall off the rowing machine in exhaustion or blow up. It should be done at a pace that allows you to avoid blowing up, bonking, or hitting the wall.

The thing is, our maximum sustainable pace is likely a lot slower than the pace we are currently going at!

I have had a few experiences where I have pushed myself too far, to the point of burnout or beyond. I didn't know what burnout was the first time it happened. I just knew I had to bug out. Thankfully there is a lot more awareness of burnout now, and companies are starting to get wise to it and provide all sorts of benefits to help their staff.

If you are:

You might be suffering from burnout.

If you think you might be suffering from burnout or feel close to burning out, there are many things that you can do. I highly recommend getting some outside help.

💡 Why leaders need to pace themselves

Being a leader means that no matter how hard you try to avoid it, people put you on a pedestal. So how you behave has consequences. It causes ripples in an organisation like a pebble splashing in a pond.

Something you say can stick in the memories of your team for a very long time.
Suppose the stakes are high and emotions are running hot. In that case, you need to keep it together or risk amplifying the situation. It is hard to do this if your emotional tank is already empty.

The best leaders that I have worked for always seemed to have a bottomless well of positivity. They always found a way through the hardest of situations. They always had time for the people around them despite being in the most challenging situations.

If we aspire to be that rock, then we must look after ourselves.
The more senior you are, the more in control of your emotions you need to be. As we grow as leaders, we need to go on a profound inner journey.

There have been some moments where I thought I was entirely in control, operating at a pace that I thought was challenging but sustainable. But unfortunately, those were the moments when I've had my biggest failures. The kind of blowouts that have you questioning if you are even cut out to be in a leadership position.

So finding a pace for yourself where you can operate well inside yourself is crucial to having the space to respond when things go wrong.
We don't just owe this to ourselves but also to those we lead, our friends and our family.

As I write this, I can assure you that I'm far from perfect. I'm on a journey and trying to figure things out. Consider me a fellow struggler on the path.

Thankfully I made it out and back on my ride but my legs and eyes feel like lead and I'm going to hit the hay as soon as I hit send on this week's post.

That is all for this week folks, have a great week!

Jeremy (he/him)

Don't ignore your dreams, don't work too much, say what you think, cultivate friendships, and be happy.

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