5 Business Lessons from Patrycja Bereznowska: Ultramarathonist and World Record Holder in 24 h Run

Or why life starts at 30, the benefits of staying behind, the curse of carbs and running 200 km when you struggle with 40 km.

Kamil Stanuch
8 min readMar 22, 2020

Amid a coronavirus threat and news on epidemic it is almost surreal that only two weeks ago we celebrated International Women’s Day with a special guest that accepted an invitation to our Grand Parade office. This person was Patrycja Bereznowska, a Polish ultramarathonist, world record holder in 24 h run (2017), Spartathlon winner and world record holder (246 km in 24:48:15) — in other words, probably the toughest person you will hear about today.

An analogy between sports and business is nothing new to most of us. In both cases the relentless focus, team-work and discipline are key ingredients for success. It comes as no surprise entrepreneurs, professionals and executives draw much inspiration from the athletes and their approach. But apart from this there are two specific reasons we wanted Patrycja to share her story with our teams in Kraków.

Patrycja Bereznowska (in the middle) with our team in Grand Parade part of William Hill office in Kraków (Kraków, March 9th 2020).

First of all, William Hill as a company is on the border of Tech and Sports, two areas that are stereotypically held to be masculine domains and dominated by males. As a Tech division it’s been our mission for a long time to change that perception by supporting Women in Tech initiatives and to promote leadership by shedding more light on individuals like Patrycja who shows what women are capable of.

The second aspect is the drive. This year we set off on a journey to adopt OKRs across the whole organization and started setting ambitious stretch goals that would reflect our mantra: „Go One Better”. As an individual, as a team, and as a company. This specific mindset pushes us towards bigger and better achievements and makes us set the bar higher in every aspect of our business. So if you take a quick look at Patrycja’s achievements you will quickly realize what going „above and beyond” really means:

  • Multiple world records in the world and European championships in the 24 hours run — both individually and in a team. All kinds: from marathons and half marathons to military runs in full gear, uniform and 10 kg backpack!
  • Finishing the most exhausting and extreme ultramarathon in the world — Badwater 135 (Death Valley, +51.3 Celsius degrees and scorpions waiting to befriend with you at night).
  • She’s one of the few people in the world who completed the run in less than 25 hours whereas the race time limit is 48 hours… It’s also worth highlighting that the women’s world record in this race now belongs to her.

This is why we couldn’t think of a better role model and a better example of a winning mentality than Patrycja – a woman, an athlete, a leader and overachiever in every challenge she chooses to face.

Check out more details about Patrycja Bereznewska and in the meantime have a look at 5 lessons I drew from her keynote speech.

Patrycja Bereznowska sharing the story on Badwater ultramarathon in Death Valley (Kraków, March 9th 2020).

1. Life starts after 30 (and it’s never too late)

Michael Phelps competed in his first Olympics at the age of 15. Tiger Woods putted against comedian Bob Hope at the age of three and shot a 48 over nine holes at the Navy course.

Let’s add to that romanticized myth of young prodigal college drop-outs who start a billion-dollar startup and outperform all these old folks in suits with their disruptive ideas.

It looks like the only option to succeed is to start young, right?

Not necessarily.

The second myth has been recently dispelled with research showing that the average age of the most successful entrepreneurs is 45 years. Even without a deep research a set of notable examples like Henry Ford (Ford), Robert Noyce (Intel), Ray Kroc (McDonald's) and of course Colonel Sanders (KFC) prove that the age is not a barrier in business.

Naturally, with Sports it is slightly different, but even then the age shouldn’t be an obstacle. Patrycja has never had predispositions to become a runner. She holds a PhD from the University of Life Sciences in Lublin, Poland and worked as a horse-riding instructor before she became an ultramarathonist. At the age of 33.

So, as they say: “What’s your excuse?”

2. If 40 km seems like beyond your limits, try 200 km

Patrycja is 160 cm. She told me that she was 160 cm high in elementary school and that gave her an advantage over her peers in basketball. Her height was quite extraordinary for her age back then, but the upper hand didn’t last long.

In the upcoming years her height remained the same so what initially seemed like an advantage at that time, became an obstacle in her basketball career later on. What’s the moral of this story?

The same goes for running. Patrycja started with half-marathons and marathons but soon realized that it’s too late for her to reach satisfactory results and match the speed of other top runners (in this case the age and years of training were crucial).

The speed wasn’t her forte, but what seemed like ‘disadvantage’ later turned out to be her strength in different and even more challenging areas: ultramarathons. Why? It’s not about the speed but the stamina and ability to use your energy strategically which comes in handy in a 200 km run.

To paraphrase another saying: „It’s not a sprint. It’s not a marathon. It’s an ultramarathon”.

„It’s not a sprint. It’s not a marathon. It’s an ultramarathon”

3. Fats, no carbs.

Patrycja shared an interesting observation: during Ultramarathons men have a tendency to take the lead in the first minutes and hours of the run. This competitive spirit — although praiseworthy — turns out to be a less effective strategy.

“Each of us [women] has been on a diet at some point in our life” – noticed Patrycja – “Some of us are constantly on a diet and it’s probably one of the greatest advantages women have over men”.


“It’s way easier for us to switch from burning sugar to fat”.

The difference between carbohydrates and fats is probably well known to most of us. A great thing about carbs is that a person may experience a sudden burst of energy because our body chooses sugars to burn in the first place. However, one gram of carbohydrates or proteins provides 4 calories, but it’s twice less than the energy we can derive from fats – 9 calories in a gram. And that’s the secret weapon for ultramarathons: a fuel our body starts to burn during a slow, low-intensity run that lasts way longer. It takes 45 minutes before our muscles switch to fats but once they do we are on the right path.

How this sports analogy applies to daily life?

Patrycja makes a point that women tend to have a rather broader, long-term focus stripped from the element of flashiness, spectacular quick wins or daredevil stunts. Of course, sometimes such audacity and boldness give men the upper hand (example: “Women working at HP applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job. Men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements”) but the key lesson here is to stick to your strengths and keep your eyes on the long-term goal.

Even though others compete in the short-term popularity contest, at the end of the day it’s not about competing. It’s about winning even if you find yourself to The Tortoise surrounded by the Hares.

(“An editor asked my photographer if she could send some pictures of me tired and sweaty, but I don’t have any”)

“An editor asked my photographer if she could send some pictures of me tired and sweaty but I replied: sorry I don’t have such”

4. “Little umbrella in the purse when it’s sunny outside”

Over lunch, I had a chance to sit down with Patrycja to talk about the details of her strategy and she shared an interesting tip that somehow complements the previous lesson:

“Stay a little bit behind the others”

I learned that what she does is not only keeping a regular pace over the whole run but she also deliberately starts with a little bit of delay. Why so? “Staying behind gives me a broader perspective and lets me keep an eye on the rest of the participants. Then I wait for the right moment and when it comes – I take the lead”.

Because of so many roles women take on (a professional, a leader, a mother) according to Patrycja that gives them a natural ability to sense the risks, anticipate obstacles and unexpected events.

“Women don’t believe in themselves and it’s not a fear against the failure. It’s rather a fear that things will be difficult. And for that reason they always prepare and look for the threats or potential hiccups on the way. You know, it’s that little umbrella hidden in the purse even though it’s sunny. And this is the advantage we have: by expecting it will be difficult and contrasting with ‘somehow we will do’ we are better prepared for the long run. Besides, staying behind always propels your motivation.”.

5. You win with your head, not your legs.

It goes without saying that psychology plays a tremendous role in sports. But in 24 h run it takes more than nerves out of steel because your biggest enemy is not the stress.

It’s monotony.

This repetitiveness is amplified not only by the desert landscape but also by the safety measures that forbid to use ear pods and listen to music during the run. To cope with that Patrycja shared with us a quite useful mental hack:

“When it’s so hard and I’m getting closer to despair I keep dedicating every kilometer to someone dear e.g. My friend who’s looking for a job or someone who’s struggling in his life. And despite the pain, I find a motivation to keep going”

Badwater ultramarathon route profile

This is why Patrycja’s goal is to increase awareness about depression among women and on that note she draws a perfect analogy between ultramarathon and going through difficult times. Badwater run starting point is located in the area of depression (80 m below the sea level) and if you take a look at the route profile it resembles a sinusoid: climbing up and down concisely – a path that every person goes through when fighting disease. And just like every participant being obliged to have a team, every person going through mental breakdown needs the assistance of family and friends to get to the finish line. It’s a long, strenuous journey but fortunately there’s an end to it.

Grand Parade part of William Hill’s women community with Patrycja (Kraków, March 9th 2020).

Hope you enjoyed Patrycja’s story and found at least one helpful take-away.

I strongly recommend following her on Facebook (her next goal is to finish a 72h run without sleep so stay tuned!) and if you know about other extraordinary people or have your own lessons learned derived from sport – feel free to leave them in the comment section below.




Kamil Stanuch

Angel Investor at RealResearch, EreborCapital & al. | OKRs | Tech | 📈 Newsletter: kamilstanuch.substack.com