Marathons and Startups

Tomorrow is the 122nd running of the Boston Marathon.  I had the pleasure and honor to run last year’s Boston Marathon as a fundraiser for my oldest daughter’s high school class.  The picture above is of us both shortly after my 2017 Boston Marathon finish.  Boston was my second marathon since I started my running “habit” back in February 2014 (my first was Maine Coast Marathon on Mother’s Day, 2015).  In today’s blog, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on marathons and starting a company.

Me minutes before my 2017 Boston Marathon Run

You need to start by taking action

When I first started “distance” running in February 2014, 1-mile was a stretch goal for me.  I kept on adding a little distance every week (rule of thumb is not to add more than 10%/week to help avoid injury).  Over time my running distances increased.  I ran my first 5K (3.1 miles) in June of 2014 followed by a 4-miler on July 4th.  The energy and enthusiasm from other runners and the crowds became contagious to me.  For both distance running and starting a company, you just need to put one foot forward and take the next step.  Nobody else can do it for you.

You need to learn new things

I began to enjoy running longer distances and my goals became “ambitious”; I wanted to do a 1/2 marathon (13.1 miles).  So I did some research and found a 16-week 1/2 marathon training plan.  I also began educating myself on the different types of training activities, i.e. tempo runs, long runs, hill repeats, etc as well as nutrition and hydration.  It didn’t take long before I began realizing that training for a 1/2 marathon wasn’t just about going out a few times a week for a jog; there are a lot of different things to know about in preparation for a successful race.  You won’t know everything you need to know when starting a business and you’ll be surprised at some of the things you need to learn about (taxes?  ARR?  Stripe?).  However, you need to have the capacity and desire to learn new things.

You need a plan

For my 5K’s and 10K’s, I didn’t have a training plan.  I figured they weren’t really needed. It wasn’t until I began using 1/2 marathon and then marathon training plans that I realized their designs are rather sophisticated to prepare you physically and mentally.  And from there I also understood the importance of 5K and 10K training plans to increase speed with endurance for those “sprints”.  As with distance running, creating a business requires a plan (or framework).  Lean Startup, Customer Development, Business Model Canvas, Lean Canvas are all useful frameworks to understand and leverage.

You need to set goals

When I first began running, I had three goals for any race I participated in (from 5K to Marathons).  My first goal was always to finish.  My second goal was to run without stopping or walking.  My third goal was to finish within a certain time period.  As with running, you need to set goals for your business.  Set your venture’s goals and execute your plan to achieve them.

You’re on your own

While you may have friends and family supporting you during your training or cheering you on during the race, it’s ultimately you who’s doing the running and not them.  And as such, you’ll will have ample time out on the road training to reflect on lots of things going on in your life.  I’ve had some great training runs where I’ve been able to think thru some issues and come up with ideas on how to address them.  As the founder of your company, there will be a lot of things you need to figure our on your own.  While you can consult with mentors, advisors, etc – the buck stops with you.

You will sacrifice

Depending on your training plan for the particular race you’re preparing for, you will be spending many hours each week dedicated to training or learning more about the sport.  And that means less time watching tv, doing social media, going out with friends, spending time with family, etc.  You will also feel sleep deprived, always have a good appetite and some part of your body will ache and be sore.  With your company, you will be working 7-days a week to make your venture successful.  You will need to invest your precious 24 hour day in your startup at the expense of other things.

You’ll raise the bar

I put marathon in the title but haven’t really talked about it until now.  Part of the reason is because for starting a business, a lot of the things you need to do are “pre-marathon” and I’ve covered them above.  Running a marathon is not just running two 1/2 marathons (26.2 miles).  As I’ve learned thru experience, it’s a different game.  And basically everything I wrote about above is probably more than 2x for a marathon.  You’ll learn more about your abilities, your level of grit, focus and mental toughness.  You’ll be more rigorous and thoughtful in executing your plan while learning more about the sport.  You’ll take the prep work (training and nutrition/hydration) more seriously.  You’ll work harder.  And you’ll enjoy it more (though you will ask yourself why you do marathons, especially at around the 20-21 mile mark).  I find the “investment” in yourself for marathon training is a good analogy to the investment in yourself for starting and building a company.  Both force you to raise the bar so you can perform at the best level possible.

On the eve of the 2018 Boston Marathon, I encourage anyone to cheer on and support anyone they know who’s running Boston or any other marathon.  And I would encourage you to take the first step and try it out.  Start small and build up.  I’ve done two marathons and am running the Maine Coast Marathon in May.  The personal journey for me has been truly rewarding and I believe has helped me both personally and professionally.  Good luck to all you runners!

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