An IRONMAN triathlon is one of the most intense physical competitions out there.

The race consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a full marathon run (26.2 miles). Competitors range from professional athletes to housewives with diverse professional and personal backgrounds, but they have one thing in common: They believe life begins outside their comfort zone.

I completed my first IRONMAN later in life, and now that I’m 63, I’m training for my sixth race. As a triathlete, I’ve learned valuable lessons about both mental and physical endurance. But it wasn’t until I applied these lessons to business that I saw the biggest payoff: learning how to be a better leader.

Here are four key lessons I learned about being a great leader while training to be an IRONMAN:

1. Harness the support of a great team. It’s important to celebrate strengths and victories, but it’s equally important to acknowledge weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Being a successful business leader (or athlete) is never a solo venture. Surround yourself with people who excel in areas you struggle with to build a support system that will help you grow.

2. Look for ways to be better. It sounds simple, but we often doubt our abilities to accomplish our biggest dreams. We can visualize the victory, but we’re still unsure we can actually attain it. We have to uncover our true potential and refuse to settle for less than our best. Great leaders understand that achieving any goal involves long-term planning.

3. Manage the highs and lows. Whether you’re training for a physical competition or pursuing a business initiative, there will always be highs and lows. But in the end, all of these challenges and successes even out and contribute to the journey.

Leaders must be goal-focused and learn to pace themselves to see their desired progress. As we say in training for the IRONMAN, “It’s not who goes the fastest; it’s who slows down the least.”

4. Learn to be flexible. Sometimes, nothing goes the way you planned — whether you cramp up during the race or lose an important client. In these instances, it’s vital for leaders to be flexible and adaptable. You have to let go of what you can’t control and focus on what you can.

Motivation stems from setting clear goals paired with a burning desire to achieve them. Often, leaders will stop challenging themselves because they hit a brick wall. When leaders do this, however, it’s difficult to regain the momentum they lost and easy to fall behind peers and competitors.

If you’re lacking the motivation to challenge yourself as a leader, take a few steps back to reevaluate your goals and be honest with yourself about whether you’re truly pushing yourself to grow. If not, enlist the support of a team that clearly understands what you need to accomplish and challenges you to get there. Find the walls of your comfort zone, and break through them. The best leaders, after all, never stop challenging themselves.

Author's Bio: 

Bobbie LaPorte is the founder and CEO of RAL & Associates, a career management and leadership development firm that works with senior-level executives to help them create a clear vision for their professional goals. Prior to founding RAL & Associates, Bobbie served as GM, COO, and CMO at Fortune 50 companies such as IBM, GE, and UnitedHealthcare, as well as two Silicon Valley-based healthcare technology startups.