This coming Sunday, I’m running my second half marathon. My first one was nearly three years ago, and I vowed that since I had done it, I never had to do it again. Then, I realized how different my life + attitude were when I was training for that half: Despite having just gotten engaged and being in the midst of planning a wedding, buying a house, starting to freelance, and quitting my job, I managed to stick to a rigid training schedule that added up to 130 miles of running when I had previous done nothing more than a few 5Ks. I was less stressed. I slept better. I felt great. As much as I hate(d) to admit it, running made me an overall better person, and having something to train for was the only reason I ran steadily.
So when I was in a solid late-winter slump back in February, I thought to myself, “Hey, maybe I should sign up for another half.” We’d been having a mild winter, so I could actually get out and run without mounds of snow or ice, and to get in 10 weeks of training for an end-of-May race, I just needed to start the first week of March. I told myself if I actually DID the first week of training, THEN I would register. (After all, running is expensive. You have to pay to torture yourself, like that makes sense.)
Fast forward to March 7th and I had successfully completed my first week of training. With that in my back pocket, I was feeling particularly ballsy, so I registered. So began that rigid schedule, again. Except this time, naturally, my mind was very much on business the whole time — and I couldn’t help but draw innumerable parallels between running/training for a half marathon and the marathon that is solopreneurship. Which is what you’re here for. And what I’m about to give you. On your mark, get set, go (sorry, had to)…
1. Every day is different. Some days, it’s easy. It’s a 9-miler that I finish feeling like I could go for at least three more. Other days, it’s an uphill battle. It’s an “easy” 5-miler that has me on the verge of passing out/collapsing, wondering how I’m ever going to run 13.1. In business, there are days when I feel everything tests me — every email is one I dread responding to; every WordPress glitch that can happen does. Then there are days that I’m just absolutely in awe that I get to be a solopreneur; grateful for every moment. There are days that are filled with invoicing, bookkeeping, and responding to leads, while others are non-stop writing, and still others are call after call after call. Finding some sort of routine is essential, but structuring every day the same? Near impossible. Every day is different.
2. It looks absolutely different for everyone. Not only are no two days the same, but even the same thing can look different for everyone. Despite having identical schedules, my half training is very different from my husband, Pete’s. Despite being a copywriter, my business is very different from say, Ash Ambirge’s. (#girlcrush) The most important thing I can do, in both running and business, is to keep my eyes on my own paper and know that I’m going out to beat my own PR and no one else’s. Chris Brogan said it perfectly for this context: “You can’t run a race looking sideways.”
3. Prolonged slumps are normal. In the two weeks before this half, I got sick. I was already off my normal training schedule due to southern travel and extreme temperatures, and when I came home, a sinus infection made it clear that I wasn’t running anytime soon. This slump had me feeling like I’d never get back in the game, already writing excuses in my head for why I didn’t run the half. Business does that to me, too. It’s a constant journey through peaks and valleys — and sometimes the valleys are deep, taking more time to get out of. Sometimes it’s a singular task I get into a slump over, while other times it’s biz in general. Sometimes it’s easy to accept the valley, but most times it’s seriously scary. Yet somehow, I always come out of it. The important thing when going through both is remembering how good it feels once I do get back into it.
4. The right gear can be essential. Running with the wrong sneakers could mean blisters and shin splints. Running with the wrong shorts/pants could mean major chaffage. Running without music and/or a timekeeper can make or break it for some people. (I currently run with neither.) The same goes for solopreneurship: Not having the right file storage system can wreak havoc. (I <3 Google Drive.) Not having the right email platform can be a barrier to marketing. (I <3 ConvertKit.) Not having the right people surrounding you can mean a serious case of loneliness. (I <3 One Woman Shop. #biased) Catching my drift? It’s worth it to invest in the right gear — whether that’s an investment of time or money — because it can be essential to a more successful run and a more successful business.
5. It’s mental. In anything physical, our mind will shut down before our body does. Our mind’s natural inclination, in fact, is to talk us out of doing whatever is in front of us instead of talking us into it. We can break this pattern with mantras. My mantra during my first half training back in 2013 was this: “You are a runner.” I literally had to keep convincing myself, on repeat, that running was within my realm of skill. This time around? It’s this: “It doesn’t matter how fast you go, it only matters that you finish.” In business: My mind will tell me I can’t despite the fact that I can. That’s fear creeping in. Some days, my mantra is this: “I am a writer.” Other days, it’s this: “I am not attached to the outcome.” Our mental toughness is as important as any other skill we have, and it’s a constant training in both running and biz.
6. You can’t do it alone. Running, in and of itself, is a solo sport. But even for those with incredible self-discipline and stamina, running a half or full marathon often requires some sort of external support: a running group to train with; an accountability partner checking in to make sure you’re on schedule. Likewise, running a “solo” business requires individual strength but also comes with a firm reliance on others. Running a solo business truly isn’t solo — and any solo business owner who’s been in the game for a bit will tell you that attempting to run it in a silo is a death sentence. You can’t do it alone, and you don’t have to.
7. You can worry, procrastinate, and fear, but in the moment, you’ll make it happen. I can (and do) freak out for days and weeks before a race — even those 5Ks. This half is no different, especially as I fight this sinus infection. But the truth is, when that gun goes off at the start, I’ll be ready. I’ll put one foot in front of the other, and I’ll make it happen. In business, some decisions can be pondered over for days or weeks (and can seem like the Biggest Decision in the World). Some projects can seem like they’ll never get finished. Some interactions can feel leave me feeling like I have no idea what to do next. But when it comes down to it, my gut leads me, and it always gets done. It’s as simple (and as hard) as that.
8. You have to do you. When I’m running, I’m more conscious of what I eat, how much I sleep, how much I drink, how much I sit. I know that an extra beer is going to make tomorrow’s run a little bit harder, or that a string of nights with less than seven hours of sleep is going to leave my body in a state of exhaustion. Not only that — it will largely affect my mind and directly impact my productivity in business. Lack of nutrition = cranky Sara, who’s not proud of certain reactions. Lack of movement = lack of energy, which makes willpower on dreaded biz tasks hard to find. Lack of sleep = loss of words. (Kind of crucial as a copywriter.) Sleep, hydration, sustenance, and movement is important no matter which race you’re running.
9. The littlest steps add up. I have an itch to run faster. The faster I run, the sooner I’m done, right? Likewise, I have an itch to accomplish the next big thing yesterday as a biz owner. There’s no worse feeling than feeling like you’re behind the pack. Yet, it’s easy to lose the forest for the trees when you’re going for speed. Instead, knowing that it’s one foot in front of the other all the time, and that even the littlest steps add up to incredible leaps, is the only way to finish the race and make real progress in business. Celebrate those little wins — they add up to the big ones.
Set your own PRs
True story: The first time I trained for a half, I literally set a personal record every week. The first time I ran six miles felt like I was on top of the world. Then it was seven. Then it was eight. I couldn’t believe I could do it, and there was no better feeling than knowing that each week, I was literally doing something I’d never done before.
Solopreneurship is a lot like that feeling of consistently setting personal records; of consistently pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. With everything I do, I’m challenged in a way I haven’t been challenged before, whether it’s in building a website, or collaborating on a project, or answering to a disrespectful client. I am always learning.
But more than ever, I appreciate the training. Because the real truth is, if you can run a business, I firmly believe there’s little else that you can’t do.
And when it comes to both running and business, I leave you with this: It’s all about the journey. Soak it all in.
[Photo cred: Sebastien Marchand via Unsplash]