Ultra runner and management consultant Torbjörn Grahn

What we do when we are free and free to choose differs from person to person. Torbjörn Grahn, who is a senior management consultant at Ekan, belongs to the slightly special crowd that devotes itself to ultra running - i.e. run farther in a day (or a weekend!) than most of us do in months or years.

This is of course fascinating, so we had to talk a little about what drives Torbjörn and what his leisure interest possibly has to do with his professional life as a project and program manager.

You last ran a race last weekend – what was it?

I ran a race called Mozart100 together with my ultra friend Fredrik. A race of about 100 km and with 5,000 meters of altitude that has a start and finish in Salzburg. It took us 17.5 hours to get around, which was about 1 hour faster than our plan. We were very pleased with that performance under the circumstances.

Wow…! It must have felt a little brave at some point during the race - what did you do then?

We were not lucky with the weather, it rained constantly the whole race. When it got dark after about 15 hours, the rain increased and the paths literally ran away, it was tough both physically and mentally. Then it's a lot about focusing on what you can influence and putting the energy into continuing to move forward. There is nothing you can do about the weather and the darkness.

Can you describe a little how you manage motivation and endurance in ultra running?

It is largely the challenge that inspires and drives the motivation in ultra running. The target image and vision is to get to the finish line, put a check for the race and feel that you have made it. The intermediate goals will be the depots/fluid checks that come approximately every 10 km. Focus on taking one control at a time from the beginning when you are quite alert, soon you will be half way and then you can start counting down. Then you have run further than you have left to run.

After all, running in itself is motivating and it's a luxury to be able to focus completely on something for 17 hours. It is also the environment and the nature experiences that are motivating. There is a lot of beauty on the way to appreciate, even when you are tired and it is raining. Last, but not least, a good and stimulating company makes things easier and makes the kilometers go by more easily.

The endurance is very much in the mental. Then, of course, you have to train your body to be persistent. What you practice, you become good at!

Can you draw any parallels between yourself as a runner and as a project and program manager?

It would probably be the stubbornness and perseverance, I don't give up so easily until something is finished. Then preparation, planning and implementation with goals and sub-goals are very similar to projects. Also the fact that things rarely go as planned. It is important to be prepared for changes and manage risks on an ongoing basis. This weekend, for example, the course was rescheduled twice due to the weather.

Are there tools or similar from ultra running that can be used to row large projects/programs in port?

The result and the experience are in proportion to the preparations, both in the form of training and planning of equipment, fluids and energy before the race. Focus on what you can influence, accept the rest as conditions, even if you don't always appreciate it. Reflect on your own performance and action, am I doing the right things now, am I creating the conditions to endure all the way? Deal with small problems early, if you wait too long and let them grow they can become impossible to deal with at all.

What do you take with you from the run?

You can handle more than you think, dare to challenge yourself. What's the worst that could happen? In running, you can just get tired - it's manageable. The reward and self-esteem is nice when you have succeeded in pushing your limits. Treat yourself to rest in the success, then it's time to find new goals and challenges 🙂