Even though my blog is called “A Maraton Running CIO”, I’ve never written about my marathon running! Well, this article first appeared on the OTIA website (otia.ie) recently and so I’ve republished it here:
My name is Fin Goulding and I am the International CIO at Aviva. I am responsible for the technical teams across Europe and India, but I also have my own part-time startup called the Flow Academy, where I’m focused on helping companies to become more agile (not just technically) and to implement new ways of working. With Flow Academy, I do lots of interviews, keynote speeches and talking to the C-suite executives from a number of famous Companies.
Currently, I live in Dublin with my wonderful Argentinian wife. Outside of work, I’m an obsessive marathon runner. I had always hated running, but when I moved to Buenos Aires in 2009, I didn’t want to just socialise with ExPats. So I decide to join a running team in order to learn the language and meet people – and it certainly worked! The Coach of the running team in Buenos Aires was not just an inspiration, but also a fantastic motivator of the team. He convinced me (and others) that we could excel at long distance running.
From a running point of view, my biggest inspiration has to be the women’s world record holder Paula Radcliffe. I got the opportunity to chat with her at the 2018 London Marathon. She gave me some great tips: she said that when the going gets tough, she starts to count to 100 – over and over – to keep the mind occupied. She always has a focal point near the end of the course, which is a mile or so from the finish line. In the London marathon, she focused on a red telephone box on the embankment. I plan to use Paula’s counting technique, but I usually pick someone that’s ahead of me and try to reel them in. Too many runners start too quickly, but us wily foxes do the opposite. Mentally, it’s great passing runners in the last few kilometres of the race.
My first marathon was in Buenos Aires in October 2010, and I ran it in 3hrs 40mins. I’m very competitive, and there were other members of my running team in the race; my objective was to come first in our group – which I did! My first goal was to complete this marathon. Then it was to achieve a certain time. Then, of course, when I found out that you could get a special medal for completing all six of the major marathons (London, Berlin, Tokyo, Chicago, New York, and Boston), that became the new challenge; and let me tell you, I love my six-star finisher medal. For context, more people have reached the summit of Mount Everest than have earned an Abbott World Majors six-star medal. In fact, only 26 runners from Ireland have currently completed the six races.
Currently, I run 4 or 5 marathons a year; hence, I just keep running all year round. The volume of mileage in training increases as each week of the plan goes by, but I’ll usually top out at around 100kms per week. I’m not sure how much I run during the entirety of my training for any marathon, but it’s a lot. I would love to do more, but I just don’t have the time!
I’d say the most rewarding thing about running long distances is the kiss from my wife at the finish and the obligatory alcoholic isotonic beverage or two (i.e. beer!). Plus, we get to visit some spectacular places. My wife has run two marathons and we completed one race in Buenos Aires together, holding hands as we ran across the finishing line – who said that I’m not a romantic at heart!
I’ve now completed 28 marathons, and I’m on course for the challenge of running 30. I’m actually running the Valencia marathon in December; the provisional list of marathons I’d like to compete in next year is Rotterdam, Reykjavik, Norwich, and Dublin. I would say that, without a doubt, all the marathon running throughout the years has been a benefit to my technological career. I get most of my inspiration whilst running – much of the things I write about, in terms of Business Agility and new ways of working, come from the “ah-ha” moments out on the road. Being a CIO can also be very stressful, and one usually has huge strategic objectives to complete. But after running in so many races around the world, I know that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
A great place to start for beginning marathon runners is to download and use the ‘Couch to 5K’ app. Then, you need to be comfortable with running at least 4 times a week and learn how to stretch. Then, and only then, should you start a marathon training program. There are many of them online; a 16-week beginner plan is what I used back in 2010. The mental preparation is tougher, but the aggregation of small gains experienced within the training gives you the confidence to run the full distance. However, your brain will try and stop you from hurting yourself. So, once you hit 35kms, the doubts will step in – if you haven’t eaten correctly, then you’ll hit what it is commonly known as ‘the well’. Hence, nutrition is key and getting your fuelling strategy right takes quite a bit of practice.
My advice to anybody looking to take up marathon running is to just do it! Contrary to what most people think, running is very sociable and you don’t have to be an expert to start. So, think about joining a local running team or attending a free weekly 5k park run in your neighbourhood. But also start by determining your purpose for taking up the sport. Running for a charitable cause is always a great way to keep yourself focused on completing the first race. Then, after that, it becomes addictive!