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October 19, 2011

Running a Marathon is NOT like running a business

Terry Gold Marathon

Many years ago I got the idea that running a business was like running a marathon. Or better yet a series of marathons, with the occasional sprints as needed.  Well, last Sunday I ran my first marathon and I have to say it was EASY compared to running a business.

There are some similarities, and some really big differences and I've learned something about myself, which was the point of running the marathon in the first place.

Here are some of the similarities of running a marathon and running a business.

Both require a certain amount of preparation and planning before starting.  If you don't plan, you have a very high chance of failing to finish, and you'll likely be miserable from the very start.  There are a lot of people who have ran marathons in Boulder, and I talked to quite a few during my training so I didn't have any big surprises while running.  Thanks Herb, Brad, Jim, David and everyone else who encouraged me to do this.

When Jim and I started Gold Systems twenty years ago, I only knew a couple of entrepreneurs, so we made a lot of rookie mistakes that we could have avoided if I had known more entrepreneurs at the beginning.  If you are thinking about running a marathon or starting a business, find others who have done it who are willing to give you the important tips that you won't find or notice in the books. 

It helps to know what to expect.  It was easier to learn about what I was in for with the marathon than it was for the business.  Having people give you advice is great, but it also really helps to hear what it is going to feel like once you are in the race or working in the business.  For instance, I was not prepared to think about my business every waking moment, which I did for many years.  I had no idea it was going to be so consuming.  Had someone told me that it was normal early on, I think it would have been easier.  I've learned to give my brain a break, but the business is still there ready to jump to the forefront of my thoughts anytime day or night, but now I know it is normal. 

Have fun.  One of the best pieces of advice about the marathon was to "enjoy the run."  Whenever I started to feel bad, I reminded myself that this was supposed to be fun, and somehow that helped push the pain away.  Come to think of it, I'm finding that works in business too. In business some entrepreneurs seem to brag about how miserable they are, and how much they sacrifice for the business.   I've been that guy, but If you find you're having a lot more bad times than good times, it means something is probably wrong and an adjustment needs to be made.  I'm a much better leader when I'm having fun, and I'm a much better runner when I'm having fun. 

Pain is temporary.  Until last Sunday, I had never ran more than 20 miles, but I was confident that whatever pain and soreness I would have right after the race would be gone in a few days, and it was.  I've had more painful days while being an entrepreneur than I experienced with the marathon, but I still sometimes forget that the next day, the next week, the next month, it will be better.  I like to say that lessons will be repeated until learned, but hopefully the next time I have a painful day I can remember that I just need to get through it and then things will be better. 
Now for a couple of big differences between running a marathon and running a business.
Focus.  Phylis pointed out to me that to run a marathon, you pretty much just focus on finishing, but in business it can be very, very hard to focus.  In business I've come to terms with the idea that there are more things to do than there are hours in the day.  It's my job to figure out which things I should get done and which should get passed on to others, or simply left undone.  There are always more good ideas and opportunities to consider than time and resources allow, so I think it is much harder to focus in business than it is to just keep putting one foot in front of the other until the marathon finish line is crossed. 

The Finish Line.  Cindy pointed out that in business there is no finish line, or if there is, you don't usually know where it is.  That's an amusing thought to me.  Consider a race where everyone lines up not knowing how long the course is, or whether it will be hot or cold, hilly or flat.  Then somewhere along the way, someone yells, "finish line in 1 mile!" and everyone starts sprinting.  Then the runners hear, "just kidding, keep running."  In business I've seen entrepreneurs quit because they got tired of the race, or they thought that they somehow had entered the wrong race. 

So there you have it.  Running a business is a little like running a marathon, but running a business is in my opinion a lot harder and I think even more rewarding.  Stay focused, keep putting one foot in front of the other, be prepared to change when the race changes, and above all, enjoy the race as much as you can.  


Update 10-21-2011.  The marathon is done, I'm completely recovered and ready to go again.  I'm getting up early and jumping on the treadmill and I'm looking forward to the weekend for a long run outside.  Thanks to everyone for the comments!  Greg put a link to another post into his comment about running and entrepreneurship, and it is really worth checking out.  Here it is:  http://blog.finette.com/post/11370209405/never-walk-a-talk-about-entrepreneurship-and-running


Update 10-28-2011.  Soon after I posted this, I received a very nice email from Miguel Chang who lives in Taiwan and has a website called Sportsnote.com.  Miguel asked if he could translate my blog post into Chinese, and of course I was happy to have him do it.  Here is a link to this post at Sportsnote.com   Thank you Miguel!    


Sportsnote page

October 19, 2011 in Entrepreneurship, Running | Permalink


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