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Why Marathon Runners Make Good Entrepreneurs

Does my distance running help make me a good entrepreneur? 

I do some of my best thinking while running, so while training for a half marathon earlier this Spring, a thought popped into my mind: are there skills I’ve acquired over years of training for races that I’ve also translated into being a good entrepreneur and ‘running’ a business? (Pun intended, of course…)

After a bit of amusing introspection, I decided that yes—many of the elements I find important in training for a race are also critical to me as an entrepreneur:

1) We know how to pace ourselves. To be a successful long distance runner, you need to know how to set a strong and challenging pace, but one that you can sustain for the long haul.  Going out strong too quickly will result in overexertion and won’t leave the stamina to complete.

Similarly, good entrepreneurs need to find that perfect balance where we are pushing ourselves to our limits, but not so far that we wear ourselves out, and that threshold is different for everyone.

2) We draw on all cylinders –our body, our mind, and our heart. One of the best pieces of running advice I’ve ever received was this: for any run, break it down into thirds and run the 1st third with your body, the 2nd third with your mind, and the final 3rd with your heart.

Similar advice applies to an entrepreneur: when starting your venture, you have to go through some mechanics—business planning, entity registration, etc.—the ‘body’.  Your ‘mind’ is the business planning and all of the logical inputs that help you put your business acumen into action.  On the days when things don’t go as planned or when you’re faced with challenging situations, you rely on your ‘heart’—the love and passion for what you’re doing—to motivate and get you through trying times.

3) We understand the importance of breaking down big tasks into manageable chunks.  If I woke up on race day morning thinking about the 26.2 miles ahead of me, I’d likely never convince myself to get out of bed.  Instead, I break it down into the first few things to do:  Get dressed, eat breakfast, and stretch—sounds simple enough.  Then—start running, put one foot in front of the other, over and over and over… Once I start making progress and see the 8 mile marker, the 15, and so forth, progress becomes the motivator.

The same should be applied to a startup.  Understand the first few things you need to execute today, tomorrow, for the coming month—and do them.  As you start to get traction and reach your goals, use that momentum to refuel your drive. 

4) We know the benefits of training. The best runners don’t just wake up one day, decide to get off the couch and run their first marathon the next day.  They decide that running a marathon is something they’d like to do, pick a race date, and start training.

Similarly, when setting out to launch a venture, most successful entrepreneurs don’t wake up one day and start their business the next (though of course, there are exceptions).  Many start with a seedling of a concept, begin vetting it (often while holding down another job), and wait until the right moment to take the plunge.  Building up the right infrastructure, the right support, the right ecosystem can make the difference between success and failure, and that takes time.