Crouched low to the ground, you feel the sweat bead on your forehead as the toes of your shoes dig into the track. The starting gun cracks like a whip beside you and you GO, muscles instinctively launching you forward, baton gripped tightly in your hand. You power around the track toward your teammate waiting for you, hand outstretched behind her. She’s not looking back, but trusting you to deliver. And you will.
If you ask Susan Vanin what she loved most about running relay races years ago, she’ll say it was a combination of several things: the adrenaline rush, the unbreakable trust that team members develop, and the reward of many hours of practice paying off in a seamless handoff.
As a member of the track team, she and her teammates spent countless hours training both in solitude and together to run the 400 metre relay race with the precision of a finely tuned machine.
On race day, all the hard work paid off but in more than just medals and accolades. Because the success of the team depended upon the success of each individual, there was also a huge sense of accomplishment rooted in the acknowledgement of how hard they worked together to get there. And that’s a big part of what makes Susan a great racer.
It’s about building individual strength for the good of the team
The whole point of a relay race is that it’s a team effort — each individual’s speed contributes to a team’s win.
“In a relay, each team member essentially owns a piece of the race,” said Susan. “Knowing that someone is ahead of you, waiting for you and depending on you, really drives your performance up a notch. You’re responsible for your own portion and you have to give it your all in order for everyone else to win.”
In order for a relay team to be effective, there can’t be any weak links. It’s about teamwork, but the teamwork happens because of individual preparation and strength.
It’s about being technique and precision
When it comes to a relay race, each individual practices to make sure they can run their best on race day, but the team also works together to perform as a unit.
Training is what makes the difference between a good team and a stellar one. But it’s just not about speed – there are many aspects of the race that must be paid attention to, and practiced.
“Racing gets quite technical,” said Susan. “Your stride, your pace, and how you breathe are all critical. There’s a lot of research that goes into building an optimal race technique, then trialing, then practicing over and over to make it all natural and seamless.”
It’s about never dropping the baton
Above all, when it comes to running a relay race, the most important aspect is to never, ever drop the baton.
“If you drop the baton in a relay race, you’re done,” said Susan. “It’s over. That’s why the team needs to work together to communicate, to pass the baton seamlessly, to make sure that baton never drops.”
This one aspect is a key part of the training that happens as a team, and Susan noted how often her track team practiced just the hand off of the baton, and nothing else. And the key to smooth hand-offs? Trust.
“In an exceptional team, you work so closely together that your team mates become an extension of you,” Susan said. “So when it comes to passing the baton, you don’t look back — you trust that your team will be behind you exactly where and when you need them.”
Susan runs marketing like a relay racer
Today, Susan works as the Director of Global Marketing Operations at Juniper Networks where she collaborates with her team to ensure the baton never loses momentum and crosses the finish line.
As a relay racer, Susan had a natural ability to hone in the details of how to improve her own performance, as well as regard the strengths and challenges of the team from a holistic view.
“The GTM Ops team manages the integration of different technologies into our marketing stack, which receive and hand off a lot of data between systems,” said Susan. “It’s much like passing the baton in a relay race; the marketing technologies we deploy must work together seamlessly to ensure that data flows correctly amongst the various systems.”
“To be successful you need an in-depth understanding and alignment to the greater organizational and corporate goals. At Juniper Networks, our marketing organization is keenly attuned to its contribution to the business, so we deploy technologies that enable us to make data-driven, strategic decisions that maximize our impact.”
To win a relay race, a team must work together, give their best individual effort, and practice to make sure things go to plan. In a race as in her work, Susan’s personal contributions move the baton seamlessly among her team, much like in her days as a relay racer.