Running a Marathon, or a Business

We were chatting as a team the other day about our favorite fall activities. There were lots of responses like apple picking, visiting the pumpkin patch and football on Sundays. I jokingly chimed in with my favorite activity being running a marathon each fall. 

While it was mostly said in jest, I really do love what this part of the year brings for me.  Typically, I am deep in marathon training this time of year and it got me thinking about the long slog that is a marathon training build.  Plenty of time is spent with random thoughts rattling in my brain and I got to thinking that marathon training is a lot like “running” a business, pun intended.

The build for a marathon generally starts small and with plenty of energy.  Done right, the training should involve a slow and steady build. This is the same in business. There is excitement, newness and early success. “This is easy...”, you think.  You are learning so much, so quickly, that the growth curve both for running and a new business move up and to the right pretty quickly. 

Next comes the first few speed workouts.  While they may leaving you gasping for breath, they don’t kill you. In your new business, this is the time when you make a few quick sales or push to deliver the first iteration of your product out into the world. You’re working extra time and quicker than ever before. Those first couple sales and first few speed workouts leave you wanting more and fire you up for what seems to be coming.

Inevitably though, you’ll hit late August in the summer of Chicago when it’s 85 degrees at 7am with 100% humidity.  At this point, your legs feel like wet concrete. You are going through the dog days of training when the most important thing is to just show up.  A toddler business can often feel this way. You’ve left the startup stage where you had no expectations, leaving behind the day to day excitement of something new and into the long, slow trek through an unforgiving, but necessary, stage of the entrepreneur’s journey.  Things feel harder than ever. Runs that you did two months ago with ease, now seem impossible. You’ve probably sustained a small injury or two along the way. “I thought this was supposed get easier as I go!”. If only that were the case. In any business, this is a point that Seth Godin calls “The Dip”.  At this point you have the choice to give up, which sometimes is the right decision. Most times though, it’s just the easier thing to do. The harder thing to do is to continue to show up when your body is telling you to just lay down...

Did you make it through?  Did you get through August? If you did, then this is where things get fun.  The weather starts to break and 60 degrees is the norm. You suddenly feel like an Olympian.  What changed? Nothing really, you just kept showing up and stuck around until the weather broke. Your body adapted to all the stress and stimuli you threw at it.  You stopped doing the silly things that you were doing early in training and simplified your training to really nail the basics. Same in your business. Often times, there is nothing better for the business than stressing the system.  Can the team survive a challenge? Have we planned appropriately? Are we keeping the right mindset to view the challenges as opportunities for growth, rather than complete stressors. This is the point where confidence begins to seep into your muscles and you understand what is in your control and what isn’t.  This allows you to trust the process, trust the training and accept what each day throws at you with joy and contentment.

For me, lacing up my shoes on race day is a mix of excitement, nervousness and elation of making it this far.  Seeing the magic of the training come together is one the best things I get to do each year. Same thing with my business.  Getting to see my team grow, come together for a common goal, and achieve great things for our clients is something that I couldn’t enjoy without the process playing itself out.  In the end, you train for 5 months and the day gives you what it gives you. Whether you give it hell or not is what matters and is the one thing you can control. Be willing to commit to the process and let the chips fall where they may.

- Ryan

Liz WhittenComment