How many times have you heard the saying “It’s a Marathon not a sprint?” Drake sings the line, Dr. Phil claims to have invented it, and every company preaches it. I’m confident you’ve said it, or someone has used it on you.
I’m guilty of using the popular saying with my team, whether it was launching a product, talking about careers, or just referring to life in general. Similar to most people that use the analogy, I only had a surface level understanding: two distances which vary in length, and the marathon takes significantly more time than a sprint.
Sure, the analogy makes sense — great things take years to build. But, I soon discovered it was a naive take on the term. Last year I realized the statement has far more significance than just time horizon. Unfortunately the only way to really understand the analogy, is to actually run a marathon.
I’m early in my marathon career, so I still think I will uncover further meaning, but here is what has resonated with me so far.
Marathons are *$cking hard. Really *$cking hard.
I used to think that comparing a race that takes a few hours to a startup wasn’t representative of how hard it is to get a company off the ground. My tune changed when I ran a marathon.
Not even counting the training that is required, the race is a mental rollercoaster that echoed how I felt when I tried to start a daunting project. You can feel unstoppable for miles, and then, out of blue your legs stop working. I’ve never felt so many highs and lows over a three hour time period. At points I was cruising, passing people and smiling, at other times I was ready to pull myself out of the race altogether.
I’m sure if you’ve tried to start something, that feeling is all too familiar to you.
You’re never really done.
Yes you may have crossed the finish line- but in the back of your mind you’re already evaluating what you could have done differently. You think about all of the details you neglected in your training, and the silly mistakes you made in your race. The race helps to bring forward these problem areas, and for many it’s impossible not to be motivated when you realize there is so much you can improve on.
Maybe it’s just the product manager in me, but this is very similar to a product launch. You push and grind to get it out there, but when it’s finally ready, you realize how far you still have to go.
In the product world, post-mortems, sprints, and launch sessions are extremely important and are some of the most insightful meetings I’ve had. Taking the time to ask the team what went well, what didn’t, and figure out how to get on track towards the overarching goals.
It’s all in the plan.
I learned quickly that the actual race was only a very small part of the entire process. It’s really about the training you put in before, and the plan you follow. Initially I thought sticking to a plan would be easy, but after a couple of weeks into a training cycle you start to feel the wear of the miles on your body. And as you probably guessed straying from the plan doesn’t often reward you. It’s all too tempting to start to ignore recovery, nutrition and stretching, but often it only comes back to haunt you.
A plan isn’t always the answer for everything in life, but having a road map and setting stretch goals have helped me gain clarity and structure in both the product world and when mapping out my career.
Roadblocks are inevitable.
Injuries, bad races and what seems like lack of progress, are part of the process. It took me awhile to accept this, but even when you look to professionals that have all of the support and attention possible, they haven’t figured out a way to avoid the injuries that come hand in hand with long hours on the pavement.
This is something that I feel all of us encounter, whether it is working on a startup, product, or just trying to advance in our careers. Sometimes things are out of your control, sometimes it seems like you’re not making progress — when in fact it’s just part of the process.
Learning how to get out of these lows both as a marathoner and in everyday life is critical. These periods won’t last forever.
Recovery is just as important.
When I first got into running, I genuinely thought it was all about pushing yourself day in and day out. I tried one training cycle with this attitude, and although I initially was making great progress on my time — I didn’t even make it to my goal race.
When I neared the end of my training cycle my body was physically and mentally having a hard time hitting my target goal paces. I wasn’t dedicating time for rest, and my pre and post run routine were almost non-existent.
Recovery is something we skip in our own lives — yes that means vacation but on an even more basic level we often don’t even give ourselves enough time to think. In a world where everything is instant and on-demand we rarely have the chance to give a well thought out answer.
I’ve seen this happen in the product world too, product teams that are constantly pushing out new features without giving time to let the product breathe and collect meaningful data from the people that matter most — your users.
Nothing is easy.
A marathon isn’t easy, in fact it’s pretty awful at moments. However, the process of learning to train, having patience and pushing through dark times have made me resilient in areas of my life I didn’t expect.
The saying It’s a marathon not a sprint, albeit overused — proves that there is more meaning to uncover than what we initially assumed. Committing to a goal is difficult, but seeing progress is something we can never regret.