Why Do So Many Leaders Run Marathons?

The marathon has become a mainstream activity – even Oprah has a medal from the Marine Corps Marathon. But when you crunch the numbers, only one tenth of one percent of the population finishes a 26.2-mile event each year. There is a general respect, in our sedentary society, for those who put themselves through the extended physical training required and the mental toughness produced by the experience. Many business leaders believe that this journey has improved their job performance.

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The average first-time marathon candidate I work with is 42 years old at the beginning of the journey, overweight, out of shape and not sure that he is up to the task. Six to nine months later, each new marathoner tells me with confidence that the training/finishing experience taught him how to tap into previously unused inner resources that improved performance in other areas of life. Every week I also hear from several average corporate citizens who closed the biggest deal of their careers, were offered job promotions, etc., after the decision maker discovered that they were marathoners.

Having owned a business for over 35 years, and having finished over 140 marathons, I believe that keeping a business or organization on track in troubled times is very similar to the marathon journey. To be successful, a marathoner and a business leader must both conserve resources, maintain focus on key areas and constantly adjust to the reality of each moment. These carry-over benefits are so widely recognized that a number of organizations are sponsoring corporate marathon teams for team-building and personal growth.

The benefits to a company when staff members exercise are well known: increased productivity, decreased absenteeism, reduced health costs, etc. Business leaders tell me that office morale is highest when a team of staff members enters an event together – particularly a half or full marathon. Surprisingly, a growing number of first-timers gravitate to the marathon; they tell me that it engages and blends body, mind and spirit better than any other experience in life.

I had to rely on my marathon tenacity when I opened the doors of my Phidippides running specialty store in 1973. Undercapitalized, with no academic business training or experience, I relied upon a series of personal traits developed as I transformed myself from a fat and lazy kid into a world-class marathoner and Olympian in 14 years: focus, drive, problem solving and taking personal responsibility for my success or failure.

Here are only a few of the benefits I’ve heard from business owners whose employees have completed one of my training programs.

  • Marathon training requires one to have a vision of success that is self-directed, extended into the future and adjusted for realities each week.
  • Staying strong and mentally positive, especially during the setbacks, means focusing and balancing many areas of your life for months at a time: training, rest, nutrition, motivation, career and family life.
  • Most marathoners experience setbacks and overcome them. When it seems like you don’t have it and are ready to quit, the marathon spirit finds the willpower to keep going. The resulting sense of accomplishment is unique.
  • The group bonding that occurs during marathon training is primitive, powerful and fun. Most of the Galloway training members I hear from tell me that they would not have made it through the first training program without the support and friendships experienced in the weekly training sessions.

Many novices initially take on the challenge because doing a marathon is on their “bucket list.” Once finished, they plan to frame the medal, hang it on the wall, throw the shoes away and go back to eating bon-bons. The next time I hear from most of these former beginners is one to five years later, when they finish their fifth or 20th event. 

When a long-term investment has been made, and the dividends received (of health, attitude and overall well-being), nobody wants to go back to the sedentary way of life. I guess there are worse versions of a mid-life crisis. 

For over 35 years, Olympian Jeff Galloway has owned a running store; and over one million runners and walkers have attended his Galloway Training programs, beach retreats, fitness schools, or read his books, including Running Until You’re 100, Getting Started and Woman’s Guide to Fat-Burning.

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