How Running a Marathon Made Me a Better Marketer

A breakdown of how to be the best damn marketer you can be. Hint: work your ass off.

I got my ass kicked today. But, I also kicked ass. And learned a lot.

A few hours ago, I finished the San Francisco Half Marathon and let me tell you, 13.1 miles is no joke. Not nearly the level of street cred deserving of finishing a full marathon (props to those people), but hey.. it was the furthest I’ve ever ran in my life.

Here’s what I learned from finishing the Half Marathon today, and what it taught me about being a better marketer. To add some quick context, I do organic growth marketing at an education based tech startup here in San Francisco with eyes toward helping people get better at life, work & play.

Here we go.

Wake up early. Earlier than you think you should.

Do you honestly think you’d ever look back and regret not sleeping enough, if this alone made the difference in achieving your wildest dreams? In order to add an hour or so of running into my daily schedule for the past couple of months, it definitely called for less sleep and more efficiency in my day-to-day. I don’t regret it one bit. This taught me the profound importance of only spending my time on the things that have a measurable, positive impact toward my goals.

Even before I began training for the Half Marathon, I was typically up and at it by 4:30am getting a start on the day. This is in a large part due to my passion in constantly becoming better at the things that matter most in my life. Before work each day, I dedicate an hour of time to scanning my favorite websites like GrowthHackers, ProductHunt, and the AdEspresso Blog. I look for 1 meaningful insight, strategy, or case study that applies to what I do in digital marketing and tear that apart looking for ways to implement into my businesses. Point being, don’t make excuses for not doing the shit you want to do in life. It will be hard, really really hard, to get to where you want, but the more time you spend procrastinating and doing nothing about it, the more likely you will be to not deliver on your dreams.

Only work on what matters.

Always work with your head up and an awareness of what you’re actually doing, otherwise it’s easy to get lost doing meaningless tasks (or losing hours on Reddit). I felt this one in a very real way today. I started out at a lightning pace and eventually had to adjust quite a bit to keep myself in the race. Stay focused on the long-term and always ask yourself if what you’re doing right now is sustainably helping you accomplish the task at hand, advancing you towards your goals, or helping you finish that important deliverable.

Be very conscious of how you’re spending your time working. Always work at the highest possible level for the task you are doing. Do you really need to check your facebook notifications right now? Retweet that hilarious pug GIF? Maybe for you and your goals, that makes sense to do.. but I’d be willing to venture that for 99% of us, much of our daily social media use is a distraction that causes us to lose our pace and be forced to play the stop/start game too many times throughout the day to get much meaningful work done. Life is all about pacing and spending time on what matters.

Always have a plan. Make that plan awesome.

Write down your goals in every area of your life. It sounds cliche, but if you don’t know where you want to go in life, the chances of getting there are slim to none. In order to complete the Half Marathon, I knew that my goal would be running 13.1 miles without stopping. From there, I could back out a workout regimen that would ensure my body would be able to handle that distance. Running 3-4 miles at least 4 days per week and gradually stepping up a 5th ‘distance day’ each weekend so that the weekend before the race I was running 12 miles, was essential to me accomplishing my goal. I was prepared.

Write out what I like to call ‘mini-wins’ along the way to your goal so that you stay on track and give yourself something to celebrate for your hard work. Call them deliverables, a roadmap, whatever makes the most sense to you. The more detailed, the better. This will be your constantly evolving guide to success. It doesn’t have to be fixed, as passions change and circumstances will evolve throughout your life. I have a ‘dreamline’ (a la Tim Ferriss) that I re-evaluate every 3 months to make sure I’m on track with my goals and see if there’s anything I’d like to change.

Use accurate analytics & implement early on.

Being data-driven is a hot topic in startups right now, and for good reason. By tracking what does and does not work in both life and business, you give yourself the data by which to make more informed decisions in the future. When I began training, I started tracking all of my runs (using FitBit) so that I’d know where I was starting at. From there, I could continue to develop & evolve my training regimen to get down to my best possible per mile time.

In technical marketing, accurate analytics are the lifeblood of making business improvements. With my businesses, we use tools like MixPanel, Optimizely, and Intercom on a daily basis to inform us on what is performing well. From there, we can make assumptions, test against those, and continue moving in the right direction. It takes an element of creativity and thinking outside of the box, so go for bold.

Optimization is everything.

Not everything works right away (if ever). Expecting to get something exactly right on your very first try is a pretty brutal expectation to set for yourself. When I first started training, I thought after a few days of running 3-4 miles, I would be able to dive straight into running 10 miles at the same pace. I failed miserably and ended up walking a couple of miles at the end of my run. I had to optimize my training regimen and build up in distance much more gradually than I thought I would. Turns out I’m not superhuman.

In order to be successful with marketing today, you have to be open to change and willing to fail many times before you hit the winning combination. At my company, we spent a couple of weeks making small tweaks to our homepage with the goal of driving more user registrations. We didn’t get much directional data no matter what little changes we made. After lackluster results, my team pushed for implementing a much more dramatic test that has now increased our homepage conversion rate by 8% over night. Most importantly, we’re rolling out even more tests to build upon that drastic improvement and see how much better we can perform. Make ‘constantly optimize’ your mantra.

In the end, persistence wins the race.

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.” — Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States.

This is a quote that has deep meaning to me. I found myself reciting it during my run today and it helped me press on towards the finish line.

When it all comes down to it, the people that try the hardest, in the smartest way possible, for the longest amount of time, are the ones who are going to win in the long run. How long can you put yourself through hell and keep going if it means achieving what means most to you? The answer to that question is what will define you.

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Writer and online educator at where I teach 500,000+ monthly readers how to start and grow a profitable blog.

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