What Business Owners Can Learn from Marathon Runners

Mar 23, 2011, Written by Sue Miley

It looks so freeing. It seems like it would be invigorating.  The people doing it seem healthy and happy.

I watch runners run, but I have never been a runner.  It is significantly painful for me from the start.

But I know a lot of runners.  They have perseverance.  I know many who run half or full marathons.  They are into it.  And I can’t say it is my age, because most of these people are very close, some older.

In talking to these healthier specimens than I, I always ask how they do it.  Seriously, I run about 10 yards and I am out of breath and ready for air conditioning.

One friend said that she starts out strong and then it does get hard fast.  Around 3-4 miles she is struggling and thinking about stopping.  But, she keeps going.  Each step begins to build new momentum.

Working Past The Pain

They call it a second wind.  I call it working past the pain.  They pick up speed and feel nothing but the power of the wind blowing by and the rhythmic sound of their own heart beating.

I believe this is when the psychological impact kicks in.  The head starts thinking “I can do this.  I can run forever.”

Applying Marathon Running to Business

Although I am not a runner I believe many of these concepts apply to business.  Think about it.  If you are a small business owner you started out strong didn’t you?

You felt nervous, but passionate and confident.  You were going to do things your way.  You are in control and ready for the marathon!

After a few months, maybe even a year or two, you start feeling tired.  Things aren’t going exactly the way you planned.  It’s hard.  You are struggling and thoughts of quitting flash through your mind throughout the day.

Don’t Become a Statistic

Many of us do quit.  Statistics say that 9 out of 10 businesses fail within the first 5 years.

I always wondered if they could have succeeded if they just hadn’t given up.

I know it isn’t always the case.  Some of us have no choice.  We are injured and can’t finish the race.

But how many just run out of energy…both physical and emotional?

How many sprinted at the beginning and burned out too soon?

How many didn’t train well or begin their business prepared and with a strategy?

How many of the 9 out of 10 businesses that shut their doors had a second wind right around the corner?

I am not second guessing or judging, because I know how hard it is.

I have run businesses for 20 years and they haven’t all just stayed at a steady pace.  I’ve had peaks and valleys and then new peaks.  If I had quit in a valley there are many peaks I would have missed!

God Gave You This Vision

I just hate seeing so many people give up on their vision.  A vision that they felt called to and passionate about.  One that at the time they felt was a God vision.

Maybe we can take a page out of the runner’s log.

When you are struggling to perform, when you are physically and emotionally exhausted,

  • Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes in business when things aren’t going well we get depressed and disappear.  Maybe we show up physically every day, but we aren’t present.  Many times, we stop working.  We can’t concentrate and let things go.  Then we panic and make knee jerk decisions.  In a race, that can certainly cause injury.
  • Continuous training. Runners are always training.  How many miles do they run in preparation for a single race?  We need to continue our  professional development.  When things are slow in business then start studying.  Practice your work. Continue developing your product or service. Be ready for the call.
  • Focus. I wrote another post about how distraction steals our purpose.  You can read that post for more on why it is important to stay focused on your vision and purpose.
  • Stay in the race. There is something to be said for just finishing the race.  For marathon runners you get a medal just for making it to the end.  I believe in business staying the course and persevering brings it’s own reward.

Success isn’t just about dollars and cents.  It’s about glorifying God in what we do.  Kingdom work comes in all forms.  You can be a Christian in business without a specific Christian mission.  In kingdom metrics we expand success to our God view.  We look at how we add value to people.  How our business reflects our Christian values.

If we only measure our success on secular metrics we want to give up if we aren’t seeing double digit growth, high margins, and strong return on investment quickly.  I think we maybe lose sight, and heart, that we are in this for the long haul.

We signed up for the marathon, not the 50 yard dash!

Reader Interactions


  1. Lynn says

    “When you are struggling to perform, when you are physically and emotionally exhausted…Keep putting one foot in front of the other.”
    I love this! Some days I have questioned whether or not God really supports my dream. But I know that is just “stinking thinking” as Joyce Meyers would say. Great article. Just what I needed to help me press forward. God bless!

    • S_Miley says

      Lynn, I actually started running for the first time a few months ago. I feel like dying the first 15 minutes and then get a second wind. Here’s to praying for your second wind!! Blessings!

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Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.

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