Running a marathon and running a business

in Musings

On 6 October 2019 I ran Chester Marathon. It wasn’t quick – 4:38:29 – and it wasn’t the time I wanted. But despite this, I’m incredibly proud to be able to say I did it. (And my 14 year old self would be utterly astonished.)

I recognise that after running one marathon I’m no expert in the field. I also recognise that seven years into running my own business I’m no expert here either. But my experience to date suggests there are quite a few parallels between the two. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

You need to learn from your mistakes

I was aiming to complete the marathon in under four and a half hours. At 21 miles I was comfortably on course to achieve this. But then I hit the dreaded Wall. (If you’ve never heard this term before, it’s when your body completely runs out of glycogen – its preferred energy source – and extreme fatigue and gloom sets in). The last 5.2 miles rank among the toughest things I’ve ever done.

Reading up about it afterwards I discovered I hadn’t carb loaded (in other words, eaten All The Carbs) enough in the days before the marathon.

I’ll know this for next time. And given the next time is the Virgin Money London Marathon 2020, this is no bad thing.

It’s the same in business, of course. It’s important to celebrate the wins but it’s examining the reasons for the losses that make you better. For more on this, you might like this blog.

You need a good team around you

I have a very understanding partner. He is fine with me getting up early on Sunday mornings, going for a run that lasts a good few hours then being good for nothing for the rest of the day on my return.

He’s also my biggest cheerleader. Seeing him three times over the course of the marathon was a fantastic support – but nothing like as fantastic as the months of unwavering patience, encouragement and support in the run up.

Then there are my friends at my running club and parkrun. Invaluable words of encouragement, support and advice based on their own experiences of running marathons.

I’m not the first person to run a marathon just like I’m not the first person to run my own business. It’s why having people around you to encourage you and impart wisdom and expertise is invaluable. For more on the people who support my business, you might like this blog.

You need to have a plan and stick to it

Training for a marathon takes time and discipline. You have to do that hill run, even though it’s pouring with rain and you really don’t fancy it. You have to go out at 7am before work to do that interval session because it’s the only time you have available. You have to get up early on Sunday mornings to do a long run. Neglect any of these and you won’t develop the strength and stamina you need.

If you run your own business, you have to do the same. You have to schedule time for client work, time for business development, time for admin and much more. If you let any of it slip, your business will soon start to suffer.

I don’t have a blog that talks in more detail about this, but I may write one in future months because I’m a big believer in the discipline of planning and time management.

You need determination and mental strength

Physical stamina only takes you so far, I discovered. On my first long run of the programme (16 miles) I had to stop at four miles to get a grip on myself because I was panicking so much about the 12 further miles that lay ahead.

I was so grateful to the friend who told me to get a mindfulness app and use it. Because running for four plus hours in one go is both daunting and boring. You need to have the mental strength not to panic or lose interest in the entire endeavour. Mindfulness helped me immensely with this.

It was also helpful when I had to defer the place I had in this year’s London Marathon. (I did all the training but in the week beforehand I got a stomach bug. I spent the week in bed and lost half a stone. The medical advice is not to run if you’re ill, especially not if it’s a stomach bug. I also knew I wouldn’t be strong enough to do it anyway, so I took the horrible decision to defer.)

I wallowed for a bit but then picked myself up. The week after the London Marathon I took myself to Worcester and ran 26.2 miles up and down the canal so I could say I’d done a marathon and hadn’t let the training go to waste. And a few weeks after that I’d signed up to the Chester Marathon so I could say I’d done a ‘proper’ marathon in 2019.

The parallels with business here are obvious. You have to work through the bad times to get to the good times. Someone told me the other day that James Dyson made 5,127 prototypes before he made one that was successful. That’s determination.

Compare and contrast

I’ve been mulling this blog over for a while but was spurred into action listening to the latest Something Inventive podcast, which was an interview with life coach and four times marathon runner Claire Doré.

If you’ve got half an hour to spare it’s well worth a listen. And then you can compare and contrast our two experiences. I’d love to hear your take on it all.

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