Marathon Training

I am just two weeks out from running my fourth Chicago Marathon. It will be the second year in a row that I am doing so as a charity runner for the Ronald McDonald House Charities. While I could go on about that experience and how it really has transformed me, this post is about three ways marathon training relates to business. So here goes …

Having a plan is important (but it’s just a roadmap …)

Ugh! Planning! Such a pain! Well, yes. And that is true with marathon training as well. You really can’t randomly run a few three-milers and then drop into a marathon expecting to succeed. My recent training plans have been created for me by my coach. Given my experience in running – I have completed 10 marathons so far including running Boston a few times and am a high school cross country and track coach – I know that I can safely make modifications to what my coach has suggested. Now, I’m not talking about significantly reducing or increasing mileage or foregoing a certain workout all together. What I am talking about, though, is swapping days for workouts or slightly changing the workout itself to address time, weather or other issues the day presents.

A good marketing, public relations or even overall business plan serves as a similar roadmap for action. It should allow those responsible for executing it to have the flexibility to move things around or adapt to changing market or business conditions. Years ago, I had a nonprofit client that was intent on having a news conference to show off a new program. And honestly, they weren’t wrong to want this type of coverage. It had everything – a compelling angle, a solid visual and a relatable spokesperson. We planned it out in detail. We developed talking points and crafted a short speech. We practiced delivery and timing. We picked a great outdoor location for the announcement (with another indoor back-up in case of bad weather). The one thing we didn’t plan for was the massive pile-up on a major interstate that shut down the highway in both directions for hours on the day of our announcement. So guess who came to our well-planned news conference. You got it. No one.

But that didn’t stop us from getting the coverage we deserved. We had a photographer come out to shoot stills and video b-roll. We then wrote up captions and descriptions for the news outlets. We delivered all of this along with our release to the local stations personally and wouldn’t you know it? Our news conference – that no media attended – got great coverage. Having the ability to be flexible made all the difference in this case.

Reaching a big goal requires perseverance

You know the old saying about eating an elephant one bite at a time? That applies to marathon training as well. I mean, you don’t see a lot of Couch to Marathon training plans out there. For me, I like to set my big goal (finish the marathon) and then establish various process goals (run long at tempo, hit a 45- or 50-mile week, etc.) that help me see the progress along the way.

That can apply in the business world as well. Perhaps the goal is to sell X amount of new goods or bring in X dollars of new work. How do you know you are making progress if you don’t have a few interim goals that show you the momentum?

A client of mine wanted to be perceived as a leader in her industry. Talk about a big goal! She had all the credentials necessary but no one knew of her qualifications. We started small with some very targeted awards applications and a few thought leadership articles placed in industry publications. We extended the reach of the articles by repurposing them into other forms of communication with clients, potential clients and industry influencers. We also used them to pitch other more general business outlets. Finally, we worked to secure speaking engagements for her. All this led to her being contacted frequently as a subject matter expert by news outlets both in and out of her profession. The small things led to a big success.

Try building a connection to something larger

By its very nature, marathon training is a pretty solitary undertaking. You have a training plan – or at least you should have a training plan (see above) – that dictates a how many miles you are to run or what type of workout you are to do on a given day. For a fall marathon, that means you’re getting up super early to beat the heat as you log 15, 18, 20 or more miles. Only another similarly motivated idiot would be up for that. The beauty of being a charity runner is those miles instantly become about someone (or something) else.

In business, it’s easy to get sucked into a mindset where you are only thinking about strict business goals rather than focusing on how your actions may impact a broader population. One of my clients, a construction company, is very good about breaking this pattern. Sure, they do all the things to ensure the projects they work on are built to the highest standards but they go beyond by making important connections to the communities in which these projects are located. That’s central to their continued success. Whether they are hosting a job fair to hire local workers, helping stock the local food bank or honoring first responders, these types of “connecting activities” help their employees feel good about the work they are doing while actually benefiting the community in a tangible way.

The fact is marathon training is a beast all unto itself. Even so, there are important lessons in it that easily can carry over to the business world helping you and your company experience success. And if you want to help support my fundraising, please log onto my page here. Any amount is welcome.