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HOW TO EAT AN ELEPHANT – OR SPRINT AND RUN A MARATHON AT THE SAME TIME

Per Kyed Laursen meets us on a lovely and sunny day near Nørreport Station. He’s having chicken and bacon, salad, and freshly squeezed juice.  Per needs to stoke up nutritionally for the giant adventure ahead.  He’s a living demonstration how you can in fact sprint and run a marathon at the same time.

THINKING IS BEST DONE WHILE MOVING

Day to day, Laursen is in charge of service offerings and projects at 7N. Right now he’s working on a super agile strategic development project for Lån & Spar. That’s meant a lot of changes to his daily life on the job.

My work is multi-faceted. I’m responsible for ensuring that the many stakeholders can move ahead without getting stuck in bottlenecks. That means handling supplier management, contract negotiations, legal approval, project meetings with suppliers, expectation management, requirement specifications, assessments of deliverables, and problem solving. My workdays are fast and mentally demanding, and I need to make decisions all the time.

Per likes the fast pace.

I love my work. No two days are alike. As a consultant, I get close to many new people in the organizations where I work. I uncover new strategies and methods and pick up new ideas. It is essential for me to stay sharp and to think through things carefully. Often, the pace is so fast that I quite literally have to get up and move around in order to think properly. I frequently need to deliver before I have all the answers, and I must act with extreme agility.  It gives me an adrenaline kick to be in such a dynamic environment, and it’s rewarding to see things unfold.

In order to keep his bearings amid all that activity, Per Kyed Laursen pays a lot of attention to his overall goal.

The overall goal typically remains constant, but the path toward the goal often changes, so I’m working with moving targets and evolving parameters. In my work, the goal posts keep moving, and I have to make decisions on the fly as to what I’m doing.  Is what we are doing still the best solution – now that we know about X or have changed Y? My work involves goal setting rather than deliverables.  If my goal changes, I make adjustments in the framework.

THE TOUGHEST BICYCLE RACE IN THE WORLD

Per Kyed Laursen is extremely well trained in the art of visualizing the final goal. Just a few years ago, he weighed in at 250 pounds and smoked 20-30 cigarettes a day. Now, he’s preparing for one of the world’s toughest bike races: Race Across America (RAAM).  That’s how he got his nickname, “Fatboy on Wheels”.  As of June 16 and for the next ten days, a buff Laursen is on his bike for 20 hours a day, sleeping only a few hours and spending the remaining time changing his clothes, switching bicycles, and undergoing medical checkups.

A team of eight – physicians, psychologists, bicycle mechanics, chefs, and race strategists including a close friend – is helping Per get from San Diego to Annapolis near Washington D.C.  The 3,000 mile route presents a total rise of 150,000 feet through a varied terrain of deserts, mountains, prairies, and endless roads with all the excitement of sand storms, heat waves, tornadoes, rain, sleet, and freezing temperatures.  In contrast, the Tour de France riders bike about 2,060 miles in 23 days with two days off.  While Per Kyed Laursen needs to put 300-310 miles behind him every day, Contador and his friends get away with about 110.

In addition to preparing for the challenges provided by nature, Per is getting ready for a number of physical hardships like diarrhoea, vomiting, weak neck muscles, sand inhalation, heat stroke, and – not least – acute sodium deficiency.  The latter put an end to his dream race last year.  After 560 miles, Per was down for the count, collapsing and ending up at a local hospital where he was in a coma for 24 hours, risking permanent brain injury.  Luckily, that didn’t happen, and the experience only intensified his motivation to complete the race this year.  The obvious question is “why?”.  Per explains:

It’s all about curiosity and the pushing of my mental limits and ability. In principle, there is no difference between progressing from running three miles to a half marathon and advancing from an Ironman to RAAM. It’s about breaking through the barriers we think we can’t overcome. For me, the hardest nut to crack was getting my then sizeable body off the couch and taking a spinning class. Today, I know that if I can do the 400 miles in 24 hours it takes to get in the race, I can physically get through the race.  The rest is a matter of what goes on in your head.

These extremes give him insight into himself and his life. Per adds:

I’m driven by curiosity:  Am I able to push my mental barrier?  When you’re at the limit of what you think is possible, you’re confronted by your inner demons and the beliefs that hold you back. If you don’t push through, you’ll crystallize those limitations for the rest of your life, preventing you from enjoying life in all its fullness.

ONE BITE AT A TIME

Someone who previously biked in the RAAM has said that the race in many ways is just like eating an elephant in terms of the event’s extent and duration, the climate, and the many physical and mental challenges.  Whether you’re dealing with an extreme sports performance or a development project in a large organization, Per Kyed Laursen’s advice is simple:

Eat one bite at a time! It’s about not planning any further ahead than your current horizon.  Strategy and guiding principles are good to have, but you must be ready to modify them.  Plan only for what you can anticipate; then assess, adjust, and keep aiming toward the goal with the knowledge you have.

For Per, there are many similarities between his work and RAAM.

“Day- to-day life often runs smoothly without much deviation. In RAAM, my day-to-day functions are my bike, my legs, and the rhythm of the ride. These functions need to be assessed from time to time, but not all the time. In contrast, decisions about developing situations need to be made much more quickly so that we can optimize the environment and minimize potential risks at a faster pace. Say it’s my sodium level going down, say I get a fever or I vomit, say I ride into a sand storm during my race.  Here, you must think with dynamism and agility. I know that my bike can keep moving, and the rest is all about making environmental adjustments.  I need to pound the pedal two million times – bicycling is bicycling – but everything else is fluid and needs constant optimization.”  That’s how Per Kyed Laursen, who is well supported by his team during the race, explains the similarities.

THE BICYCLE IS A MEDITATION TOOL

Per really loves his bike.  Riding it, he is totally free. He disengages his brain and puts it in a meditative state.  Per solves many problems when his brain works in an unstructured manner while his legs pedal in a systematic rhythm.

When asked if he’s ready to risk his life in the race, he answers calmly.

I know there is a risk. I found that out last year. But the high risk just motivates me all the more to plan, prepare, and train as much as at all possible – precisely to minimize risk.  We learn best from the projects that fail and pose challenges. To be honest, I don’t think about the risk of dying in the race. Out of thousands who completed the race, only two riders have died, and they were mowed down by drunk drivers.

His mother and his wife eagerly await news when Per and his team leave for the US, even though they don’t want to follow him for every moment as he faces the challenges of the race.  His mom has given up trying to understand him, but Per makes a point of sharing the experience with his wife.  Last year, she got a particularly clear impression of the motivations driving Per.

Per is 46 and hopes to complete RAAM in nine days. With that challenge under his belt, his next dream is to participate in the Australian Crocodile Trophy mountain bike race, a nine-leg outback race.

7N is proud to sponsor Per Kyed Laursen’s RAAM ride.

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