Running a marathon is all about the long, hard prep work before the big day. 

I've been a marathoner myself for over 20 years and the skills I've learned through training and competing have shaped me as both an athlete and entrepreneur

In fact, I've found that the qualities and skills necessary to succeed in both are similar and often feed the other. 

Here's what entrepreneurs can learn from endurance sports like running, cycling, and triathlons.  

1. Maintaining Focus

Whether in business or sports, if you're distracted, you'll have a tougher time accomplishing your goals. 

While running, I focus only on what I'm doing at the moment, and the goal I set out to accomplish. 

The same is true when starting a business, where maintaining focus is key to success.  When companies lose focus on what their core business is supposed to be about, it can result in significant business consequences. 

For instance, when digital media company Mashable's value plummeted by 80 percent last year, commentators observed that it was partly because they diverted from covering technology exclusively. That loss of focus can lead to brand dilution. It's ok if you want to branch out, but be sure not to lose focus on your core customer.

2. Be Disciplined

Discipline is key for endurance sports. 

You have to stretch, hydrate properly, and cool down properly. There is a whole process, and you have to be disciplined about it. You can't say, "I'm going to take three weeks off and then run a marathon." Your performance would suffer, and you may risk injury. 

For entrepreneurs, too, it requires an extreme amount of discipline to stay focused and help beat the odds in starting a business. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 20 percent of businesses fail in their first year, and that number jumps to 50 percent in five years. Discipline is essential to help stay the course.

3. Stay Organized 

Athletes have organized rituals for everything from how they work out to what they eat. NBA star Stephen Curry even has a thorough mental preparation process before games. 

Likewise, successful businesses have rituals or regimens to ensure success. For any founder of a company, you wear 100 hats at any time and strong organizational skills are critical. A successful business finds and adopts a process to help stay efficient and be prepared. When Adidas implemented a business process management (BPM), they were able to reduce their supplier on-boarding from four months to just 40 days. 

Take advantage of the many tools out there to help entrepreneurs stay organized, such as e-invoicing systems like Freshbooks or project management platforms like Trello.  

4. Prepare for the Unexpected

Athletes have to adapt quickly. 

For example, when I ran the San Francisco Marathon this past year, I encountered a hazardous, slippery surface I never had before. It forced me to tread carefully, and then I modified the rest of my race on the fly. 

Like athletes, business leaders need to be ready for the unexpected. 

That's when you can fall back on your rituals and process and stay focused on your mission. So, when unexpected happens, you are ready for it, and it's not going to crush your business. 

Nike, once thought to be unbeatable in the athletic wear space, saw dwindling numbers in 2016 after smaller brands started to capture a larger market share and interest in basketball decreased. This caused Nike to reevaluate its brand focus and marketing efforts.

Since the brand has always been about innovation, they went back to that DNA to figure out what's next rather than just managing the immediate competition. While the results take time, Nike has already increased their market share in 2018 dominating the sneaker category.

Entrepreneurs should know the unexpected will happen and fall back on the core values of their brand to overcome obstacles.

5. Have Fun

Most athletes compete in sports because they love and enjoy it. 

The same should hold true for business. The minute you stop enjoying it, it's time to ask what you need to change. 

While there will undoubtedly be hard times to push through, much like training or competition, at the end of the day, it should be fun and something you look forward to doing. Be sure to spend time doing the activities that first made you passionate about your business. And give yourself space to pursue creative endeavors outside the office, so work doesn't consume your life.

Success comes in many different forms. 

When people run a marathon the goal could be to beat a personal record or raise money for charity. In entrepreneurship, the goal could be to make extra money or pursue a passion project.

Whether in sports or business, define your own success -- and set yourself up to achieve it. 

Published on: Feb 16, 2018