As has been mentioned in a couple of our recent blogs posts (thanks guys), I ran the Vancouver marathon on May 1st. One of the upsides of training for a marathon during the fellowship has been that I’ve been able to explore a variety of beautiful landscapes and witness the sun rising all across the continent. Another upside was the copious time I had while running to reflect on marathon training and on entrepreneurship. With my marathon complete, I’ve decided to share some of these thoughts and a few pictures from my morning runs.
In meditating on marathons and entrepreneurship, what I’ve realized first and foremost is just how similar the two are. Each individual’s story of their pursuit of either, while individually different, aligns from afar with one of the seven archetypal plots identified by Christopher Booker (Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage & Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth). One of the beautiful things that I’ve come to appreciate is that while broadly comparable, each person’s journey and the roads they travel to get there are unique. Each individual journey is also itself exceptional as it exists both as a reflection of the past and a defining force of the future for the marathoner/entrepreneur involved.
At first blush, the journey of the entrepreneur and of the marathoner may seem disparate, however, the two paths align as each travels further along. Every entrepreneur eventually becomes a marathoner. Conversely, every marathoner also becomes an entrepreneur. For the entrepreneur, the path from start to finish is always longer and more challenging than originally anticipated, making endurance athletes out of every entrepreneur, regardless of athletic ability. For the marathoner, each additional race provides more information and more experience upon which to customize how—in the face of considerable ambiguity—to solve the 26.2-mile problem commonly referred to as the marathon. With both pathways converging over time, the similarities between marathoners and entrepreneurs are numerous and can be found described across many wonderful books, magazines, and blogs (my favorite of which is Steve Magness’s blog, Science of Running).
That being said, one area of overlap exists that I feel often escapes discussion is mental health. I, myself, would not have made this connection if not for some of the panelists at SXSW discussing the challenges surrounding openly discussing mental health among entrepreneurs [N.B. Medium has a wonderful channel about this]. It is my contention that, in some ways, the marathon can serve as a microcosm of the mental challenges that entrepreneurs face: the lead up to race day can bring with it significant anxiety while the last six miles of the race itself pushes each runner to uniquely confront their own limits and fatigue. These challenges are very real, often making the difference between success and failure, but are almost never addressed in the foundational plans both the marathoner and entrepreneur create for themselves.
So what does this mean for those just starting out on one of these adventures for the first time? What does this mean for those returning to the chase? The obvious answer for both is: a lot of work. Sometimes you know upfront which of the story archetypes your path will follow, usually you don’t know until thinking about the journey in hindsight. Regardless of what lies in store for you, your success will depend on constantly adapting and learning to incorporate new information into your vision of the future. Unforeseen obstacles, inclement conditions, as well as both physical and mental challenges will confront you regardless of the path you take. The maturity and fortitude to pick yourself up after repeat failures and keep fighting for what you believe will take you far in your journey; traveling with the love and support of family and friends will take you even farther. Having completed three marathons and approaching the end of the fellowship, I can easily say that each has routinely pushed me out of my comfort zone, but the personal growth and insight gained have been invaluable.