Why running a marathon is like running a business

When I picked up running a few years ago as an exercise routine and stress reducer, I had no idea I would find so many parallels to running a business. Since starting my running career, I've participated in one 5k, two 10k and one half-marathon. After finishing my half-marathon, I couldn't believe all the similarities to running a business. 

Why running a marathon is like running a business

Here's why running a marathon is like running a business

Slow and steady progress is best.

You don’t want to be an overnight success regardless of what everyone preaches at you. Imagine what the growing pains of that are when you’re a solo business? By training slow, and therefore making slow progress, you’re able to build endurance and last longer than someone who is sprinting their way through. Same with running, you don't train for a half-marathon in a week, you build up over months at a time. You also don't start your race full-on sprinting, that would burn you out in no-time. You start at a nice steady pace, because you've got a long way to go. 

Lesson: slow and steady progress will get you to your goals faster than a sprint. 

It’s more than just the running. 

Training involves every part of you. Your mind, nutrition, exercise level and time. It’s not just about showing up on race day and doing the thing. It’s about prepping for it. To be a good athlete (even if you’re just an amateur one like me) you have to take the whole body into consideration. You can’t train for a half marathon and not adjust what kind of food you’re putting into your body. You have to assess and adjust your diet as needed if you want to train properly.

In business, you can’t run your service without taking into account your family, nutrition, self-care time (or recovery), hobbies and sleep. By neglecting these things, you’re just setting yourself up for burning out, and you’ll never be able to reach the finish line. Or you will, but not without a lot of pain and heartache.

Lesson: being a business owner means you wear all the hats. Before making decisions, you have to consider other parts of your life too.

Rest and recovery are just as important as the actual training.

Someone told me something about training that I won’t ever forget. Recovery is just as important as actually doing the work. As runners, you are always using your legs (you literally walk with them every day). Even during your recovery days, you’re likely walking and therefore still using those muscles, which can be hard on your body.

When i’m passionate about something, I go full steam ahead while the creativity and motivation are flowing. Maybe you’re like me, and just can’t help yourself when something really exciting happens. But if you’ve ever started a new exercise routine and gone 7 days straight, only to burn out the next week because you’re so exhausted and never pick it back up again. Yeah, I’ve been there too, guilty as charged. 

Same thing in your business. By going hard and fast for too long, you’re going to eventually need a break. And to prevent complete burnout and giving it all up, you have to utilize recovery days to make sure you’re on track. The way I do this in my business is taking weekends off, and scheduling in personal time that’s non-negotiable. For me this was running every Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday where I have scheduled run times with a local running group. I take that time for myself to re-charge, get some exercise and recover from my business. 

Lesson: recovery is an important part of the process, schedule in your recovery days to avoide burnout.

Goals and success

In my business, I am constantly setting goals for myself and creating plans for how i’m going to reach those. In running, I do the same thing. I choose a goal for myself (5k, 10k or half marathon) and then come up with the training program for it (or sign up for a training program that will walk me through it). 

I recently ran a 10k that I didn’t feel ready for. Training for that race didn’t go the way I wanted it to. I had missed a few runs, my nutrition wasn’t where I wanted it to be and frankly, my motivation was super low which made it very hard. I went into the race with somewhat of a goal in mind, but no expectation that I would actually make that goal. Guess what, I came through and pulled it off. Instead of giving up completely and not even showing up for race day, I did the thing and ended up achieving the goal.

Imagine the same thing in your business. Maybe a launch didn’t work out the way you wanted, or you’ve missed a deadline. That doesn’t mean giving up. It just means lowering expectations, still working on the thing, and allowing it to work itself out in the end.

Lesson: Set goals for yourself so you have a destination to reach. Frequently review and adjust those goals.

Aid stations

Throughout a race course there are aid stations that serve water, gatorade and sometimes energy gels. I know that I can’t get through any run over 5k without some kind of aid (water). And I'm not afraid to utilize the support on the course.

Your business also has aid stations in the form of asking for help and external support. Whether that’s hired help in the form of a VA, copywriter, business strategist or social media manager.  Or even something as simple as having a friend who understands and can provide mental support.

Lesson: Successful runners and business owners know when they need to ask for help. They understand when it’s important to pull back, take a break or change direction or methods. 


Have you ever noticed similarities between running a business and other tasks? Do you agree that running a business is like a marathon? Tell me below!

Megan Powell

Specializing in clean, simple brand design for creative small business owners.