What is Tougher: Running a Marathon or Running a Business?

by / ⠀Startup Advice / July 22, 2010


I have always been fascinated with marathons and how they provide great insight to what life is like as an entrepreneur. How awesome is it to watch people push themselves to the limit for a dream that they have been training to achieve for months in advance?  There is nothing easy about running your own business, but if you can survive the ups and downs and keep pushing for success, it can be very rewarding.

In any marathon, I have noticed a similar progression as an entrepreneur who is starting a business. Below are the 5 areas in which entrepreneurship and marathon runners share similar experiences.


When a marathon runner sets out to train for a goal, the best runners always have an extreme level of commitment and enthusiasm. They are determined to win the race and do whatever preparation is necessary for achieving their goal. I have talked to many people who think marathons are absolutely crazy. Who in their right mind would ever think it’s a good idea to push their body to the point of running 26.2 miles as fast as they can? This is the same thing that entrepreneurs face when they are starting a business. In the early brainstorming sessions, entrepreneurs are enthusiastic and out to conquer the world. The new idea that they intend to create into a business is going to be earth changing and help people all around the world. Entrepreneurs have a goal in mind for their business and become 100% dedicated to achieving their goal. Depending on who they surround themselves with, I have also seen entrepreneurs labeled as “crazy” for setting out to do something different than the status quo. Whether you are a runner or an entrepreneur, taking on challenges and creating new things is nothing out of the ordinary. It is something that in many cases comes naturally.


This is the starting phase of a marathon. The runner has trained for weeks in anticipation for the big day of the marathon. The runner fulfilled their workout plan and can’t wait to actually run in the event. As they reach the starting line, they are focused on their goal, so when the gun goes off, they are ready to dash across the starting line in pursuit of their goal. When the race starts, they are feeling great! Entrepreneurs treat the launching phase of their business the same way. They have spent months preparing their business plan, cash flows, hiring staff, etc, all in anticipation for the big day when they officially launch their company. Their adrenaline is racing and they can’t wait to get out and sell the product that they have been developing and preparing for a long period of time. Once they launch the business, their first few clients make them feel like a million bucks. They are really going to make this company succeed!

Trial Stage

Have you ever been running and feel like you hit a wall and cannot go any further? This is what it feels like in this stage of a marathon. After a few miles of feeling good, their comes a point when your body hits a wall and tells you that you cannot go any further. The thoughts in your head tell you that it isn’t a good idea to keep moving forward, your muscles are too tired and finishing this marathon isn’t possible. At this point every marathon runner needs to make a choice, do they quit and admit that they can’t reach their goal, do they decide that they need to rest and walk for a few miles before deciding to run again, or do they become even more determined and push harder despite their body telling them that it is too tired? The best marathon runners keep pushing. When you start your own business, there is going to be times when you have to meet challenges head on without any choice to change course. Maybe your sales numbers are down for the last quarter, maybe you had some key employees quit and decide to move on, maybe some of your products malfunctioned and had to be recalled. The possibilities are endless. This is the point where many entrepreneurs throw in the towel and let the negative thoughts in their mind and the negative thoughts of others around them affect their business.

Second wind

After your body tells you to stop and give up but you keep on pushing and find a way to keep going, their comes a time when you find a second wind to carry you toward success. Any great athlete that gets interviewed talks about “being in the zone” and letting the game take over. This is similar to running a marathon as well. At a certain point, your adrenaline kicks in and you find a new burst of energy to keep going toward your goal. In many cases, the same thing happens in business. Some companies or individuals have the greatest success after pulling themselves out of the lowest points in their career. I always love hearing about entrepreneurs who had their backs against the wall, but kept pushing forward toward their dream despite times being tough and eventually going on to become amazingly successful. Their are a lot of people who say that they have failed but instead of failing, have only quit too soon, when success was right around the next corner. Never stop pushing forward toward your dreams.

Final stretch

This is the part of a marathon that really separates the good runners from the champions. At this point in the race, you are exhausted, your body aches, your second wind has worn off once again, and you know that the finish line is almost in sight! Once again you are faced with a decision. Do you continue to push hard through the finish line, or do you give in to the negative thoughts of your tired body telling you that you can’t make it. Entrepreneurs are faced with the same challenges. Maybe your business is booming and you are working 80+ hour weeks just to keep up. When you are the face of a business, it becomes so important to deliver results for your customers regardless of what you have going on in your personal life. At this point you are so close to your goal that you need to sacrifice and keep going.


As you watch runners cross the finish line after a long marathon, you can see the expression of relief and exhaustion on everyone’s face. Their body is aching, and they have nothing else to give to the race. They have achieved their goal and given everything they have to the race. For entrepreneurs, this is when they reach their exit strategy. Maybe it is having the opportunity to ring the bell at the NY stock exchange on the day that their business goes public, or maybe it is when they officially sell the business and cash out for millions of dollars. Whatever it is, the feeling of accomplishment is euphoric. There is nothing better in my mind than seeing someone achieve something great that they have been committed to for years. This is the stage in entrepreneurship that keeps people coming back for more and aspiring to be a great business leader among the many we have today in the United States. This is what is great about the American dream!

John Kreklow is a brand consultant at Shadow Concepts LLC and has found his niche comparing sports and business with his background from the air force and D1 basketball. 

About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on Under30CEO.com, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.