Doing something completely different seemed crazy at the time, but it’s amazing how much you can get out of seemingly mad ideas, says Tony Phillips.

In 2003 I entered the New York City marathon and came across an article in a newspaper by Jeff Galloway, the US Olympian and marathon runner, who was extolling the virtues of the run/walk method. Jeff even told stories of marathon runners who had broken the three-hour marathon time by using the run/walk method, after previous failed attempts. I decided to give this method a go. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made, because having completed a marathon previously (and hating pretty much the entire experience) I absolutely loved run/walking the New York Marathon. I remember crossing the finish line thinking that I wanted to do another one; perhaps something even more challenging, and soon.

So, a few Sundays later, back in the UK and on a long run, I began conjuring ideas about what I could do next to perhaps raise the level of the challenge. Having qualified as a coach a few months earlier, somehow I came up with what felt like the craziest idea ever, which was to run/ walk a marathon while coaching people by phone all the way, and raising money for a children’s charity.

What was even crazier was that this idea actually became a decision to do it in five months time, which I then started telling people about – now I know what you’re thinking, and I don’t know why my loved ones didn’t have me committed at that point either. I remember being questioned by my family and friends about why I wasn’t channelling the energy I would have to commit into developing my new coaching business instead. I couldn’t explain it. It just felt like something I had to do.

Something else occurred which, only in looking back now, do I realise turned the craziest decision into the best decision I have ever made. Steve Jobs, in his commencement speech to Stanford University students in 2005, said: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” I know what he means, but I didn’t then.

A man called Darren Robson who I’d never met or heard of, but who had apparently also recently qualified as a coach at around the same time, heard about my idea and got in touch to ask if he could join me.

He did, and we had a fantastic time training together, and publicising our endeavour. It was great fun phoning people to ask for their support. Everyone we spoke to thought we were mad, and even those who declined to support us laughed, and I got a sense that we’d just brightened their day.

Those who agreed to support us were even better. The best quote came from a man at Saucony who said: “You sound completely bonkers and absolutely my kind of people, of course we’ll support you,” and proceeded to kit us out with running gear for the event.

Meeting Darren, who has become a good friend, led to me delivering my first coaching workshops, which then led to my biggest corporate client contract. I was taken on as an associate coach with one of the biggest career transition and coaching consultancies, and now train new coaches in Guernsey and the UK. I also delivered my first keynote talk at a mental health conference, just a few months ago.

Today’s lesson? It’s possible that while you are running and form an idea that seems to be nonsensical, it could end up being the best decision you will ever make.


Tony Phillips is a personal coach who works with entrepreneurs and business leaders. An enthusiastic back of the pack runner, in 2010 he began an experiment to run at least a mile every day. Follow him @AMileEachDay or go to his website.

First published in Running Magazine, April 2016