What Running a Marketing Campaign and a Half Marathon Have in Common

I recently ran my first half marathon, and the experience was so much fun! Below is a video recap from this year’s Rock Tahoe Half Marathon:

As it turns out, training for and running a half marathon is a lot like planning for and executing a marketing campaign. Here’s what I learned.

The Background

When I first set out to start running in January, I was not in good shape and my confidence in finishing a half marathon fluctuated somewhere between uncertainty and panic. I could hardly even run a mile, let alone in the dark and in the snow! But because I had a few friends pushing me to do it, I decided at one point that it wasn’t a question of “if” but “how” I was going to finish.

Upon agreeing to do the run, I immediately set out to explore how I was going to accomplish this. As with any good marketing effort, I set a goal, enlisted in a period of study, created an execution plan—followed by a series of trial and error experiments—until I achieved the result I was aiming for.

Phase I: Research and Goal Setting

In the case of this half marathon, I faced a steep learning curve. I began with visiting the event website, signed up to make it official, and then downloaded the free training plan (which quite honestly looked ridiculous with 5 or 6 days of running a week). Next, I downloaded an app to track my distances and times. I connected with training partners digitally.

Over the course of many weeks, I listened to several podcasts about running (while running), including this touching story from a first time marathon runner on the Conscious Runner podcast that really set the tone for my experience. Hearing that Brian Madden would sometimes get up at 2 am to do a long distance run, so as not to disrupt his family’s schedule, made waking up at 4 or 5 am that much easier for me.

Another resource I relied on for support was Mark Divine’s “Unbeatable Mind” podcast listening to how extreme athletes find motivation, train, and overcome odds. For example, if Diana Nyad can swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys without a shark cage at age 64, and if quadruple amputee Kyle Maynard can ascend Mount Kilimanjaro without the aid of prosthetics, then for goodness sakes I can jog a few miles. Obtaining this high level perspective was not only motivating, but helped me to frame my goal within a particular context that made it seem a lot less daunting.

Phase 2: Building and Testing the Plan

In addition to scoping out the running landscape, I spent time talking with friends who had run marathons before in order to get realistic advice. I experimented with distances, running clothes, running shoes, times of day, when to drink water, when and what to eat, and many other things before I learned what worked best for me. Countless blisters, pains, strains, and side cramps later, I settled on a pair of Nike Pegasus shoes (among other things) after deciding to ditch two other pairs completely.

Phase 3: Execution and Adaptation

For the two million people who run half marathons in the U.S. each year, training may not be that big of a deal, but for me, it was a huge hurdle. From January through to June I would wake up every morning slightly anxious and fearful. Do I run on the sidewalk, or the street? Do I wear a jacket or layers when it’s cold? How do I adapt to the training schedule when I’ve pulled a muscle? If it feels too difficult, how much do I slow down or when do I walk? If I have a good run and have reached my targeted distance, how much further should I keep running?

As time dragged on however, I was soon regularly running, adapting, adjusting, and simply making it happen. Before I knew it, my training app was reporting hat I had run 7 miles in January, 28 miles in February, 72 miles in March, and 82 miles in April. In June, despite a terrible night of sleep and hotter weather than I had prepared for, I reached my goal of finishing the half marathon within a few minutes of the time I had been aiming for.

Phase 4: Review and Reflection

In short, here’s what running a marketing campaign and running a half marathon have in common:

  1. Start with an ambitious goal: begin with the end in mind.
  2. Research, learn, and ask the right questions while framing the underlying objectives.
  3. Keep an eye on the big picture and where your particular goal fits in (for perspective).
  4. Build a support team.
  5. Create an execution plan.
  6. Experiment, execute, adapt.
  7. Once completed, review what worked vs. what didn’t.

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About the Rock Tahoe Half Marathon

From the standpoint of the Rock Tahoe Half Marathon, the event organization was fantastic. Aside from providing training plans, the organizers sent out regular emails leading up to the event with important information and aimed to make the experience as seamless as possible. A pre-event expo featured a simple check-in process and highlighted sponsors. The shuttle ride from the hotel to the starting line was simple. The pre-event DJ got the crowd pumped up before race kickoff, and rest stations were well equipped throughout the race as volunteers cheered participants along. They even sent out a post-event survey with links back to personalized photos and results.

All in all I would encourage anyone to sign up for and commit to a half-marathon as it’s always a good exercise to set and reach new goals in fun, structured, and challenging ways.

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