Many moons ago, I was a distance runner. I ran cross country in high school my junior and senior years, each race being a 5K. After starting out as a slow what-was-I-thinking runner who was not the ideal distance running shape and did not have proper form, I became an *okay* runner for my team. I even won a race my senior year.
Cut to today, fifteen years later. I still like to play outside but I’m not nearly the athlete I once was. I’m a big proponent of adult kickball leagues, but my endurance has been severely reduced. If you strap two large bags of kitty litter to the back of high-school-distance-runner me, that’s what you’d see today.
But now I have a friend who is pushing me to get back out and run. I trained over a summer a few years back to run a 5K and did *okay* considering the circumstances (I was still far heavier than in my high school days, and the results reflected it) and last summer I ran a 5K where I beat my initial goal (even though it wasn’t particularly lofty).
Now I’m planning to run this 5K with her and a few other friends in October in Columbia and I’m kicking off my training two months early. I’m implementing changes to my training habits (going from “none” to “small goals”) and to my lifestyle (being a bit more wary of what I eat).
I’m implementing continuous improvement principles in yet another facet of my life. I don’t expect to stop at the October 5K and be done with it. I’d like to build on the work I’m putting in now for future events and lifestyle improvements. But endurance training and distance running can be hard. Just like implementing Lean.
So what can endurance training and distance running teach us about Lean and continuous improvement?
- It’s probably going to be very difficult when you first start. Unless you’re genetically gifted for running or are fortunate to implement setups right the first time, there will be lots of pain in getting started. If you worked really hard on your first day of running, expect to be extremely sore the next morning.
- Training the entire system to the new way of doing things. When you start making changes in one area it will begin to affect other areas upstream and downstream. Changes in cycle times and absorbed raw material rates will impact process suppliers and customers, while muscle tone improvements generated by running will affect the rest of the body (bloodflow and circulation, stress reduction, weight loss in arms, etc). In addition, you might be able to reduce excess motion in running style so that minimal energy is consumed in overall progress of running so there’s more left over at the end of the run.
- Despite the early struggles, be disciplined in going out and doing the work. It’ll be tough to maintain motivation while continually feeling sore or feeling production pains, but it will eventually get better as long as you stick with it and realize the pain will eventually dissipate.
- PDCA. Plan-Do-Check-Act is a way of monitoring a cycle of improvement that provides a way of double-checking the impact the improvements will have and changing plans based on new knowledge gained. Perhaps you’re kicking off a journey with 5S and you’ve created audit templates you expect to cover all required facets but down the line you learn you need to add or remove some content. You planned the form and created it, and checked its viability. With running long distances, you might have a training plan for the next two weeks where you expect to jump from three miles to six continuous miles. What if you turn an ankle on a run and have to sit out a couple days, thus delaying your six mile achievement? What if you feel really good during early runs and find that you might be able to hit seven miles at the end of the two weeks instead? Sometimes plans have to change, but change those plans because you absolutely have to, not because you lacked discipline to stay the course.
- You’re probably going to have lofty long-term goals, but a bunch of smaller quickly-achieved goals will provide motivation with quick wins. It would be nice to go from lying on the couch to running a half-marathon in six months, but smaller goals in between that six-month period – one mile today, 2 miles after one week, three miles after two weeks, six miles after two months, ten miles after four months – will show your true measurable progress.
- Monitor your progress with visual indicators and visual controls. I wear a digital watch with a timer during my runs and I keep a mental reference for my best times on certain types of runs in certain locations (around the neighborhood clockwise, around the neighborhood counterclockwise, etc.) but if I really wanted to maintain a visual indication of my progress I would throw my elapsed time data into an Excel spreadsheet and create charts.
- Improve efficiency with reduction of excess inventory. By reducing wasteful activities in processes and streamlining operations, companies will see that they are able to reduce inventories and potentially open up space that could drive more revenues. With distance running, the body will naturally look to become more efficient itself by reducing fat stored in muscle fiber. With reduced fat comes reduced weight (or by incorporating strength training you can add muscle weight, which is still a state of higher efficiency). You’ll become faster, have greater endurance, you’ll become stronger…and yes, you’ll become more lean.
- Don’t expect success if you don’t stick with it. Failure to maintain discipline will demotivate and you’ll revert back to the previous state. You can’t get up and run one day, give it up for a week, and pick it up again and expect progress. Same thing with Lean. It’s no wonder many companies that drop Lean after early struggles call it the “flavor of the month.” It’s only looked upon that way by those with little to no discipline or follow-through.
- Be safe. All continuous improvement activities should be performed with the expectation of improving safety, quality, AND productivity. I’ve been in situations where safety was pushed to the back burner, and the consequences of such decisions were costly (hello OSHA). With athletics, always stretch before partaking in activities. With stretching and training, you become more flexible and stronger so you are less prone to sprains, strains, accidents, and other ailments arising from being unsafe. And if you run at night, wear bright clothing and carry a flashlight.
(This post is dedicated to my friend who is getting me “off the couch” again as well as my friend Susie Stein and her specialty running/fitness stores called Up and Running in Dayton, Ohio and Troy, Ohio. Her stores are awesome for long-time runners or first-time-in-a-long-time runners, and she has been a great provider of insight, service, and motivation. If you’re in the Dayton, Ohio area, go see her.)