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Life-lessons about hard work, failure & mindset from an ultra-endurance athlete: Robert Hajnal

Oct 12, 2018 | Posted by Cristina in Newsletters

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One of my friends, Robert Hajnal, is an ultra-endurance athlete, winner of long distance races (more than 100 km long) that take place on mountain trails.

He recently won the second place at UTMB (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc) – a race you can think of as the equivalent of Superbowl. The best trail runners in the world compete in this extremely hard 170 km (105 miles) mountain race around the Mont Blanc, with an overall 10,000 m vertical gain (or 32,800 ft – for comparison, Everest’s height is 29,029 ft). A challenge that passes through three countries (Switzerland, France and Italy), takes place at a high altitude and in difficult weather conditions.

Robert competed against a couple thousand runners, “crème de la crème”, and came second, after 21 hours, 31 minutes and 37 seconds, taking the ultrarunning world by surprise. He’s the underdog that empowers everyone and gives them courage to believe in themselves.

In the past years, I’ve had the opportunity to learn a few things from him, and found his lessons to be applicable in other areas as well, not just endurance sports. Here are a few insights that I want to share with you:

1. “People overestimate what they can do in one year, but underestimate what they can do in 5 years.

This quote belongs to Bill Gates, and Robert adapted this mindset of zooming out and having a long term perspective.
He started running only 7 years ago, and kept UTMB in mind for the past 5 years. He was watching the UTMB competition from home, together with a couple running buddies, when he asked them: “What do you think it takes to win this race?“. They thought he was crazy.
He made a long term plan, that he broke down into small actionable steps that would bring him closer to his goal.

2. “Monotony is a muscle that needs to be trained, just like any other muscles.

People expect all sorts of tricks and growth hacks in order to become high performers, but what actually makes a difference is the ability to put in the hard work and dull training, day after day, as well as enduring a high level of pain. It’s a mental challenge as much as it is a physical one.

Remember the Pareto law? 80% of the outputs result from 20% of the input? How much extra work do you need to do in order to not get stuck at an average level and get closer to the 100%?

3. Failure was the best lesson I learned.

This was not the first time when Robert competes in the UTMB. One year ago, he competed in the exact race, same weather conditions, and abandoned. He didn’t let his ego run the show and told himself that if he doesn’t win then, he’ll surely win in 10 years. He had the opportunity to learn a lot.

This year, he came to train on the course of the race a few weeks before the competition. He also put to test his nutrition plan and support crew in a Romanian 24 hour competition – almost as long as he expected to be running at the “final test”.

4. There will always be someone who’s better than you. No matter if you were a world champion or set olympic records, there will come a time when someone who’s faster than you, younger than you, more trained or mentally stronger, will surpass you or break your records.

Robert embraces competition. He’s humble and grateful for the opportunity to learn from others. He’ll train harder every day, thinking that someone, somewhere, is training more than he is. He’s aware that competition helps him raise the bar and become better. He never wastes an opportunity to ask other people questions, eager to absorb knowledge.

I’ve never heard winners bad-mouthing other people, but I can’t say the same thing about mediocre runners. They’re controlled by their egos and will arrogantly gossip about those who are better than they are, instead of asking themselves what they can learn from them (mostly because they believe there’s nothing to learn and they already know everything).

5. Running is, above all, a mental sport and you need to learn how to dominate your opponent.”

In the interview we published with Robert a year ago, he recommended books that have nothing to do with running. Instead, he talked about books that strengthened his mind and helped him build resilience.

Ultrarunning, as any other endurance sport, is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. If you don’t have a strong, clear mind, able to embrace the discomfort of running up and down mountains, several marathons in a row, day and night (and sometimes even multiple days and nights), you don’t stand a chance.

One last thing. Remember my article from a couple weeks ago, about the toxic ego and musicians who thought the good times will last forever? Robert doesn’t arrogantly presume that in his case it will be different, so he plans for the long term. He started investing in and building side projects that don’t directly depend on the races he competes in, and trusted people with complementary skills as his business partners.

How can you apply these lessons in your everyday life?

[photo credit:]


Robert wants to teach other people everything he knows about running. Throughout the next months he’ll run a series of workshops in the 10 biggest Romanian cities, where he’ll talk about how he became an ultra-performer in such a short time (he started running only 7 years ago) and without getting injured (an outlier in the ultrarunning world). He’ll teach those who attend how to build a training plan that will help them improve their running and achieve their goals.

Here’s the good news: The CEO Library partnered up with Robert for this series of events, so our readers get a 10% discount for all his workshops! Here are the discount codes you can use to signup – just don’t think about it too much, as they can be used only for a limited number of normal price tickets (not the VIP ones). And I’ll see you this Saturday (November 10th) at the first workshop, in Bucharest 🙂

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