July 10, 2014

Lessons about Business Success from Running a Marathon

Written by

The San Francisco Marathon is quickly approaching. All of the news and coverage has me regretting not being able to make the trip this year. Could you imagine seeing the Golden Gate Bridge or the Fisherman’s Wharf while enjoying 50-60 degree weather? There is no better way to tour a city than running for 26.2 miles through it! While I won’t be able to make it this year, I have been thinking about how running and business are a lot alike.

I have been a runner longer than I have been working in the business world. My foundations in long-distance running began in high school cross-country. I learned that excuses were not acceptable, laziness did not pay off, and the power of endurance, persistence, and determination equated to success I was proud of. There were no outside factors to blame, no playing victim allowed. I could chart my own journey – and I loved it. I have now run six half-marathons and two full-marathons and cannot escape the numerous parallels between running success and business success.

1. Do it because you love it, not because you have something to prove

I have always felt like I was built for long-distance running. It suits me. It forces me to be patient, focused and humble. I do not run to impress anyone; instead I do it for me. When I am out there on the open road, there is no “do you have just a minute?” I have time to think about the day, plan the week, and dream about the future. Every long run requires mental preparation (and a healthy level of stress). For me, there is something enchanting about the dedication, consistency, and loyalty that it involves. Not everyone is willing to make the sacrifice or the effort. Make your work about what you love—not because you have something to prove—and you’ll find that it will energize and de-stress you.

2. Research & make a plan – know your end goal.

When I set out to run my first full-marathon, I headed to the library and to Google. I devoured every article or book written on running a marathon from gear to refueling to how to breathe. I talked to my local running shop and others who had run a marathon before. Then, I picked a date on the calendar and determined how many weeks out I would need to start a training program. The goal was crazy (I had never run more than 13.1 miles, much less 26.2!) but it started to come together once I saw it drawn out week by week.

For me, once the plan is set, I just figure out what I have to do each day and grind it out. I always told friends that I would focus on running intensely for 1-2 hours per day and then the other 20-22 hours of a day were focused on every other part of life.

Business is identical. We set ambitious goals for ourselves at TechnologyAdvice, then figure out what each month, week, and day need to look like for us to pace to hit those goals. That is what makes us successful.

“People who are successful in business often know how to set big goals and break them down into doable steps.” – Laura Vaderkam, Fortune

3. Calm down

One of the best lessons I learned that I tell other people immediately when they ask about running is to calm down. Running conjures images of aggressive, jarring movement that is hard on the body and unsustainable long-term. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. I read a book called ChiRunning that explains how you should feel better after a run than before it. The focus is on posture, breathing, and relaxation. When you realize your body was made to run and that it can be an effortless, enjoyable task, it becomes an addicting part of a balanced day instead of that thing you dread. I consider running a re-energizing part of my life. I also consider working hard a re-energizing part of my life because I have learned to not sweat the small stuff (to use a cliché) – staying calm during crisis or conflict is key to long-term success.

4. Sacrifice. Every day.

There is no mistaking the need to sacrifice to make a big goal a reality. For runners and business people, those sacrifices are often sleep, time, and relationships. Running a marathon is a huge sacrifice. Long runs on weekends can take four hours or more. Each day there is a workout or nutrition plan to follow.

There are also social sacrifices – the mileage required to run a marathon mandate adequate sleep and nutrition. It is hard to hit the bar, get four hours of sleep, and expect your body to complete a 15-mile run. More sleep, more training, and less time for other activities make marathon training a serious commitment that requires sacrifice.

5. Get out of your comfort zone. Every week. Try things that sound crazy.

When I began training, I read all the literature about ice baths, refueling with gel on long-distance runs, and using Vaseline to prevent chaffing. I read it and laughed—surely I wouldn’t need all those things.

Wrong. Every week I hit a new personal distance record. 9 miles. Then 12 miles. Then 16 miles. Then a 20 miler?! And every week I got out of my comfort zone as I learned that ice baths are a lifesaver, that eating on the run was acceptable and necessary, and that Vaseline is your best friend.

In business, the success stories are not about staying comfortable. It is about taking risks, doing things that sound crazy for the opportunity that they just may work.

6. Visualize success & the need for positive self-talk

The goofiest thing that I was told when training for my first marathon was to pretend during regular training runs that I was on mile 26 and about to cross the finish line. I was told to cement the feeling in my mind of what it will feel like to finish and get a medal and call myself a marathon finisher. I did what I was told. Every week I would pretend at least one of my runs was the final portion of a marathon. I closed my eyes and pictured that finish line. I told myself I would finish. I told myself I was already a success because I was out there grinding every day. I told myself all these things enough that when it came to race day, I (essentially) had already completed a marathon dozens of times. That last mile was joyful and fun – I already knew I could do it.

7. Celebrate the wins!

In business, we rarely celebrate our wins—maybe we are afraid that celebrating will be seen as arrogant, that it will breed complacency, or maybe we have just already moved on to the next goal. However, we could take a lesson from marathon organizers. They know how to throw a good party! Rarely is a race complete without a finisher’s party—a concert, beer, food, massages, and more. Every race I finish, I pick my favorite food, put my feet up, and spend the day with friends. While the successes are built over time, the culmination of hard work and dedication are worth a toast.

Whether it’s getting to go on fun team outings, having the opportunity to serve our community, or even getting to play a round of golf, we know how to celebrate our wins. What are some big goals that you’ve set for yourself lately?