Leadership Lessons from Marathon Training

The race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on running.             

Recently, I started training for a marathon, my first marathon.  To put this in context, I’m not exactly a runner.  I am an athlete.  I play sports and have dabbled in some 10k’s and mid range triathlons, but never a full marathon.  As I’ve been training for this event, I have noticed myself drawing several comparisons to the journey of leadership.

When I first started training, I could not imagine how I would run 26 miles.  I had never run more than 10 miles at a time.  My most recent runs were in the range of 4 miles.   I started focusing so much on the end goal that I was getting in my own way of my progress as well as of my enjoyment of the progress.  There lies lesson one.  Leadership is not a sprint.

Have you ever managed a new employee that wants all the benefits, privileges and responsibilities of a position without putting in the time, and following the process of development?  Have you ever been that employee?  Have you ever been frustrated when learning something new?  Part of the growth equation requires patience.  You can’t do it all in one day and you can’t go out and run 26 miles right away.  If you try to, then there will be consequences: a pulled muscle, a strained knee, or a damaged reputation at work.  Our bodies need time to adjust.  You as a leader and learner need time for new and ever evolving leadership behaviors to feel familiar.   Focus on inputs, patiently, and the results will come.

Next, recognize the difference between temporary pain and real danger. On longer runs and after weeks of training, my body sometimes hurts.  At first, I noticed something feel tight and I would stop.   After a few weeks, I noticed that there was always something that hurt.  I was after all, training for a marathon and not out for a simple jog.  Here’s lesson two.  You’ve got to be able to deal with some temporary pain.   I’m not talking about running through a fracture or sticking with an abusive job situation.  With learning, with growing, there is some pain.  Today’s organizations go through more change in a year than previous generations did in a decade.   Along with that change will come some pain.  If we stop every time there is some pain or a set back, then we stay exactly the same.  Trying to stay the same, when the world around you is changing, is in fact quite painful and lasts much longer.  

What is your tolerance for discomfort? What is your pattern?  At the first sign of a problem, or pain in your career or organization, what does that little voice in your head tell you?  I invite you to tune into that voice, get familiar with it and your pattern.  If you can notice it, then you can drive it and not let it drive you.  This point brings me to lesson three.  Watch your mind.

Marathon training takes a great deal of time.   At first, I thought that I would load up the Walkman,.. uh, … iPod, and just disappear into three hours of music.  I actually found it distracting and not in a good way.  I was curious about what I was missing and what I was “masking” by using music.  Instead, I started tuning into my own thoughts, noticing what was going on in my head.  What were the thoughts that were contributing to a good run and what thoughts were creeping in that were not helping me get me through an 18 mile run.  I often noticed a slew of negative thoughts.  My knee hurts. I’m tired.  My feet hurt.  My body wanted me to stop.

Then, I stopped trying to mask these thoughts.  I tuned in, acknowledged them and then asked myself, what else could I be telling myself that would help me through this run.  I started thinking that I am so lucky to be able to run, to have this time.  My lungs feel great.  My hands feel good.  My sneakers are cool.  Whatever would allow me to contact something positive, I would focus on it.  For me, it helped a great deal and it made a difference.  Research shows the positive impact that we have on our own attitude by simply smiling.  Your attitude matters and so do the stories that you tell yourself when you are going through a hard time.

What does your mind say when things gets tough?  Tune into it.  Change the story to help serve you, support you and not stop you or hurt you.  “The moment that you stop moving towards your goals, then you become the obstacle”, (unknown).   Recognize what are true dangers and what are just puddles on the training run of your leadership growth.

[flv width=”500″ height=”300″ autostart=”true” repeat=”always”]http://www.l4leadership.com/wp-content/uploads/iStock_000008268863Big-Web.mp4[/flv]

Be patient.  Keep running, keep growing, and keep leading your life.  Enjoy!

Thanks for reading!  I wish you success, courage, and support on your leadership journey.

Larysa Slobodian, Principal Consultant (and future marathoner)

L4 Leadership LLC


  1. Lisa March 30, 2010 at 10:44 pm #

    Great analogy. I think we all mask our difficult work and life experiences with multi-tasking, ipods and other “noise”. We mask the pain and struggle. What a concept to actually “listen” to the pain, confront it and unravel it. And keep running.

  2. Jer March 31, 2010 at 8:05 pm #

    Leadership is not a sprint – I like that. It is such a powerful reminder that savoring the journey in anything we are attempting is worth paying attention to. This piece fits quite nicely with my own learning journey of late and giving myself permission to “train” has kept life sane. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Christie March 31, 2010 at 8:41 pm #

    All so true, I can tell you are prepared for the last .2 miles too! Gotta get to the finish line in the marathon and in day-to-day life! Thank you for sharing.

  4. Kathy March 31, 2010 at 8:57 pm #

    What worth having, doesn’t require patience, a little pain, and some positive thoughts. Wonderful analogy. Succinctly, yet thoughtfully put. Once again, I learn from you.

  5. phil April 1, 2010 at 9:22 am #

    Larysa, like no other, you have a way of getting points across that is wonderful. Thank you for the article. Enjoy every step of your journey(i pod free I hope) !!!!


  6. Larysa Slobodian April 1, 2010 at 9:58 am #

    Thanks for all the great stories and feedback. I am totally inspired by you all! Keep them coming!

    Larysa Slobodian
  7. Beth April 4, 2010 at 9:26 pm #

    Thank you for the great reminders. I will remember to listen to my ‘first thoughts’ when things get tough and if they aren’t in support of me….move the obstacle and turn them around. Great video!

  8. Roxolana April 5, 2010 at 11:44 am #

    Love your articles – they remind me of my father who always was a thinker…
    I agree – persistence is very important in achieving our goals: how many of us go a long way and then give up when there is not much left before the finish line.

  9. Pam April 9, 2010 at 5:58 pm #

    Hey Larysa, another great article. You are a talented metaphorical thinker — able to draw lessons from everyday experience — and you write well to boot. I’m thinking about my practice (or at times, non-practice) of art — and the way my mind works about that. Nice food for thought…thank you.

  10. Larysa Slobodian May 3, 2010 at 9:33 am #

    Just to update you all, the marathon is complete. My first marathon was a trail marathon and although I’m walking a bit funny today, I am happy to have completed this journey. Now, on to the next challenge.. which right now is .. recovery! Happy trails to you all!

    Larysa Slobodian

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