Why running a business is like running a marathon

21 Sep

I’m gearing up for running the Birmingham Half Marathon for the fourth time this October, as well as working my way towards doing Libro full-time, and it’s struck me that my two parallel endeavours do have, well, a number of parallels.

Oh, and yes, I know a half-marathon isn’t a marathon (although many people don’t seem to realise). A half-marathon, and a part-time job and a part-time business, are all I’m managing to fit in at the moment. Once I’m full-time with Libro, I intend to look at training for a full marathon.

So, why is running a business like running a (half) marathon?

You need to prepare first

With both running and business, there are certain things you should do before you even set foot on road / fingers on keyboard. With running, it’s a question of maybe checking with your doctor first, then getting a sports bra (for the ladies) and some decent trainers.  When you’re setting up a business, you need the basics (a computer, the right software, a phone, initial stock), registration with the relevant tax office (the HMRC in the UK) and perhaps a short course (I recommend the HMRC “Becoming Self-Employed” one).

You have to build up gradually

People are often amazed when I say I’ve been out for a 10-mile training run at the weekend. But I didn’t start off doing that: I started off, years ago, on a walk-run programme – walking for 2 minutes and running for 1 minute, for 15 minutes. Gradually I built up until I was running continuously for 15 minutes, then a few more, another mile … and there I was, able to trot along for 10 miles (or more) at a time.  Similarly, with the business, especially in my line of work, once you’re set up it’s a question of doing some work, getting some recommendations, doing some more work …

Don’t go mad buying stuff

When you start running, you don’t need ALL the kit. Bra and shoes, yes; something reflective if you’re going out in the dark, but you can go out in tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt at first. Once you’re up and running and you know you’re going to stick with it, then is the time to get the wick-away tops and the fancy socks.  When setting up a business, you don’t need to buy a new desk, even complicated invoicing software – stick to the basics and buy more when you’ve really had time to assess what you need.

Seek the company and advice of others

I love running on my own – I can cogitate, relax, go into a meditative state, enjoy music that you might not expect of a sedate lady runner … but I have also benefitted hugely from the companionship – often online – of other runners. You can swap tales, encourage each other, get tips and hints, and help other people (see below).  In business, carefully-selected forums and networking groups can help you learn about best practice and different ways to do things, as well as helping you sell your services. And if you want to get out there with real, live people, then you can join a running club or a networking group and really profit from getting together with other people.


As well as running, I go to the gym to work out with weights, cross-train and take spin classes.  When I’m running, I do different sessions – speedwork, tempo runs, long slow runs. All of this has improved my all-round fitness and my running in general. I know this, because I just achieved my second-best half marathon time ever … on a training run. With my business, I started off concentrating on a few key tasks, but increased the range of what I offered as I went along, and have ended up with a diverse group of customers and an interesting set of jobs.

Make time (and an effort) for others

I think this one is really important. As a runner who is perhaps not a “natural” and has reached achievable goals, I have tried to encourage other people to follow in my footsteps. I’ve encouraged a few other people to start running, and make time to answer their questions and support them in their goals. It was wonderful to run the Birmingham Half last year with Anna, who I’d taught to run over the year – in fact she beat me by a good way, and I was so proud of her.  In business, I try to give something back by helping other people, helping out at the Social Media Surgery, etc.  Maybe you can offer someone work experience, take on an apprentice or become a mentor.

Be ethical and a good example

This one is tied in to the point above, really.  I try to be a good ambassador for running. I don’t spit in the street and I try not to barge into people. I’m visible to traffic, cyclists and other pedestrians, and I always say thank you when someone moves out of the way for me. In the same way, I work ethically, don’t take short cuts and try to be courteous and helpful to everyone I come across in the business context.

Be in it for the long run

As I said above, you don’t just launch out running 10 miles in one go. Running is something I would like to stay with for a long time. I want to be one of those little old ladies gamely doing the marathon aged 80. I build up slowly, plan my running and make sure it’s sustainable. Similarly, with Libro I plan ahead for the next stage and try to make sure it’s sustainable, with a good mix of regular clients and one-offs.

Look after yourself

Run or train every day, miss your sleep, and fail to keep an eye on your nutrition, and you’ll soon find your running goes to pot. Work every hour there is, ignore your family and eat rubbish at your desk, and you’re likely to find yourself a bit lonely and possibly unwell. Balance is key in both areas (actually, I use the running to keep the balance in the rest of my life, so the two are inextricably entwined for me).

Enjoy it!

Lastly: if you’ve chosen a sport to take part in or you run your own business, you should be enjoying it, at least most of the time! These are things you’ve chosen to do. If you’re not enjoying it, stop, have a little think, work out why you’re not enjoying it, and take steps to change that.

I hope this has been useful. Can anyone add any more similarities?

Libro offers copyediting, copy writing, proofreading, transcription, typing and localisation services to other small businesses, individuals and corporations. Click on the links to find out more!


Posted by on September 21, 2011 in Business, Jobs, Organisation


Tags: ,

6 responses to “Why running a business is like running a marathon

  1. Gill Rose

    September 21, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    Lovely image of you jogging along with your zimmer frame! Shame I won’t be around to see it.


    • Liz at Libro

      September 21, 2011 at 5:51 pm

      Not sure what to say to that … anyway, glad you liked the post!


  2. coeliaclibrarian

    September 21, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    A really interesting comparison that helps to make some good points for both running and running a business.


  3. nick goddard

    September 22, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Some very good parallels – pace yourself, it isn’t a sprint. There are times when you need to up the ante, but you need to recognise when those times are and to conserve your energy when you need to.

    I also like the way you brought the interaction of a network in. I was going to suggest that running a marathon (or half marathon, I can no longer run due to a back injury, so incredibly jealous either way!) will inevitably be with lots of other people who spur you on, whilst running a business can be very lonely, especially when things aren’t going well, but you wonderfully highlighted the importance of other people, who may not necessarily run YOUR business, but are none the less highly valued with their support.


    • Liz at Libro

      September 22, 2011 at 12:32 pm

      Thank you for your comment, Nick – glad it worked for you (and sorry to hear about your injury).



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