Thursday, July 29, 2010

Running a Gluten Free Business

A few Sundays ago was the 30th Annual Tibbetts Point Lighthouse 5K/10K Run in Cape Vincent, NY. Since I was in the Thousand Islands for the weekend, I decided on a whim to run the 5K leg of the race. It is a small, scenic, family-oriented race that runs through a residential portion of the town and along the St. Lawrence River.

Over the years, I have run the race a number of times in all kinds of weather conditions. What was different this year was that I hadn’t run a race in over two years. Actually, since starting the business, I have found it harder and harder to find enough hours in the day to do all the things I want.

Although I told myself that I was just running the race for the camaraderie and to enjoy the optimal weather conditions, I felt some of my competitive spirit kicking in at the line-up. The woman next to me struck up a conversation, and I learned that she was almost exactly my age, and she, too, was running her first race in several years. Her name was Gail, and she told me she just hoped to break 30 minutes

“Well, don’t follow me,” I laughed as we took off with me following her. I was feeling pretty good-- not beating any land speed record-- but we hadn’t even gone a quarter of a mile before I passed her by. All went well for about ¾ of the race until I hit a long, unshaded stretch. It was HOT!

“I don’t have to do this,” I said to myself. “I don’t need to prove anything,” and I stopped running and started walking. Physically I was fine, but mentally I just wasn’t there. Just after I started walking, another silver-haired woman, ran by. I had been walking only a minute or so when I heard footsteps, and a voice called out,

“You can’t stop now. I’ve been pacing on you the whole race. Come on we’ll run together.” It was Gail, and she and I vowed to cross the finish line together. It was a scene demonstrating just why I love the friendliness of this race. Right after crossing the finish line, the grey-haired woman who passed me walked up and said ,

“Good race. I was so surprised when you stopped-- I was following you the whole way.”Gayle and I barely missed her 30 minute goal, and in that half-hour, I learned several life lessons that are particularly appropriate to my role as an owner of a gluten free business:

1. PEOPLE YOU DON”T EVEN KNOW RELY ON YOU. In that small race, I had no idea that not one, but two runners my age were relying on me for pacing. I would never have stopped and walked had I known. Every day we get calls and e-mails from fans of our bread, but at least once a week, we get an impassioned plea to “never stop making your bread.” People all over the eastern part of the US have come to rely on us for the taste, quality, and purity of our gluten free bread. That is a lot of responsibility, and we take it very seriously.

2. MENTAL STRENGTH IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS BEING STRONG. There was absolutely no reason physically why I stopped and walked towards the end of the race—my head just wasn’t into it at the moment. In fact, Gayle jokingly admonished me for not even breathing hard. In fact if I hadn’t stopped and walked, I would have finished third in my age group. Instead, I literally let someone pass me by. In the gluten free business, we need to be agile. It just isn’t enough to be out front, operating from a position of strength. As a gluten free manufacturer, we need to constantly strive to improve our products without compromising the quality and integrity of our ingredients. We need to look at baking new and innovative, naturally gluten free products without relying on ingredient science to trick the palate and extend shelf life. At Against The Grain, we are always looking 12-18 months out at new product development (our new Nut-free Pesto Pizza, for example, was several years in the planning.) Stay tuned for some really innovative gluten free products!

Post Script: Last weekend I bumped into Gail again at The Save The River 5K in Clayton, NY. The humidity was a killer, but I beat the 30 minute mark by 30 seconds. Gail, on the other hand, came in third in our age category with a terrific 28:06. Way to go Gail!

No comments: