Training for a marathon while building a startup is kind of crazy. The single scarcest resource you have at a startup is your time. And training for a marathon takes time. A lot of it. So why would I undertake such a crazy challenge?
Firstly, because like many entrepreneurs, I’m a bit insane, and I love testing my own limits. And overcoming them. But this was no whimsical experiment with boundaries. Rather, it was a premeditated attempt to mirror the challenges of building a company in an entirely different realm to gain a fresh perspective and come back with insights. Here is what I learned.
Challenges forge who you are. I’m a terrible runner, or rather, I’m not a naturally gifted runner. I didn’t need to run a marathon to tell you this. But what I didn’t know was that with training I got better. Much better. What’s truly inspiring about this is that with a well-designed system you build up the stamina to undertake longer and longer distances. When I look back at those extremely tough moments early on when co-founding Chorus, I now realize they forced me to grow and develop the strength needed to undertake challenges of ever-increasing complexity.
Invest in yourself. When building a startup, you’re in danger of being sucked into an all-encompassing vortex, where your life itself is reduced to the startup. The marathon reminded me: invest in yourself. If you are unhappy or unfulfilled as a human being, you inherently bring less to the table. Yes, there are times when every waking moment is your startup, and it probably should be the most important thing in your life for a good couple of years (apart from family and values!). But if you don’t invest in yourself as well, you’ll be doing a disservice not only to yourself, but to your company.
Be creative with time. When I ran I didn’t only run. I listened to music to relax, and to several audio books to enrich myself and learn. I’m not sure I would ever have finished Moby Dick if not for my marathon training, and I got some great moments listening to spiritual teachings as well as some must reads like "The hard things about hard things".
Don’t give up. During the runs, you often want to give up. You need to give up. Your entire body screams to stop. You hit hard physical walls. Your body warns you of impending collapse. You curse. You pray. You beg. You swear. The only thing that pulls you on is your inner conviction and determination. When building a startup, all odds are against you. You hit seemingly insurmountable walls. Don’t give up.
Inner strength. When I went back to work the Sunday after the marathon (Israel has a different weekend schedule), I didn’t feel invincible, but I did feel proud, and I gained a new appreciation for my inner strength. I knew I would be able to undertake almost anything. Knowing that you’ll be able to overcome almost anything on your path is critical, because things will be hard and will go wrong. It’s all about who you are when meeting these challenges.
The analogy between startups and marathons is not perfect. The biggest difference is that I trained and ran my marathon alone (my crazy time table didn’t allow me to start running before midnight on weekdays, and the long runs were reserved to weekends). A startup, on the other hand is all about the people and the team. And your co-founders. Without Roy and Russell, I wouldn't have made it even through the first kilometer.
So would I recommend you run a marathon while building a startup? Not necessarily. But I definitely would recommend you invest time in yourself, and find creative ways of building up and expressing your inner strength. You’re going to need it. Startups are wonderful, but they’re no sprint.