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Madrid Marathon or How to Motivate an Employee: Part 1


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Just like all other years, this Sunday I will run the Madrid marathon. I am going to tell you what happened to me five years ago on a day like this….

27 April 2008, 7.15 a.m. The alarm clock went off like all working days, except today was Sunday: Nonetheless I still get up at the same time, the reason being I am going to run part of the Madrid marathon like I did last year.

This year I have decided to withdraw from the race after 28 kilometers, close to the Lago metro station. It never occurred to me to finish the marathon—although I run once or twice a week and play team sports that round out my practice—I think it’s crazy to run a little over 42 kilometers without stopping mentally or physically.

8.20 a.m. I exit the metro and walk towards the start line of the race. As this time I am unaccompanied I begin to take in my surroundings. Thousands of runners of all ages, Spanish cities, countries and cultures all intermingle. I notice that the runner profile is different from the usual one of other shorter races. The average age is higher, and judging from their clothes and behavior, I reckon they have been running for years. The atmosphere is very relaxed, as if all runners were on their way to a party. Many greet one another; they must know each other from other races. A Brazilian starts to talk to me and soon a Mexican, an Andalucian, a Canadian and a Madrileño join in. Time passes and before I know it, the gun goes off and the race commences.

9.00 a.m. The marathon is in full swing. The first 10 kilometers go by quickly for me. The good vibes other runners transmit make me feel an indescribable sense of wellbeing. There are runners who even talk while running, these first kilometers are about warming up and getting into it. There’s still a long way to go in the race and it must be taken in stride. I go at my pace but I begin to feel that 4,000 people running and others cheering all keep me company.

10.15 a.m. Km 15. I am on the street called Guzmán el Bueno. I start to feel tired and my right knee hurts a little, but for now it is just a mild pain. Km 17. The pain disappears when I hook up with what I call the magical stretch, the one that covers the Fuencarral, Gran Vía, Preciados, Mayor and Bailén streets. Here everything changes, beautiful buildings, the shops, the bustle of the neighboring streets, cheering crowds of intermingling locals and foreigners, a totally blue sky. All in all, the life MADRID exudes bumps up my adrenaline, spiking my emotions and making me fly. 

From this moment onwards, several events turn around my initial race goal: I look to my side, feel the fatigued pant of a runner, someone around 60 years of age. I notice he is going to trip over a bollard and I grab him so he doesn’t stumble. He gives me a look of thanks that I shall never forget. A trio of runners overtakes me and I notice that the one in the middle has a missing arm; I see that the other runners are on either side of him to make sure he doesn’t lose his balance. I catch up with a blind person who is tied to the hand of another runner who guides him; surprisingly the blind person is egging on the guide because he is having a hard time. The heat makes itself felt, I need more Vaseline to make sure I don’t get sores from chaffing clothes and I don’t know how to get it. Suddenly an “angel” on rollerblades appears with Reflex muscle spray and Vaseline. I am given a little and in passing, sprayed on the knee, this angel was none other than one of the volunteers who help during the race.

And that’s how I reached l Km 28, the point I was going to withdraw from the race, but I find myself with some reserves and I begin to see nearby many more people worse off than me who continue onwards. After what I have been through on the race course so far, I feel I can’t abandon them and I decide to continue…

12.00 noon. Km 30. I am beginning to feel I don’t have any energy left, here comes the so called marathon “barrier or wall”, the moment when energy bottoms out and the psychological preparation must kick in. I then start to think of the runners I encountered and their challenges, and this spurs me sufficiently to carry on from beverage to beverage without weakening until the finish line. On either side, the crowds are cheering, my emotions begin to surface again and I can’t hold back the tears as I cross the finish line….I did it! Other runners and I spontaneously hug one another—runners I don’t know except for one, the veteran I had helped, came up and effusively hugged me…

28 April 2008, 11.00 a.m. I’m back on the job. To get here, I had to take the lift. Yes, this time the stairs were an insurmountable barrier in the aftermath of the marathon. A colleague who heard I had done the marathon comes up to me and asks, “I’ve been told you did the marathon. What time did you do? How did you rank?” At that point I realize that I never once looked at my watch during the race, not even at the finish line. And I can’t check my position because I didn’t wear a number as I hadn’t planned on finishing, and that’s why I didn’t even sign up for the race. I have always been very competitive in any sport and yet on this occasion I didn’t care about time or rank. This is the marathon, so as the war cry of a basketball fan declares, “We’re only here to have fun and we don’t care about results.”

And that is how I ran my first ever marathon. Since then I never miss the annual event. This Sunday I will try to run it again. This time, four friends will join me, and like me five years ago, they don’t plan on finishing it. What none realize is that perhaps some will one day run the complete course.

This experience made me reflect upon what can motivate all these people to train for the marathon and the analogy that can be drawn between these motivating factors and employee motivation within companies.

Values like team work, autonomy, objectives fixed by the individual, the atmosphere, commitment, the capacity to surpass oneself, lateral thinking or recognition are what make this miracle happen. In the next article, I’ll tell you how I think these values can be extrapolated to employee motivation.

I’ll leave you now, I have to go and do my last training session before the race, just thinking about it makes my hairs stand on end, and more so, knowing that I will be emotional right at the start during the one minute of silence we will observe for our fellow Boston marathonians.


Pedro Dávila

Pedro A. Dávila Garrido es matemático y experto en la formación de soluciones de software de gestión de RR.HH. Ha ocupado puestos de consultor especializado en la nómina Española y Portuguesa y las áreas de RR.HH.. y actualmente es el director de formación de las soluciones Meta4, firma especializada en soluciones de software de gestión de RR.HH. Máster ejecutivo en Dirección de empresa en el ICADE y precursor de la aplicación de los valores del deporte en la empresa.

Pedro A. Dávila Garrido is a mathematician and a training expert for HR management software solutions. He has held consultancy positions addressing Spanish and Portuguese payroll management as well as HR management. Currently he is the Training Manager for Meta4 solutions, a company specialized in HRM software solutions. He also holds an Executive Master’s degree in Management from ICADE and pioneered the uptake of sports values within the company.

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