The parallel between running a marathon and running a business

Besides programming, tech, and entrepreneurship, I also like to run marathons and I'm a 1 Dan black belt in Kyokushin Karate. There are some big differences between these two sports, but they also have common grounds: training schedules, nutrition, mental preparation, and race/fight strategy.

As an entrepreneur, you'll hear a lot that "running a business is a marathon, not a sprint," and it's completely true because there are some similarities between running a marathon and running a business: endurance, strategic planning, and the value of a supportive community. Both marathoners and entrepreneurs embark on journeys that demand enthusiasm, sustained commitment, and resilience. In a marathon, as in business, the ability to endure through challenging periods, adapt to unforeseen challenges, and maintain focus towards long-term goals is a must.

Preparation and planning

Running a marathon demands rigorous preparation: training schedules, nutrition plans, and mental preparation. Marathon runners dedicate months to building their physical endurance, carefully plan their meals to optimize performance, and engage in mental conditioning to overcome the walls they hit during the race. This level of preparation mirrors the in-depth research and strategic business planning that entrepreneurs undertake to ensure their success.

Both marathoners and founders must cultivate a mindset geared towards adaptability and perseverance. Mental preparation in marathon training involves strategies to maintain focus, manage pain, and stay motivated over long distances, which is similar to the mental resilience required in business to navigate highs and lows. The unexpected challenges test the individual's ability to stay calm and adapt. For entrepreneurs, this translates to managing crises, pivoting, and making decisive adjustments in response to unexpected events.

A marathon runner looks at their past races and changes their training plan. An entrepreneur examines the market and stays in contact with their customers to refine their business model.

Success isn't just about starting strong or moving incredibly fast, but also about how well you prepare and your ability to adjust to changes. Both in marathon running and in business, good preparation sets the stage for lasting endurance and the ability to adapt.

Starting strong

After I ran my first 5k and then my first 10k, I discovered that wearing headphones and listening to music doesn't help me that much, no matter how much time I would spend getting the right playlist. This is because, after some time, my body would react to the BPM of the music and would increase or decrease the pace according to the BPM. This led me first to running an entire marathon (~5hrs) with a metronome in my ears set to the BPM I wanted, and after that, I realized that I can do it without music or a metronome.

Starting strong in both a marathon and launching a business is crucial for setting the tone for the journey ahead, yet it demands balance to avoid premature burnout (mental or physical). In marathon running, the importance of starting well involves pacing yourself wisely - starting too fast will consume your energy reserves needed for later stages, while starting too slow will leave too much ground to make up. A solid start for a new venture means establishing a strong foundation - if this is a side project started while you're working full-time, make sure you have plenty of time for rest. If you're working full-time on your business, then pace yourself and don't let the initial enthusiasm be in the driver's seat for long periods of time.

Launching with a solid foundation emphasizes the importance of not overreaching. As entrepreneurs, we must avoid the temptation to scale too quickly or diversify prematurely. A business, much like a marathon runner at the starting line, needs to allocate resources wisely and set a sustainable pace for growth. This involves thorough planning, researching the market, and ensuring that the initial product (or service) solves a problem (meets customer needs).

Starting a marathon and launching a business both depend on mixing ambition with realism. Marathon runners need to know their own strengths and limits; entrepreneurs must understand their company's abilities and the market's needs. In both scenarios, a strong start isn't about showing off speed or innovation, but about establishing a steady, sustainable pace that sets the foundation for long-term success.

Pace and adaptation

In a marathon, the key to success lies in the runner's ability to adjust their pace according to the varying conditions of the race. It's not just about running fast; it's about managing your energy efficiently to ensure you can reach the finish line. Runners need to be highly attuned to their bodies and the environment, making slight adjustments to their speed to maintain their stamina without burning out too quickly.

Similarly, in the business world, the ability to adapt strategies in response to market conditions is crucial for long-term sustainability. This could involve pivoting a product, adjusting marketing strategies, or even changing a business model based on customer feedback and market trends. Just like marathon runners, entrepreneurs must be observant, responsive, and flexible, ensuring they can sustain their operations and growth over time without depleting their resources or losing sight of their core objectives.

The underlying principle common to both marathon running and managing a business is the critical role of flexibility and endurance. Success in both arenas demands a strategic balance between pushing forward with determination and being willing to adapt when circumstances change. Mastering the ability to pace yourself and adapt to evolving conditions is essential for achieving and sustaining success.

Overcoming challenges

Running a marathon is not just a test of physical endurance but also a mental battle. Runners often face severe physical pain and fatigue, which can lead to mental blocks that question their ability to finish the race.

My first race was a trail marathon, and I chose it because I saw video footage from a drone, and it was amazing. Running through the forest, in the mountains, what could go wrong, right? :). I was exhausted after 5k and finished last, after about 8hrs. During that race, I discovered that I could trick my brain into moving forward even if my body was screaming: STOP. I would pick a point not too far from me and run to that point; when I got close to the destination, I would pick another point and so on. It worked, and I used it many times after that.

Both marathons and business ventures share a common thread when it comes to overcoming obstacles: the importance of perseverance. Building a support system of friends, family, or mentors can provide the encouragement and advice needed to navigate tough times. Additionally, learning from failures and maintaining a positive outlook are essential for bouncing back stronger.

Whether you're facing the physical and mental demands of a marathon or the strategic challenges of running a business, the principles of overcoming obstacles remain the same. Preparation, strategy, support, and, most importantly, perseverance are the keys to achieving your goals.

Support systems

I didn't have any coaches while I was training for marathons, but I had my wife's support: she made my short training sessions more fun, waited for me at the finish line, provided emotional encouragement and motivation during the toughest moments of the race, and endured me the next few days after the race while I was in pain :).

As an entrepreneur, having a co-founder, or being part of a community (build in public, indie hackers, etc.) will make the journey more fun and less isolating. A supportive network of peers, family, and friends offers emotional support, encouragement, and sometimes, essential resources or connections that can be crucial in overcoming obstacles.

In both marathons and business, the path to the goal is full of challenges, setbacks, and moments of doubt. A strong support system can make the difference between giving up at the first sign of difficulty and keeping going until you succeed.

Reflection and growth

Running a marathon is not just a test of physical endurance but also a profound journey of self-discovery. After crossing the finish line, it's essential to take a step back and critically analyze one's performance. This involves examining the training regimen, nutrition, pacing on race day, and even the mental strategies employed to overcome the toughest miles. Learning from each aspect of the experience is crucial. It's about understanding what worked well and what didn't, which strategies helped conserve energy, and how mental resilience played a role in pushing through the pain.

The parallel between running a marathon and managing a business lies in the continuous cycle of reflection, learning, and growth. Both endeavors demand setting ambitious goals, facing challenges head-on, and pushing beyond perceived limits. The post-marathon analysis mirrors the business review process, where each step, from preparation through execution to reflection, is an opportunity for growth. In both cases, the journey is as significant as the destination. The insights gained from each marathon and business cycle enrich the individual or organization, fostering a mindset of continuous improvement.

DNF and knowing when to quit

One of the things I said to myself when I started to run marathons was that no matter what, I don't want to have a DNF (Did Not Finish), and this thing kept me going through many of the early races. Being unprepared and not willing to quit led to some pain after races and later to some injuries. Knowing when and being willing to accept it's OK to quit is as important as many of the other aspects of a race, and it applies to businesses as well: failure is part of the process, and if we learn from it, we'll have an advantage in our next adventure.

The journey towards the finish line, whether in a marathon or running a business, is about harnessing one's inner strength, leaning on the support of those around us, and staying true to our goals despite the obstacles. The road to achieving our dreams is paved with challenges, and it is our response to these challenges that defines our success.